September 17, 2010

When First State Innovation (FSI) was formed in late 2006, we announced our mission "to dramatically accelerate Delaware's entrepreneurial economy." At that time, Delaware was ranked 50th in the nation in entrepreneurial activity. I am very pleased to report that in the recent Kauffman Foundation's (www.kauffman.org) "2009 Index of Entrepreneurial Activity," Delaware ranked 27th. While there is still much work to do, this is a remarkable achievement in a relatively short time. To view the Kauffman report, click here.

While many factors contributed to this improvement, several organizations working together helped lead to this dramatic increase. These include The Delaware Economic Development Office (DEDO), The University of Delaware (through their Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships: OEIP), The Delaware Technology Park, The Delaware BioScience Association, The Technology Forum of Delaware and The Delaware Business Roundtable, to name a few. FSI played an important role in improving this level of entrepreneurial activity. Our initiatives not only led to the launch of a number of new companies it helped create a more accommodating entrepreneurial environment in the state and the surrounding region.

Over the last three and a half years, FSI has worked on several fronts to help improve the entrepreneurial environment. To support FSI's initiatives funding was secured from a number of sources, including grants from the public and private sectors as well as local foundations. Since its inception, FSI held 13 "FSI Showcases," where 54 emerging companies were given an opportunity to present their business plans. This included FSI's largest event to date, the "Clean Tech Forum for Alternative Energy Entrepreneurs and Investors," which was held in October of 2009. The Forum included presentations by four companies and displays from 14 other companies and sponsors. Governor Jack Markell, FSI Honorary Co-Chair, was the keynote speaker and over 350 people were in attendance. Partially as a result of our series of Showcases and networking meetings, eight local entrepreneurial companies were launched.

FSI launched an interactive website where entrepreneurs and potential investors connect and get information related to the entrepreneurial activity in the state and region. FSI has also been a frequent sponsor of regional events and organizations aimed at promoting entrepreneurship and innovation. These include Early Stage East, The Delaware BioScience Association, The Technology Forum of Delaware, The New Jersey Technology Council and a number of University of Delaware Events - including their "President's Forum on Innovation and Entrepreneurship" and related Business Plan Competition.

FSI has developed a following of over 1,200 "Friends of FSI." These "Friends" are individuals who have expressed an interest in staying connected to news and information about FSI and our region's entrepreneurial and innovation activity. If you are not already a "Friend of FSI," please click here to sign up. In addition, we have put together an informal network of 300 Angel Investors ("FSI Angels"), some of whom have made investments in the companies we helped to launch. If you are interested in becoming an "FSI Angel," please click here.

In June FSI played a key role in drafting legislation to establish the Delaware Investment Fund Tax Credit Program (House Bill 496) which will assist in the formation and expansion of new businesses by increasing the availability of capital for entrepreneurs.entrepreneurial CEOs, a venture capitalist, two university presidents, and the CEO of Delaware Technology Park (DTP), the board represents many different views enabling FSI to be a strong, successful organization.

Looking to 2011 and beyond, FSI will continue its many efforts to accelerate entrepreneurial activity. This includes developing public awareness of the important role that technology-oriented entrepreneurs and early stage businesses play in the economic vitality of the State and region. Two key initiatives include the formation of Delaware's first formal angel fund (FSI Angel Fund I), targeted for early 2011, and the passage of the Delaware Investment Fund Tax Credit Program. FSI will also continue to work with our Partner Network to continue to build on the momentum created since 2006. The FSI Angel Fund I will be a critical component to increasing the flow of capital to Delaware-based entrepreneurs, and will allow a much higher level of companies to be launched and supported. This directly addresses our mission of "accelerating Delaware's entrepreneurial economy."

I want to thank our Board, Advisory Board, Sponsors, Entrepreneurs, Angel Investors, the Public Sector and the 1,200 Friends of FSI for making this progress possible. We are well on our way to making Delaware the place of choice for entrepreneurs.

Ernie Dianastasis
First State Innovation