New Castle County officials want the community to help lead the way in innovative approaches to build back better in a post-COVID world, and they're putting their money where their mouth is with a $5 million grant program.
"Six months ago, when the virus first descended upon our community here in New Castle County, there was immediate alarm. We instructed everyone to pretty much quarantine inside," said County Executive Matt Meyer. "I wasn't sure how we were going to get out of this. I wasn't sure if it was going to be weeks or months or years. But I knew when we got out of it, it would be innovation and new ideas--new ideas in science, maybe new ideas in IT, maybe new ideas in masks and clothing--that would ultimately get us out of this. I think that's true not just in addressing a virus, but in addressing a rapidly changing economy."
Joined by New Castle County Director of Economic Development Tamarra Morris-Foulkes, committee member Patrick Callahan and The Mill CEO Rob Herrera Monday, Meyer said the county will use CARES Act money to fund innovation proposals presenting unique ideas addressing issued stemming from novel coronavirus COVID-19, vetted by the Support Small Business Committee.
"There have been a number of people who've noted that our economy and our world, and our community post-COVID, whenever we're done this thing--whether it's next month, or next year--whenever we're done this thing, our economy, our communities, are going to be really changed forever. This innovation grant is to address the issues we're facing now, as a community and the issues of tomorrow; opportunities that can be created, silver linings in this dark cloud."
A website was created to track all of the New Castle County government's efforts to disperse its CARES Act funding, and CaresAct.NCCDE.org is where those who might have ideas can begin the application process.
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"We've already heard a lot of ideas out there. We're just encouraging people to get out and apply," Meyer said. "Whether it's distance learning, whether it's a distance economy, whether it's things that very directly keep people safe today and tomorrow, whether it's putting a mask on a car to market the importance of wearing masks, we want people here in New Castle County--the first county in the First State--to be the first community in the country, in the world, with respect to innovation."
The program is designed to foster innovation in the county, and it's where Delaware as a whole continues to work toward digging out a foothold as a leader in the country for innovation and technological achievement.
"NCC Innovates is actually a two-pronged support approach to supporting entrepreneurship. We provide small grants for the NCC Innovates by supporting pitch competitions. We also have developed a really robust database where entrepreneurs can actually tap into data and analytics that draw you into what the business climate is here in New Castle County," Morris-Foulkes said. "So this announcement today ties in with the work of the New Castle County Office of Economic Development that I head. It ties into what we've been doing in the last several years, developing and trying to support the growing ecosystem here in Delaware."
It was in times like this that "real leadership" puts its "money where their mouth is," Herrera said, and he was elated that New Castle County's leadership was looking for ways to fund more good work that could benefit all post-COVID.
"The fact that New Castle County is looking to invest in innovation is a wonderful thing," he said, saying some of The Mill's more than 400 startup members have disappeared for good during the pandemic. "Some shut down, some we're not going to reopen, some opened up, and you can see there are some programs that the Payroll Protection Program, for instance, didn't address. Startups that don't really have a lot of full-time employees, and they might have had a great idea they just didn't get ready, they didn't get their chance to take off, they didn't get their chance to really move forward as a company, and the fact that here in Delaware, we're going to invest in that and support that and say, 'These new ideas matter and people with innovation and entrepreneurial skill sets, we care about you,' means so much to us."
Approved projects will receive funding based on how detailed the pitch is, and how costly the project's implementation might be, so there's no set ceiling for the amount that could be distributed to any individual piece of work. The only thing that will matter is how good the idea might be at improving the lives of New Castle County citizens.
"Somebody might come and propose a fantastic $500,000 or $700,000 project. Somebody else might come and propose an amazing $10,000 project," Meyer said. "Similar to the small business community that created this idea and brought it to fruition, we're constituting a committee of innovators--none of whom have conflicts--we're going to look at the proposals and choose which are the highest quality and how to allocate public resources."
Meyer said applicants should be very detailed in their proposals, as the close date for accepting applications is Friday, September 11, 2020, and he'd like to start distributing monies by the end of September to get things moving.
"We don't want general ideas," he said. "We're going to want budgets, we're going to need to understand, when we're spending public money, where exactly is this money going then, of course, we need to make sure it conforms with all federal, state and local law."