Idea Challenge offers ways to make Wilmington a better place



By Eileen Dallabrida

Most folks agree that making Wilmington a better place to live and work is a great idea.

But how to accomplish such a complex task?

That was the big question at the 3rd Annual Idea Challenge at the Tech Forum of Delaware, a competition that teamed “Do Gooders” from local civic and service organizations and “Tech Geeks” from the Tech Forum community.

“Technology is a tool that can make our lives better,” said Rich Sommer, Tech Forum president.

Techies and competitors weren’t the only ones in attendance at the March 16 event, held at the Hercules Building in downtown Wilmington. Potter Anderson attorneys Jeffrey Safran and Robert Ward, who started their day at the Delaware Bio breakfast, wrapped up their evening at the Idea Challenge.

“As patent attorneys, we’re very interested in what is new in technology and the biosciences,” Ward said.

Marvin Schnee of Sundance Real Estate Advisors was trolling for prospective tenants for his commercial property on Chapman Road in Newark.

“We have some vacancies and a tech firm would be a good fit,” he said.

As the event has grown, so has the competition. Last year, four teams took the field, using flip charts and magic markers to convey their ideas. This time around, six teams vied for the top spot using such tools as professional-grade graphics and Power Point  presentations.

The plans were as diverse as the teams. Downtown Visions, the private non-profit group that manages the Business Improvement District, advocated for creating a youthful, energized tech culture that would make Delaware a digital diamond. Great Dames, a group for entrepreneurial women, espoused a not-for-profit approach to obtaining grant money that would propel Wilmington into the Silicon Valley of the East.

The Small Business Administration would attract the brightest and best to Wilmington by founding a medical school, using properties vacated by AstraZeneca and DuPont as cheap, ready-made bricks and mortar. A team from Wilmington University proposed promoting the city through social media.

A panel of judges did not select a winner. But attendees were encouraged to text in votes for their favorite ideas. In first place, with 32 percent of the votes, was the Greater Wilmington Visitors and Convention Bureau with its “Joe Knows” campaign, a web-based program which harnesses the national profile of Vice President Joe Biden to help businesses and individuals from out-of-town identify schools, communities and other resources that might be a good match for them.

“We’re trying to solve a branding problem,” said Dennis DeBevec, founder of Cyberwolf Software and a Tech Geek on the team. “Joe knows Delaware—and everybody knows Joe.”

A close second was the team from Christiana Care Health System, which would establish an aggregate website that would promote activities in and around the city.

The Idea Challenge was sponsored by MySherpa and Capital One.

“You never know where a great idea will come from—and we want to support forums where great ideas can grow,” said Greg Gurev, head Sherpa and past president of the Tech Forum.

Keynote speaker Mac Nagaswami, CEO of Carvertise, talked about the power of collaboration, “people from different backgrounds, coming together to solve a shared problem.”

Rick Jensen, WDEL radio talk show host, was the emcee for the evening.

“The reason we’re here is because we love Wilmington,” he said. “Tonight, we will focus on ideation and pitching. Can you take an idea and make it great?”

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