Innovation Is Everywhere.
So Are We.
Innovation Space science entrepreneurs
come from all over the world.
In just six years since its inception in 2017, Innovation Space, located on the Experimental Station campus in Wilmington, Del., has supported and enabled more than 100 startups in their growth journeys, which in turn has raised over $800 million in private capital and helped to create or retain more than 400 jobs.
Not only does Innovation Space of fuel the growth of science-based startups with best-in-class on-site labs and equipment, access to funding, and mentorship, but its virtual programs, like Science Inc. and Spark Factory, link scientists, business leaders, community members, investors, and service providers to help build business concepts and accelerate the path to commercialization of breakthrough innovations.
More than 45 startups from around the world—Germany, Canada, and Uruguay—and across the country—Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Washington—have cycled through the programs in the last two years.
Here are their stories:
Meet ImmunoBlue, a game-changing Maryland-based portfolio company spun out of George Washington University by cofounders Rohan Fernandes, PhD and Lizie Sweeney, PhD to translate their lab discoveries to patients in need. With a bold mission to develop cutting-edge nanoimmunotherapies for cancer treatment, ImmunoBlue seamlessly blends the power of nanotechnology and immunotherapy. In their relentless pursuit to bring hope to patients battling glioblastoma, the most prevalent brain tumor in the U.S., ImmunoBlue discovered an invaluable partner in the Innovation Space.
“Glioblastoma patients face limited treatment options beyond surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, often with a bleak prognosis for survival,” said Sweeney. “Our aim is to change this narrative. By leveraging the principles of nanotechnology and immunotherapy, we are developing a novel multi-targeted and personalized T-cell therapy. This groundbreaking approach educates patients’ own immune cells to combat the disease, offering the potential for durable cures and transforming the landscape of glioblastoma treatment.”
Connecting with Innovation Space:
“We found Innovation Space through a connection with founder, President, and CEO Bill Provine. The moment we discovered the Innovation Space, we realized it was the perfect partner to nurture our growth and accelerate our impact.”
Leveraging resources for growth:
“ImmunoBlue participated in Spark Factory, an intensive month-long mentorship program at the Innovation Space that culminated in our company pitch to several entrepreneurs and investors. We worked closely with an entrepreneur-in-residence, and received valuable mentorship and guidance that helped us refine our pitch and improve both our communication and our strategy.”
Since Spark Factory, ImmunoBlue has been working closely with clinicians to validate their novel therapeutic strategy and generate the data needed for an IND submission with the FDA to initiate a Phase I clinical trial.
Advice to early-stage startups:
“We recommend seeking support and advice from as many different people as possible (especially with expertise outside of your field), keeping an open mind to outside suggestions, and being willing to pivot if a different opportunity arises.”
Jo Norris and Nick Martin, both alum of the University of Delaware and mission-driven entrepreneurs, were looking to democratize access to carbon capture technology. As they sought out the resources to bring their idea to life in the Delaware ecosystem, they discovered the Innovation Space.
“We recognized the value of the lab space and equipment offerings, as well as the tailored support and opportunities provided by The Innovation Space,” Martin, co-founder and COO of Carbon Reform, said, “which aligned perfectly with our needs as a growing business.”
Since its founding in 2020, Carbon Reform has focused on solving the complex challenge of carbon emissions and indoor air quality in commercial buildings. Its lead asset, the Carbon Capsule, can be retrofitted to any existing commercial HVAC system to improve indoor air quality, reduce energy consumption and minimize carbon emissions.
“The potential impact of our solution is significant,” Martin said. “It can lead to substantial energy savings, improved health and comfort for occupants, and a substantial reduction in carbon footprint, contributing to global sustainability efforts.”
The Innovation Space benefits
“The resources at The Innovation Space have been instrumental in our growth as a business. The state-of-the-art lab space and equipment have provided us with the necessary infrastructure to develop and test our product effectively. We have also been involved in several programs at DISI, including Spark Factory and Science Inc., which helped us refine our go-to-market strategy and pitch to investors. Finally, we have found a lot of value in connecting with other DISI tenants – several have become current/future strategic partners and advisors.”
“Working with The Innovation Space has helped us achieve significant business milestones. We continue to make great strides with the research and development of our novel carbon capture technology within the state-of-the-art lab facilities, which has accelerated our product development timeline. Through The Innovation Space’s network and events, we have been able to showcase our solution to potential customers, investors, and industry experts, leading to customer acquisition and business growth.”
Advice to early-stage startups
“For early-stage startups seeking support, our advice would be to actively seek out incubators and resources like The Innovation Space that align with their industry and business needs. These spaces provide not only physical infrastructure but also invaluable guidance, mentorship, and access to networks that can significantly accelerate their growth. It’s important to fully leverage the resources available, engage with the community, and remain open to learning and adapting. Building a strong network and surrounding yourself with experienced mentors and peers can greatly enhance your chances of success.”
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For Dalton Signor and his company, Miist Therapeutics, the partnership with The Innovation Space has been a fruitful one.
Signor co-founded the company while attending Villanova University, which provided Miist with its first grant funding. While a student, Signor discovered The Innovation Space before joining the inaugural cohort of the Science Inc. accelerator. Eventually, The Innovation Space provided Miist with its first private investment.
“The Innovation Space provided me with capital and mentorship through their Science Inc. program that very quickly led to new, larger opportunities with other investors on a global scale,” Signor, the company’s CEO, said. “More recently, The Innovation Space has made connections for me that have led to potential pharmaceutical development deals and a new hire to our Scientific Advisory Board, both of which are actively adding significant value to the company.”
“Receiving our first private investment was a big milestone for the company,” Signor said. “It provided the first real show of external confidence that was necessary to bring other investors into our pre-seed raise.
“Since then, the largest value add has certainly been in the connections they have made. The Innovation Space has connected me with investors, executives, and companies that have, in turn, significantly advanced our regulatory strategy and business development opportunities.”
Advice to early-stage startups
“One piece of advice that I would offer up to founders of early-stage startups is to say yes to all the opportunities that come your way. Make sure that you stay focused on what your business does, but when it comes to taking meetings, accepting new intros, attending pitch events, etc., say yes to everything because you never know what it will lead to. Publicity and awareness are huge for startups, and the startup world is a fairly small ecosystem where news travels fast and can lead to incredible new opportunities you have yet to even think of.”
About Miist Therapeutics
Miist Therapeutics develops inhaled treatments for both systemic and respiratory conditions. The company is currently advancing its lead asset, the Miist NRT Inhaler, into clinical development as a novel treatment for smoking addiction. With the development of this novel smoking cessation therapy, Miist is working to eliminate unwanted smoking addiction, which remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S. today.
When the co-founders of sHYp were looking for laboratory space, the Innovation Space was a natural choice. After all, co-founder and advisor Professor Daniel Esposito is a University of Delaware graduate.
Co-founder and CEO Carl Fischer wanted a location central to the major mid-Atlantic metropolitan areas and shipping ports with access to seawater and the maritime sector. The co-founders were additionally looking for appropriately designed laboratory space for chemicals work, as well as a location that would be livable for the team they intended to hire.
“The laboratory space is exceptional,” said co-founder and CTO Lauren Greenlee. “It has allowed us to establish our primary R&D space for hydrogen and chemicals work.”
Space for R&D is critical to sHYp’s work. The company provides low-carbon dioxide footprint hydrogen at market-competitive costs for the marine and maritime sectors, and produces valuable low-CO2 co-products, such as magnesium hydroxide. The company works to solve problems of durability in implementing green hydrogen technology for ports, commercial shipping and offshore platforms.
“The green hydrogen market is projected to reach $7 billion by 2027, and is currently growing at a compound annual growth rate of 61%,” Greenlee said. “Selling magnesium hydroxide into the current commodities market and emerging markets of green building materials and sorbents for commercial shipping emissions reductions allows us to sell our hydrogen at $2 per kilogram, which is 60-80% lower than current commercial prices.”
Innovation Space benefits
“The Innovation Space provides us with huge value thanks to its team and all of the business development and networking resources that are available as a tenant.”
“We have moved our technology from technology readiness level (TRL) 3 to TRL 5 in less than six months, and we have developed process design and financial models that have allowed us to pivot to a commercialization pathway that will allow us to start generating revenue in 2024. We are also in discussions with a first customer who wants to set up a and purchasing contract with us.”
Advice to early-stage startups
“I think one of the most important things you can do is find mentors for a range of topics, but especially those that you do not have experience in — for me, that included sales development, financial analysis and modeling, pitch deck development, and generally thinking about how you develop commercialization strategy.
“Get as much help as you can from people who have real experience and knowledge around scale up, commercialization, sales contracts, and other aspects of really getting your company to first revenue. And then listen to those people and stay focused on the fact that if you don’t get to revenue and sales, you will not succeed. And make sure you have mentors who tell you things that you don’t necessarily want to hear, but need to hear.”
Hydrogen has the potential to accelerate our transition to a clean-energy economy, but conventional production methods come with a high carbon footprint. Innovation Space portfolio company Versogen is changing that.
Spun out of the University of Delaware by Professor Yushan Yan, Versogen’s journey with the Innovation Space started in 2019 when they won the first FastPass competition from the University of Delaware and Innovation Space and took up residency at the Innovation Space. Just four years later, Versogen has grown its team to 25, raised over $14.5 million, and is poised for expansion.
“Innovation Space offers state-of-the-art laboratory facilities for technological innovation,” said Lan Wang, Ph.D., director of new chemistry and co-founder. “It also fosters a supportive startup community that provides mentorship, brainstorming, workshops, conferences, and funding opportunities.”
According to Wang, “Versogen offers a cost-effective solution for the production of green hydrogen by utilizing water and renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions in the energy and chemical industries.”
By leveraging patented anion exchange membranes (AEM) and earth-abundant materials for its green hydrogen production systems, Versogen is laying the foundation for a sustainable energy future.
Partnership with Innovation Space
“Innovation Space gives us a warm family environment, with analytical equipment at minimum or no cost,” said Sharon Perl, Ph.D., MBA, director of membrane production. “We also have equipped and safe lab space that enables Versogen as a young company to focus on our technology without the need to worry about infrastructure.”
Thanks to the partnership with Innovation Space, Perl said Versogen was able to “develop and scale up the polymer [and membrane] production” to enable cost-effective, large-scale production leveraging standard roll manufacturing equipment.
For Wang, the partnership with Innovation Space allowed the two-person startup to become a company of “25-plus people with increasing revenue at Innovation Space, where we developed, prototyped, scaled up our PiPerlON membranes and finished our Series A fundraising.”
Advice to other startups
Wang: “While focusing on your core technology and target customers, it’s important to remain agile and be prepared to pivot in order to adapt to the right market.”
Perl: “Innovation is great and that is the base of a startup. But, make sure that you focus on inventing new ideas and not reinventing the wheel.”