William Provine is CEO of the Delaware Innovation Space, a not-for-profit business incubator based in Wilmington. Developed in partnership with DuPont, the State of Delaware, and the University of Delaware, the Delaware Innovation Space seeks to fuel science and technology startups’ growth into industry leaders. The facility is located on the DuPont Experimental Station campus, where its multi-use lab space occupies an area of more than 100,000 square feet. Prior to his work with the Delaware Innovation Space, Bill spent 20 years at DuPont, where he eventually served as Director of Science & Engineering.
EDWIN WARFIELD: How did you get your start with DuPont, and how did your career lead you to where you are now?
BILL PROVINE: I was fortunate to start my career with DuPont, a great multinational company, back in 1992, actually in central research and development as a scientist. Being a scientist I came in from University Delaware and applied my PhD in chemical engineering to solve the challenges of those days, which were complex reaction kinetics/catalysis work to create new and better materials and chemical processes. From that, I was part of a large company with a lot of opportunities. I was given the opportunity to expand across a variety of different business lines and functions, from manufacturing and business development to new venture formation and creation, and opened up a lot of new business elements for DuPont, both from a technology and a business perspective.
Over the years, it led me around the world learning about customers and markets around the world, different ways people innovate around the world—structurally, technically, across a variety of technical domains. With that, I’ve been inspired by helping DuPont advance that corporately, setting up different regional innovation structures around the world, and helping support innovation centers around the world, and really looking how they capitalize and partner with people differently around the globe, whether it be in a university or other companies, and how to structurally do that. So, both legally contractually as well as to make sure there is that win-win dynamic on both sides of that relationship.
That led me to where I’m at today actually, as somebody who is doubling down on that in terms of supporting start up companies and joining and forming myself the Delaware Innovation Space in 2017 and using that as a startup of our own within Delaware and the Delaware community to support science entrepreneurs and help them advance to the markets and to satisfy the customers that I of course enjoyed over my roughly 26-year industrial career.
Q. Can you tell us about how the Delaware Innovation Space was created?
A. I’d say it’s a perfect storm of opportunity how the Delaware Innovation Space was created and formed. I have to say it’s a really strong partnership across a lot of people—a lot of ideas that were synthesized together, so I definitely will not take personal credit for it; it really was a team effort. Early on it came together with core conversations between DuPont and the University of Delaware. There’s a new president in the University of Delaware coming on—Dennis Assanis, we actually started talking with him while he was still up in Stonybrook, making the transition down to the University of Delaware. He wanted to intensify entrepreneurialism at University of Delaware through an exponential learning component, and really spin out more companies from the University of Delaware from the great science they do there. To DuPont, DuPont was going through something called the Dow-DuPont merger and transition, and we within DuPont said, “Hey, how do we use this as an opportunity to really start something new and different?” So we came together and formed, conceptually—again from my career within DuPont, I’d seen how people innovate around the world—and say, How are we going to intensify, within DuPont, DuPont’s relationship with entrepreneurs?” And what’s a better way than putting them right in your backyard. So we took the opportunity to set up the concept. We then pitched that to the Delaware delegation. The great thing about the State of Delaware is across the public-private interface you have very intimate, ongoing conversations that occur almost daily, if not hourly, and they call you directly at your desk—they being senators and Congress folks who support us in the US Congress, as well as the governor of the state of Delaware. We actually started talking to John Carney while he was a Congressman, and Jack Markell who was the Governor, and developed that concept. Everybody was highly supportive—who would not be, right?—creating great new science companies, creating the next DuPont core insight. They came to the table and said, “How can we help you make this happen?” We all basically sat together, pooled our resources, and created the Delaware Innovation Space.
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