Considering Delaware’s status as a state where innovation prospers, Cora Castle begins by quoting late U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Louis Brandeis, who is credited with saying “states are the laboratories of democracy.”
The founder and CEO of Wilmington-based OmniPotential Energy Partners says the quote suggests it is “difficult, dangerous or both to make broad changes without evidence that they produce the anticipated benefit. This sentiment is equally applicable to new economic activity, products and services as it is to innovative legislation or new governing principles.”
The 1995 graduate of the University of Delaware’s electrical engineering program leads a company committed to a world where practical and cost-saving electrical vehicle (EV) ownership does not require a garage or high-income zip code. OmniPotential’s approach to EV charging works for all communities regardless of parking style, and its decision to not charge for its Curbstar hardware or installation makes home EV ownership a great choice for underserved communities.
OmniPotential, a winner in last year’s Startup302 pitch competition for ventures with underrepresented founders and one of Technical.ly’s 2023 RealLIST Startups, developed the Curbstar publicly shared residential charger in 2020. Castle subsequently helped pass Delaware Senate Bill 187, which requires large municipalities to issue permits for the installation of EV charging stations, in 2022 – a great first step for a company entering its commercialization phase.
Castle recently discussed innovation in Delaware with Delaware Prosperity Partnership and shared her advice for budding and current entrepreneurs.
Size matters. Delaware is a comfortably sized laboratory where ambitious projects can be undertaken, even (perhaps especially) if they require legislative action. OmniPotential’s mission is to shift the entire EV fueling paradigm for day-to-day charging away from unfair and inconvenient public charging to one of ubiquitous, fair, convenient and affordable home charging for everyone. This is a heavy-lift mission, with both product and public policy facets. It is impossible for me to imagine a state besides Delaware where I could have expected to get a state legislator to seriously consider my proposal, much less pass it with a bipartisan supermajority with no prior advocacy, legal or legislative experience more substantial than YouTube videos and “Law & Order” reruns.
In Delaware, a good idea needs less overall signal boost to distinguish itself from background noise and competitors. In particular, if your innovation is reliant upon a shift in public policy, Delaware is uniquely suited for your work.
Passion, confidence, patience and ego.
- I cannot imagine a more valuable quality for innovative success than an inextinguishable passion for what you’re doing. Until and unless your business becomes commercially successful, the only payout you’re likely to receive is the satisfaction of moving one more inch up the field. You really need to care about your subject matter more than commercial success.
- Confidence (bordering on fearlessness) is, anti-intuitively, more important to successful commercialization than product quality. Both are important, but if you want to move your product or service out of your garage, you need confidence.
- As for patience, just know that you’re in for a long road trip filled with random landmines of things you never considered when your journey began. It is audacious to think that willpower and creativity alone will ensure your idea or company one day wins grants, receives headlines or signs customers.
- Self-doubt and imposter syndrome will interfere with your ability to process your success. You will need a healthy ego to process these feelings. Accept your success and traction at face value. Take bows when you can and always remember to clap for your entrepreneurial peers when it’s their turn to win awards. Remember that you may reapply next year for the grant you didn’t win this year.
If you aren’t passionate and confident about a new venture you’re considering, I would wait for another opportunity.
- Get out of the office. Go meet interesting people who support you and your mission. Join the a chamber of commerce, go to events, attend town halls, do it all. You can’t succeed from behind a desk.
- Don’t trailblaze when you don’t have to. Read the blogs and press releases of area startups that are showing success. They have laid a trail for you to follow. What awards, grants and recognition have they won? Do the same things.
- Look for deep insight. Research your area of interest deeply. Spend six months in your area of interest reading the top 10 stories every day and collecting the top 10 headlines every week. Make a word cloud on those headlines. Find the problem in the cloud. When you think you really understand the root cause of the problem, solve it. If you can’t find the satisfaction in this kind of research on a topic you’re passionate about, then entrepreneurism will be a challenge for you.
- Validate your understanding. Talk to 100 people you believe might give you money to solve the problem. Ask each of them 10 questions focused on assumptions that can destroy your conclusions about the problem or solution. Do not lead the respondents to their answers! Record the answers. This insight will save you a lot of money and years of your life.