State programs like EDGE help women-owned businesses grow

Peter OsborneBusiness, Headlines


Droneversity owner Ashlee Cooper and her daughter, Savannah Rose, maneuver a drone.

WILMINGTON — When Ashlee Cooper was offered the opportunity to return to the teaching job she lost during the pandemic, she declined because her toddler’s school hadn’t reopened yet.

She opted instead to open an event-planning company.

Her “ah-ha” moment came when someone saw her standing on a chair to photograph a balloon sculpture and suggested she use a drone instead. Cooper found an online course and became an FAA-certified drone pilot.

That led to her opening Droneversity in April 2021 to prepare students who want to make money flying drones pass the FAA test. 

Women-owned winners

Cooper is one of 40 women-owned businesses to win an EDGE grant from the Delaware Division of Small Business since they began in Spring 2019, including five of 10 awarded in the most recent cycle announced in early February.

Through the EDGE grant, the Delaware Division of Small Business matches a winning business’s investment on a 3-to-1 basis. Businesses that are less than seven years old and employ less than 10 people are eligible to apply. 

Five STEM-based companies receive up to $100,000 for eligible expenses in each cycle while five Entrepreneur Class (non-STEM) businesses receive up to $50,000.

This month, the program awarded hundreds of thousands in grants.

Droneversity is using its 2023 $50,000 grant to find an indoor training facility.

“There are few available and affordable buildings in and around Wilmington with ceilings high enough for drones to fly safely indoors,” Cooper says. “Weather and temporary flight restrictions caused by how often President Biden is in Delaware often make outdoor flying problematic for teaching purposes.”

The pandemic led Brianna Westover and her husband to open Studio B Milford, a print shop, gallery and creative coworking space.

She didn’t love her job selling cars, and she kept thinking about a honeymoon trip to Seattle that included a visit to a small-town print shop where the couple fell in love with the idea of a print shop with other bells and whistles. 

Westover and husband Ben Kepler used their nearly $50,000 EDGE grant to open Studio B in the former Delaware Eye Center, which had examination rooms the couple converted into rentable studio space.


Shavonne White

“We’re developing our creative studio spaces; building a schedule of classes; collaborating with local artists to expand our consignment gallery; offering a selection of high-quality art supplies and stationery; and expanding our in-house printing capabilities,” Westover says.

Beyond the EDGE Competition, the state of Delaware offers a range of other services aimed at helping new small businesses build a stronger foundation for success.

Recent winners praise business managers from the Delaware Division of Small Business who provide mentoring services through the EDGE application and pitch process and in other areas. 

Another source of support for small businesses, including many of the EDGE recipients is the Delaware Office of Supplier Diversity (OSD), which helps businesses become certified as a diverse supplier (women, minority, veteran, service disabled veteran, and individuals with disabilities owned businesses) or a Small Business Focus (SBF) program vendor.

The diversity office’s directory of certified businesses is the primary tool used by state and local governments and other procurement offices for contracting purposes. 

OSD has seen an increase in the number of women-owned businesses receiving the three-year certification that helps them win state contracts, including 139 new certifications in the current fiscal year and 243 if you include recertifications.

Many have taken the office’s training programs and workshops.

“The pandemic opened up a lot of funding opportunities and we’re seeing women start more businesses,” said OSD Director Shavonne White, who took over the role shortly before the start of the pandemic and sees certification as a “free marketing tool for businesses. When it comes to completing the application process for certification, women have it together.”


Chevonne Boyd

In the bigger picture, Wells Fargo reported in January 2023 women-owned business’s growth rate nationally from 2019 to 2023 nearly doubled the pace of men.

During the pandemic, women-owned businesses added 1.4 million jobs and $579.6 billion in revenue to the economy.

Projections can be extremely difficult but tools and training helped Chevonne Boyd, who founded The Hive on Loockerman, understand how to project where her business could go. The Hive iss a member-based business and event center for entrepreneurs and nonprofits.

Boyd is using her nearly $35,000 grant for façade improvement and construction to meet code requirements and for design, technology and equipment upgrades.

“I am beyond grateful to live in a state that pours such a significant amount of resources into the small business sector,” Boyd said.

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