How One Berkeley Alum Pays It Forward with VC and a Massive Startup Accelerator
October 15, 2018 | Abree Murch
Strawberry Creek Ventures investor William D. Provine, PhD, earned chemical engineering degrees at Berkeley and University of Delaware before working for DuPont and, most recently, Delaware Innovation Space (DISI). Based in Wilmington, DISI is a public-private partnership that drives science-based entrepreneurial growth — startups are incubated, researchers are mentored, and discoveries abound across 130,000 square feet of modern lab space.
DISI includes a full suite of operational services, high-end scientific equipment, shared and private offices, conference facilities, a café, and myriad collaboration centers. Provine and his team leverage strengths from DuPont, the University of Delaware, and the State of Delaware in the service of DISI clients. They are also “matchmakers,” connecting resident entrepreneurs and client companies to industry partners, customers, and investors. Moreover, DISI team members provide clients with access to domain expertise (e.g., legal and intellectual property development) and building programs to help them grow and accelerate their businesses.
Given Provine’s Berkeley bona fides and experience as an entrepreneur, a scientist, an investor, and mentor, he’s an ideal figure to learn from. In this Q&A, we discuss entrepreneurial drive, lessons learned, and new initiatives at Delaware Innovation Space.
What’s most inspiring to you about Berkeley alums? Why did you invest in Strawberry Creek?
I’ve seen many startups in my career with DuPont and now the Delaware Innovation Space. I’m always inspired by science and tech entrepreneurs and their ventures — especially those emerging from Berkeley. As an alum myself, I wanted to have more of a personal stake in Berkeley-connected companies and Strawberry Creek offers that opportunity. The fund’s methodology and access to promising deals involving well-formed companies drove me to invest.
How does your organization change the status quo in your industry? Which initiatives are you most excited about?
The Delaware Innovation Space is a non-profit organization set up to serve the needs of the science entrepreneur — out for the greater good. We reinvest all of our cash flows into our mission, which is to support and accelerate science-based startups. This allows us to fuel a first-in-class environment for our clients.
Initiatives-wise, I’m very excited about a new $6M capital project that’s fueling the next stage of improvements for our ecosystem and the next wave of scientific equipment for our resident companies.
What sparked your entrepreneurial drive? How do you sustain it?
At the core, my zest for learning drives me — whether learning new science, new market needs, or interpreting customer wants vs. needs and what they are willing to pay. I love to create and have created new ventures—both at DuPont and the Delaware Innovation Space—and, at DISI, I get to bring my talents to bear in assisting a portfolio of companies at almost every stage of development. This diversity fuels my drive and expands my perspectives each and every day.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned on your entrepreneurial journey?
First and foremost, you are not alone and cannot do it by yourself. Success in new ventures requires partnerships on many fronts. The ability to get others to invest their time, talent, and financial wealth requires clear and compelling communication and a connection on a human level.
Second, fundamentals are key. You can’t short circuit the process — you need a clear research/science strategy, value proposition, and business model. You need to test and learn. I’m a big believer in minimal viable product introductions and constant dialogue with customers.
Third, be flexible and have options or pivots in your plan and strategy. Things rarely work out as first anticipated.
Which resources or sources of inspiration are most useful to you on a regular basis?
I find inspiration from case studies authored by others who build or grow new businesses. I enjoy reading and hearing about examples of barriers and the many different ways people overcome or bypass them. These stories inspire me to be more creative in dealing with my own challenges.They make the best practice books and methodologies more useful, and give them context.
Strawberry Creek Ventures is a private, for-profit fund that’s unaffiliated with UC Berkeley. SCV provides Berkeley alumni investors with a diverse portfolio of 20–30 deals that are connected to fellow alums. Learn more by visiting their website.