The idea-generating foundation that has spawned a successful coding school and a national hacking competition is bringing on its first executive director to expand the organization’s reach and role in improving Delaware.
The Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation’s recent appointment of UD grad Palina Ivanova underlines its momentum as a catalyst for new thinking about how the state can grow and compete in a dynamic, technology-focused economic landscape.
Ivanova is charged with directing plans for the foundation’s mission, strategy, annual goals, and she will lead the foundation’s two signature events – Pete du Pont Freedom Award and the Reinventing Delaware idea generation series.
A native of Bulgaria, Ivanova is relocating to Wilmington from Rockville, Maryland. She gained a degree in accounting with a focus on entrepreneurial studies at UD, where she worked with a team in the school’s Horn Entrepreneurship program to launch a startup, Revive, a sustainable approach for accessing a limitless wardrobe, which TSD reported on in May.
TSD caught up with Ivanova to ask her about the goals for her new role, and where the Foundation can best continue to build on its early success.
TSD: Being the first full-time director of an organization presents both great challenges and opportunities. How do you plan to approach the role of leading the Foundation and setting a strategic direction?
Palina Ivanova: Since its creation, the Foundation was run by the members of the Board – There du Pont, Ben du Pont, Scott Malfitano, Mike Houghton, and Bill Manning. So first I will be spending a lot of time listening to and learning from the Board, clearly understanding their goals and expectations. It will also be beneficial to speak with other successful non-profit and social entrepreneurs to better understand where our strengths and weaknesses lie and to strategize accordingly.
TSD: What are the top priorities or goals for the next year?
PI: Our main priority for the coming year is to ensure that our Foundation is successfully facilitating the implementation of the winning ideas presented at our Reinventing Delaware idea generation series. During this event we bring together thought leaders from the business and financial sector, along with heads of charitable organizations, academia and the entrepreneurial community to present and discuss new ideas that will help create jobs in Delaware. Participants then vote on the ideas presented and two winning ideas emerge onto the next phase.
In this next phase work committees are formed to expand on and implement these ideas so they can become self-sustaining within a year.
Examples of past success are Zip Code Wilmington and Open Bracket. Both were ideas presented at Reinventing Delaware which generated dialogue around and sparked energy upon further developing each idea from concept to reality.
Zip Code Wilmington has grown into a 90-day coding bootcamp that puts its students on the fast track into paid apprenticeships. The outcomes have shown that ninety-three percent of its graduates get high paying jobs within three months of graduation and ninety-six percent within six months of graduation.
Open Bracket has developed into a computer coding competition that attracts talented coders from all over the world into Delaware.
TSD: Longer term, talk about the Foundation’s vision for growth. What would you like to see the organization achieve over the next 3-5 years and what kind of resources or growth will be needed to accomplish that?
PI: Our vision is to become a leading forum for new ideas that will help reinvent the First State.
Over the next three to five years, I would like to see our organization expand our Reinventing Delaware idea generation series to more locations in the area so that we are empowering more communities to initiate progress towards advancing our state. To do this, we will first need to work on expanding our presence. I believe that we are not yet as well-known as we can be. It is my goal to meet with social and for-profit entrepreneurs in the area to discuss our mission and how we can align ourselves with community initiatives in place.
In order for us to achieve our vision and attain the growth we are hoping to see, we will need talent. As always, when seeking to attract and retain talent, funding will be necessary. We hope to develop additional funding mechanisms that will sustain our growth moving forward.
TSD: There are a lot of local organizations trying to make a difference and steer Delaware in a positive direction. How does the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation differentiate itself in that mix?
PI: The Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation’s focus is to help create jobs in Delaware. We differentiate ourselves by acting as crowd sourcing for new ideas generated by various stakeholders in the entrepreneurial community and then empowering those to bring their idea to fruition. Our network provides us with the connections needed to help initiate and facilitate progress toward implementing these ideas.
TSD: What do you see as the greatest problems Delaware faces now and what are the hurdles to addressing them in a successful way?
PI: One of Delaware’s biggest problems is that it is just not at a sufficient competitive level with its neighboring states in attracting and retaining talent. Delaware has great potential to be the home for many more young and energetic individuals, but we need to create more job opportunities and further revitalize our cities to lure new residents. This is an effort that takes many initiatives and organizations to work together in order for any progress to be achieved.
TSD: Tell us something about yourself most people don’t know and what attracted you to this role.
PI: In 2000, at five years old I immigrated to the United States from Bulgaria with my sister, my mom and my dad. We came to the U.S. with $100, two suit cases, and very little knowledge of the English language in order to find better opportunities than what we would have been given in Bulgaria. My mom started working for Macy’s sweeping floors and cleaning windows and my dad was a bar-back, cleaning out oysters and washing dishes.
Over the years, I grew up seeing first-hand the immense work ethic and perseverance of both of my parents as they strived to position themselves for success. This past May my mom graduated cum lade from Catholic University with a master’s in Architecture after having been in school for 14 years while working full time and raising my sister and me. My dad recently started his own home remodeling and design business, Vinny Design/Remodeling.
I’ve always had a passion for entrepreneurship and this was a primary factor in attracting me to this role. However, what really drove me to this role was the opportunity to do meaningful work that would allow me to help initiate progress in the community. I understand that what we are doing is challenging in nature and my role itself is challenging, but I believe that with hard work and perseverance, I too can achieve my goals.