New Pete du Pont Foundation Director Talks ‘Reinventing Delaware’

Stephen Sye (Tower Hill ’93) is the new executive director of the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation.

Since launching eight years ago, the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation has racked up some pretty impressive accomplishments. This includes creating Delaware’s first coding school (Zip Code Wilmington), hosting the annual Reinventing Delaware ideas summit, and honoring the likes of Dr. Mehmet Oz, George Will and this year, former Endo CEO Carol Ammon with the Foundation’s Freedom Award.

As the foundation’s reach and ambitions have grown, they’ve been staffing up, most recently appointing new Executive Director Stephen Sye, a product of Tower Hill School, the University of Delaware and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. 

We spoke with Sye about the foundation’s priorities as they seek innovative ways to make Delaware a better place.

Town Square Delaware: How do you plan to approach the role of leading the Foundation and setting a strategic direction?

Sye: The Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation honors the legacy of Governor du Pont by celebrating entrepreneurship and identifying bold and innovative ideas that will create jobs and make Delaware a better place to live, work and raise a family.

I am actively working with the Board of Directors and speaking with our constituents to hear their perspectives on why they engage with and support the foundation and how we can continue to share and grow Pete du Pont’s mission.

The way to get there is to increase our visibility, publicly celebrate successful entrepreneurship, and facilitate opportunities for innovators and bold thinkers. My job is to make sure that vision is understood and demonstrated to our constituents and supporters and to ensure that we have the resources in place to continually make those things happen. 

2018 Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation awardee Carol A. Ammon is the founder and retired CEO of Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc. She is also the largest individual donor to support the Christiana Care Health System. Wilmington Hospital unveiled her portrait in 2014.

TSD: What are the priorities or goals for the next 18 months?

Sye: Our near-term focus is on some pretty exciting events we are hosting this year that have the potential to make a real difference in our state.

On October 3rd we will present the2018 Pete du Pont Freedom Award to Carol Ammon at the Hotel DuPont. Carol’s success at Endo Pharmaceuticals and her philanthropic work with Wilmington Hospital are a perfect representation of what we hope to continually produce through our work at the foundation.

That same evening, we will highlight graduates from our 2017 Reinventing Delaware competition: The Warehouse and Wilmington Green Box. Anyone interested in joining us for this special evening may click here to register

Also on October 3rd we will open up the Reinventing Delaware online registration. For-profit or nonprofit business ideas can be submitted online for the opportunity to be invited to present at our Reinventing Delaware Dinner.

The Reinventing Delaware Dinner on Dec 6, 2018, will showcase some of the best new business ideas in the state.

We know there are loads of potential game-changing ideas out there, and we want to provide ways for them to be seen and heard. So we are hoping to receive several submissions.

On December 6th we will host the annual Reinventing Delaware Dinner, where we invite 100 participants to present an idea they believe will create jobs and make Delaware a better place to live, work and raise a family.

From that event, we will work through a rigorous process to bring the strongest ideas to fruition in hopes that they will have a strong impact on our state. Examples of past winning ideas include ZipCode WilmingtonOpen Bracket DelawarePay for SuccessThe Warehouse, and Wilmington Green Box.

We continually look for new opportunities to provide value to our supporters while raising funds to execute our mission. If you are interested in getting involved please contact me or visit our website.

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?

Sye: At the core, we are about identifying bold ideas that will create jobs and make Delaware a better place to live, work and raise a family.

So our goal is to produce at least one idea annually that impacts Delaware’s economy on a significant level. ZipCode Wilmington, for example, is graduating about 90 students per year. And almost all of them are gaining meaningful employment and contributing to Delaware’s economy.

We want to be known for producing results like this year after year. However, the development cycle is resource intensive. Ideas must be rigorously vetted and refined to ensure they are viable and that process engages multiple constituents.

In 2017 we engaged with Social Contract, a firm that specializes in collaborative refinement and focused outcomes. They helped us identify our two winning nonprofit ideas — The Warehouse and Wilmington Green Box.

We are pleased that for 2018 we will be emphasizing for-profit ideas and are partnering with the University of Delaware’s Horn Entrepreneurship Program to help us refine and vet those proposals. Partnerships, resource availability and allocation are critical to our success in order to facilitate growth. But we also need to ensure we have the funding in place for the critical refinement process which allows us to bring ideas to reality. 

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?

Sye: We are thrilled so many want to make a difference in Delaware. It speaks to the character of so many in our state.

In 2017 The Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation recognized Dr. Mehmet Oz at their annual award dinner inside the Gold Ballroom of the Hotel DuPont.

What differentiates us is our track record of success and the uniqueness of our process. Our Board, members, and supporters represent some of the most successful individuals and companies in Delaware and the region. So, we have the ability to bring the right people together in a room and make things happen quickly.

Our Reinventing Delaware process is really something magical. We actively solicit and identify great ideas.  Out refinement process ensures that the best and most viable ideas are put into play. And this increases the likelihood that those ideas will have an impact. We also work with a number of other organizations because we believe all have something valuable to contribute. Our belief is that we are smarter together.

TSD: What do you see as the greatest problems Delaware faces now? What are the hurdles to addressing them in a successful way? 

Sye:  What we focus on at the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation is trying to create jobs to make Delaware a better place to live, work and raise a family. We recognize that there are challenges. But we also believe that if we identify ideas that put people to work, that we will be able to address some of those challenges.

For example, Wilmington Green Box is not only teaching at-risk youth entrepreneurial skills but is also providing healthy goods to underserved areas of the city.

Reinventing Delaware opens up opportunity in our state. This is a wonderful opportunity for individuals to submit any idea they believe will address challenges that face Delaware. We will bring together business leaders and resources to help bring selected ideas to reality. 

TSD: Tell us something about yourself most people don’t know and what attracted you to this role.

Sye: Music has been a big part of my life. I play several instruments and have performed solo or in a band or chorus countless times. I guess I’m a bit of a ham because I love performing on stage.

At one point I owned an independent record label, Ground Zero Productions, before the days of SoundCloud and YouTube. Leadership Delaware also has provided me and the other 2018 Fellows some amazing professional opportunities. 

Circling back to how I ended up at the Pete du Pont Foundation. I get excited about the pursuit of innovative ideas and programs that create opportunity. This position offered me an opportunity to help bring people together and move the dial in Delaware. I look forward to carrying on Pete du Pont’s legacy.

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