Passionate. Energetic. Enthusiastic. Unrelenting.
For anyone who has come across Paul McConnell, those are the words – and images – that come thundering into mind.
McConnell is local guy who made his fortune in real estate, a risk taker and idea-generating machine who will simply not give up on his hometown of Wilmington and the belief that education is the fundamental key to changing lives.
“You can’t under value the energy Paul brings – it’s infectious. Even college students have a hard time keeping up with him,” said Jordan Gonzalez (UD ’17), co-founder of location-based ad-tech company GeoSwap, a start-up that McConnell has supported.
On Tuesday night the Boy Scouts of America Del-Mar-Va Council will honor McConnell for his tireless, multi-decade efforts to create opportunity and economic growth in our state.
The Salesianum and UD grad is a businessman, philanthropist and mentor known for his generosity to schools like Nativity Prep (he is their largest donor), Centreville Layton and St. Edmond’s Academy (he and wife Linda built the Science Center).
McConnell also takes great joy in identifying and investing in young start-up talent and has provided critical strategic and financial backing for startups that are already having a measurable impact in Wilmington and on the national stage.
Paul and Linda established the Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative in the Horn Program of the University of Delaware to fuel an entrepreneurial culture among both high school and college students. One early and successful product of the program is the Diamond Challenge. The highly-selective, international pitch competition is held in the spring each year. McConnell is a member of the Horn Program Board of Advisors and the University of Delaware President’s Leadership Council.
Four years ago, McConnell launched 1313 Innovation in Wilmington’s Hercules Building (which he owns), a collaborative environment combining education and economic development.
McConnell is focused on keeping and nurturing young entrepreneurial talent here in Delaware, and 1313 was created to attract some of the brightest graduates from the University of Delaware to Wilmington.
The successful startup Carvertise was an early ‘win’ for 1313, a business that transforms cars into rolling billboards, the brainchild of three UD students. McConnell was an important funder, advisor and host to the young business.
“In early 2014 we had just started the company and it was really tough,” said Carvertise co-founder Greg Star. Offering space at the new 1313 Innovation center and making connections to leaders in the business and government sectors, McConnell helped keep the business concept going until young entrepreneurs were able to land their first large-scale client. Today Carvertise employs 15 people and has paid out close to $1 million in money to drivers in Delaware.
GeoSwap’s founders credit McConnell with boosting their business at a critical time. Closing in on graduation from UD and with little money for their venture, the students almost gave up on their business concept.
“We weren’t sure we were going to be able to keep working on it. And then Paul came in and offered everything. That’s when we knew we would finally have enough time to make it a reality,” said co-founder Keith Doggett.
McConnell also established a weekly mentoring program at 1313 where business and community leaders share ideas with the many startups that are now housed there. “He (McConnell) has definitely helped out with capital investments and his connections. Being part of the ecosystem here for us has been really important,” said GeoSwap co-founder Jason Bamford.
McConnell says it’s really his passion for innovation which fuels his drive to help students. “We see and identify a lot of this great talent through the UD Horn Entrepreneurship program. Our whole idea is to bring them all to Wilmington so that Wilmington has this energy and ideas. And ultimately they’re going to make money –money that we can put into the city to see it grow.”
The Boy Scout’s recognition as the 2018 Citizen of the Year isn’t the first time McConnell has been honored for his community leadership. The St. Patrick’s Day Society and the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce have also publicly celebrated his efforts. For more information about Tuesday’s award dinner, click here.