Downtown: Full of Initiative

Creative entrepreneurs are finding Wilmington to be the ideal place for their start-ups. Here are 10 of the most recent.

The Barn Creative founder Nick Matarese. Photo Butch Comegys

The Barn Creative

Nick Matarese looks back on his school days and calls himself “one of the art kids.” He was creative and loved exploring different media, but he also was aware of a cruel reality.

“When I graduated from high school, I told myself that I wasn’t going to make any money doing that,” he says.

So, after graduating from The Tatnall School, Matarese enrolled at the University of Delaware, even though he wasn’t sure what he was going to do once he got there. And then came the moment that changed his life.

“A person who lived on my floor in Dickinson [dorm] knew I loved art and said to me, ‘Why don’t you go into design work?’” Matarese says. “That’s when the light bulb went off.”

So, he switched his major to visual communications, and that was really the genesis of The Barn Creative, the marketing and design business he founded in 2010. Originally housed in a barn apartment in Newark (hence the name), it’s now located at 1313 N. Market St.

Now 34, Matarese had some success almost immediately—at a designer’s conference in San Francisco he interviewed with executives from Disney, and they were impressed enough to hire him to promote their annual marathon.

“That opened a lot of doors,” he says.

Now his company represents big brands like Adidas, NBC and the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL. Since he opened for business—he is the only fulltime employee; he hires freelancers to complete his team—The Barn Creative has won 37 national designing awards.

For more information, go to thebarncreative.org.
— Kevin Noonan

Carvertise owners Mac Macleod (left) and Greg Starr. Photo courtesy of Wilmington Alliance

Carvertise

Carvertise—an advertising company that wraps cars with removable ads and pays the drivers—had about nine clients when it opened for business in 2014. Today, owners Mac Macleod and Greg Starr can boast a clientele totaling several hundred across the country. What’s more, they recently announced the addition of 50 employees.

“We’ve been going through a 150 percent year-over-year growth rate for the past four years,” says Macleod. “Although it’s easier to double small numbers, we still see our year-over-year growth rate percentage staying strong for years to come. The catalyst behind this is the increasing demand from both regional and national brands to advertise on rideshare drivers; that trend is clearly going to continue.”

He says that, over the next three years, the new hires will move into operations, marketing, production and sales positions. “Operations, accounting, marketing, production, management and installation are all located in Delaware,” Macleod says. “Our sales team is spread out in Delaware, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York City.”

Macleod and Starr are currently working on an international advertising campaign with Visit Tampa Bay—a tourism agency. Some of their longtime clients include Delaware Tech, Wilmington University, Delaware Housing Authority, The Office of Highway Safety and Thomas Jefferson Hospital.

“The support of the business community and the political community in Wilmington and Delaware at large has played a central role in getting Carvertise to where it is today,” says Macleod. “The accessibility to decision makers, the openness of prospects in the state to explore new advertising mechanisms, to the level of close advisory we’ve received from seasoned business executives…Delaware and Wilmington have given us a competitive edge and a strong foundation that we wouldn’t have had elsewhere.”

For more information, go to carvertise.com.
— Danielle Bouchat-Friedman

Patrick Callahan of CompassRed. Photo Rebecca Parsons

CompassRed

Patrick Callahan was searching for a name for his new company when he decided to put his experience as a sailor and a pilot to good use. Callahan’s start-up uses various data to help businesses keep up with the changing times, when analytics is being used by everybody from presidents of banks to general managers of sports teams.

So, CompassRed—based on the term for the orientation needle on a compass—was born.

“We help people get on course,” Callahan says. “We help people navigate through all of this data.”

Callahan, 50, is from Flint, Mich., and lived in New Orleans before moving to Philadelphia to attend Drexel University, where he met his wife, a Delaware native. They settled in Wilmington and he went to Widener Law School, simply because getting a law degree was “on the list of 37 things I wanted to do before I die.”

But he discovered he liked law school more than practicing law, so, after several career turns, he founded CompassRed when he saw there was a market for analytics in the business world. One of his first big clients was Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

“We used data science and we had all the tools to get them on course, so they weren’t wasting money or leaving money on the table,” he says. “Once I saw the impact we had with them, I knew we had something here.”

Now, his clients include Wawa, the DuPont Co., Longwood Gardens and the State of Delaware. For more information, go to compassred.com.
— Kevin Noonan

Girard & Faire: two shops in one. Photo courtesy of Wilmington Alliance

Girard & Faire

The dining scene in downtown Wilmington has been surging lately, leading to a growing nightlife. But downtown has consistently lacked spots that offer grab-and-go options and even a liquor store or wine shop. With the opening of Girard Craft & Cork and Faire Market & Café last year, those needs are now being met.

They are two shops in one, divided by a glass wall, with an entrance on Girard Street and another on Ninth.

Girard Craft & Cork, a wine, beer and spirits shop, opened in April and offers free wine tastings every Friday.

“The shop is wine-heavy, but we do have beer and spirits,” says owner Rob Herrera, who is also the founder of The Mill Space, another downtown business (See next page). “Wine is our number two seller and beer is our number one seller. Our tastings on Fridays have been very popular.”

The shop sells local favorites like Dogfish Head beer and has a healthy single barrel selection.

Faire Market & Café opened last summer and offers a small selection of groceries, grab-and-go items and made-to-order sandwiches and salads.

“Our lunchtime crowd is very steady,” says Herrera. “The walking lunch crowd is significant. We are so close to the central business district.”

Herrera says he and the other owners, Rob Snowberger and Dan Sheridan, “did a lot of asking and interviewing” before they opened the businesses.

“People said they wanted the market and a high-end convenience store,” he says—and they delivered.

For more information, go to fairemarketandcafe.com and girardcraftandcork.com.
— Danielle Bouchat-Friedman

Jet Phynx, owner of Jet Phynx Films. Photo Butch Comegys

Jet Phynx Films

Jet Phynx (born Parris Duncan) grew up loving movies and music.

“HBO and MTV were like my babysitters,” he says.

Phynx started in the music business 18 years ago as a recording artist, but he always liked shooting music videos. Once he discovered his love for cameras and editing, he forsook the recording industry and started exploring creating videos for local artists.

“That was in 2014, and a year later I had over 200 videos,” he says.

Today, Jet Phynx Films specializes in entertainment and lifestyle branding. Some of the brands the company has worked with include Denny’s, ESPN, Under Armour and RCA Records.

His first studio was located at the Wilmington Amtrak station, but he moved to his new spot on Market Street just last year.

“It’s the first time I owned the space I was in,” Phynx says. “The train station was cool, but the new studio was custom designed the way I wanted it.”

And he feels his new location is meeting a need that has long been absent from downtown.

“The studio is giving the youth a place to be creative,” Phynx says. “A space where others can find their creativity. The City of Wilmington never had a space that speaks to millennials and also the corporate side. Jet Phynx Films Studio is bridging that gap.”

For more information, go to jetphynxfilms.com.
— Danielle Bouchat-Friedman

Christopher Bruce, co-founder of King Creative. Photo courtesy of Wilmington Alliance

King Creative

Christopher Bruce started off at the University of Delaware as a pre-med student. He ended up being the school’s mascot—YoUDee—for four years, graduating with a business degree.

Of his YoUDee days, he says, “They were handing out flyers for tryouts. It seemed interesting and different and was a cool way to rub elbows with people and to not just be a number. Through that process, I developed myself as a performer and entrepreneur.”

Laughing, he adds, “My mom says she sent me to school to be a doctor, and I came out as a stuffed animal.”

His mascot experience led him on a path of entertainment and production. He opened Bruce Productions—a full-service video production house off of Newport Gap Pike—in 2013. And just last year, he opened King Creative—a full-service media production house—on the corner of Eighth and Market Streets.

“We work with a lot of different people to create their content, from staff training videos to mini documentaries,” Bruce says. “We also have a full-scale recording studio and are doing a lot of work with artists. I love the energy and the vibe of all that and helping artists who are committed to going for it.”

He says he chose to open the business in downtown because he wanted to have a presence in the heart of the city.

“I saw it as an opportunity to make an impact and as a way to get involved,” he says. “Momentum is a beautiful thing; If you were to stand on that same corner a year-and-a-half ago and ask people what the vibe is, they would say no vibe. Now people are hanging out and they are living.”

For more information, go to facebook.com/KingCreativeLLC.
— Danielle Bouchat-Friedman

Rob Herrera, owner of The Mill. Photo Out & About file photo/Moonloop Photography

The Mill Space

People often joke that trends take a while to catch on in Delaware. Rob Herrera says that was in the back of his mind when he started The Mill—a co-working space in the Nemours building—in 2016.

Getting it up and running wasn’t easy.

“I spent eight years with a firm in New York called WeWork and helped build their co-working model,” Herrera says. “After having kids, I wanted to come back to Delaware. I had started working on The Mill here and Delawareans started showing up and saying, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ They started getting in my head. Also, my wife was pregnant with twins; it was nerve-racking.”

But after three years, The Mill was fully occupied, and Herrera says larger companies were asking for space. That’s when he decided to open a second location on the seventh floor of the Nemours building. The renovations for the new space took less than four months and tenants started moving in on Jan. 1.

“We have 400 people from all different walks of life interacting with each other. It’s hard to explain that energy,” says Herrera.

This year he has taken on a new challenge by opening a third coworking space in what he calls “suburbia”: inside the Concord Plaza, a multi-use development on Silverside Road off Concord Pike.

“Currently, we have 12 offices out of 44 leased [at The Mill Concord],” he says.

His goal was to make the location look and feel much different from downtown. “Let’s celebrate suburbia with some indoor-outdoor space. There’s firepits and I plan to open a volleyball court and jogging trail.”

For more information, go to themillspace.com.
— Danielle Bouchat-Friedman

Marketing Director Carissa Giannone and VP of Enterprise Business Development Jim Shanahan of WhyFly. Photo Butch Comegys

WhyFly

For a business that centers around technology, WhyFly has a pretty basic approach to marketing.

“Word of mouth,” says Nick Sabean, chief marketing officer of the internet-and-more company that has been operating downtown for the last four years.

WhyFly’s initial premise was also pretty basic.

“We give better service at a better price,” Sabean says. “Most people have only one or two choices for an internet provider. And usually it’s too expensive and their other services may not be exactly what they need, and the overall customer experience is very poor.

“With us, there are no contracts and no hidden fees. Our goal from the beginning was to do it better and be as honest and transparent as possible.”

Their service centers around downtown—WhyFly is located at 218 W. Ninth St.—and Sabean said the company is happy with its steady growth. By 2017, they had wired 2,000 homes. Now the number exceeds 3,000.

Sabean says the secret to that growth is satisfied customers telling their family and friends about WhyFly and the alternatives it offers from the mainstream internet companies like Comcast.

And the company has gotten a boost from another source. “About 40 percent of our customers are new to Wilmington, and real estate agents or rental agents will recommend us to them,” Sabean says. “That’s because we’ve built a reputation around the city for fair prices, good service and an excellent support staff.”

WhyFly’s residential fee starts at $55 per month, while the business fee starts at $75. For more information, go to whyfly.com.
— Kevin Noonan

Jason Aviles, founder of Wilmington Green Box. Photo Butch Comegys

Wilmington Green Box

People drive by and stop for a second to look around. Then many of them do a quick U-turn for a second look, because Wilmington Green Box isn’t like anything they’d ever seen on a street in downtown Wilmington.

“That’s the key, getting them to check us out,” says Jason Aviles, the founder of Wilmington Green Box, at 420 N. Market St. “And once they check us out, the overwhelming response is ‘What took you guys so long to get here?’”

Wilmington Green Box is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that sells various health foods in an area of the city that doesn’t have many healthy options for diet-conscious people.

The 35-year-old Aviles is a native of the Bronx who settled in the city because a friend moved here for a job at DuPont and convinced Aviles he would like the slower pace.

After he got here, Aviles decided to combine his two loves—helping underprivileged children and promoting a healthy lifestyle. He started with a push-cart business from which he sold his fruit and vegetable juices, hiring at-risk kids to work the business. Eventually, he decided it needed a bigger and more permanent home, and that’s when he moved to North Market Street.

“I saw a void in the community because it didn’t have enough access to healthy goods,” he says. “And I also saw a chance to help teens find employment and put a few dollars in their pockets while also teaching them what entrepreneurism is all about. To me, that’s a win-win situation.”

For more information, go to wilmingtongreenbox.org.
— Kevin Noonan

The WIN Factory (L-R): Linda Watson, Tamara Varella, Malcolm Coley and Newdy Felton. Photo Butch Comegys

The WIN Factory

Even as a kid, Tamara Varella found herself advising her friends about finances and the world of investment. Now, as an adult, she finds herself doing the same thing.

Varella, 49, is one of the founders of The WIN Factory, a business located at 300 Martin Luther King Blvd. that handles a diversity of interests focusing on education, networking and wealth building.

Varella— who went to Padua Academy before graduating from Concord High—worked at The Food Bank of Delaware, and that made her realize there was a need for somebody to help people, especially inner-city residents, learn how to invest and handle their finances. That motivated her to start The WIN Factory, along with partners Malcolm Coley, Newdy Felton, Linda Watson, Alfred Campbell and Kenyon Wilson.

“There was such a negative narrative about Wilmington, and we wanted to help change that,” she says. “A large part of our community doesn’t know what it needs to know about building and managing wealth, among other things. And that’s our goal – to educate people and give them access to information and resources that they can’t find anyplace else.”

The WIN Factory, which had its grand opening last month, has a co-working space that also can be used for events such as wedding receptions. It also holds seminars and workshops on real estate investing and wealth building, where experts in the field share their knowledge with people interested in exploring their financial and investment options.

“Those resources just aren’t available to a lot of people in our community,” Varella says. “And that’s our mission—to give those people a chance to succeed, now and in the future.”

For more information, go to thewinfactory.io.
— Kevin Noonan

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