Tag: Entrepreneur

Mike Pfeifer

Filmmaker, 1440 Film Co.

Mike Pfeifer

Mike Pfeifer

“Speak to the heart to encourage the mind.”

This is the mantra of Mike Pfeifer, the owner of 1440 Film Co. The Wilmington-based video production firm has been in business for just over a year but has already completed projects for the American Heart Association, the Ronald McDonald House and the University of Delaware.

Pfeifer arrived in Delaware during his freshman year at Christiana High School, to move closer to a job his father had gotten at the nearby Chrysler plant. He received his degree in Community and Organization Leadership at the University of Delaware, which became useful with the technical aspects of running a business.

The business degree was a strategic decision for Pfeifer when considering his career. “Growing up I always had a camera around my neck. I would talk my teachers into letting me do a video for a project because I hated writing. It didn’t hit me until I graduated from UD that it was a viable skillset and people would actually pay me to do something I enjoy doing,” Pfeifer said. “I never thought in a million years I’d be able to do this for a living.”

Delaware has provided a great balance for Pfeifer. “I love the quality of life I get living and working here in Delaware. We can be at the beaches or the mountains in about an hour. I do a little bit of traveling for shoots, but most of my work is here in Delaware,” Pfeifer said. He doesn’t hesitate when considering the alternatives. “Sure I could go to New York and hunt down some of the bigger agencies but I’m perfectly happy telling the stories of the people and brands in our state.”

Last year was intense for Pfeifer — building the business, managing both the creative and logistics for complex shoots and doing the networking required to make them happen. On top of that, he is a dad to a 2-year-old daughter. “I get to drop my daughter off in the morning and kiss her goodnight at bedtime which is the most important thing to me.”

For Pfeifer, strategic networking has been critical to 1440’s strong start. “There are also incredible resources for making connections to the larger businesses in the state — Delaware State Chamber, Delaware Decision Makers run by Dave Tiberi, Leadership Delaware led by Terry Strine, and the new Delaware Small Business Administration- they have a great speed networking event that has gotten me connections to a number of banks. I’ve gotten major national clients through this kind of networking,” Pfeifer said.

He credits Delaware for this access, “I don’t know if other states operate like that, but you hear this time and time again with Delaware being so small, and if you put in the time, all of those things are possible here.”

“I love the quality of life I get living and working here in Delaware. We can be at the beaches or the mountains in about an hour.”

Connections are also key in helping him match the right teams to the projects that come in, many of them diverse and hyper-focused on a certain style. “Making large production work here is primarily relationship-based. I am responsible for most of the creative development, but I am surrounded by a really talented group of people in this area,” Pfeifer said.

“Filmmaking is the greatest team sport there is. I have a sports background — you can only do so much yourself, and only carry [yourself] so far.”

1440 was not just a random number for Pfeifer, it was something he spent a lot of time crafting, until he was sure he had the right fit. “Names are challenging and every dot-com is taken. You want the name to be meaningful and represent you in some way.” In brainstorming a unique name Pfeifer focused on lacrosse, as it has always been a big part of his life and something he and his father shared.

“14 was one of my numbers, 40 was his. He passed away from cancer five years ago.” When looking into the use of the number “1440” for his business, Pfeifer discovered that there are 1440 minutes in each day. “I knew it was right — that it is about making minutes count.”

Making an impact and speaking to the heart to encourage the mind is the core mission that drives all of 1440’s work. “In any career, people want to do things that make a difference. Sure I could sell 10 million batteries for Duracell but I would much rather make an impact somewhere.” So Pfeifer started Project Give Back, where a percentage of every project goes in a pot. At the end of the year, that money is used to fund a pro bono piece designed to do something meaningful.

Project Give Back for 2019 made a big impact. Focusing on Teen Sharp, a Delaware non-profit that helps underrepresented students get into college, Pfeifer decided to film the students opening their college acceptance letters. “We shot it at DeTV’s studio. We put them under the lights and then surprised them by bringing out their parents from behind the curtain to talk about what all of their efforts meant to them. That despite whatever the letter says, they are still champions.

Pfeifer then takes a deep breath recalling the moment. “Then we brought out one of their Teen Sharp mentors, who had worked with them for 5 years. And then, right after all of that, we had a representative from one of the colleges on the phone. We hand the phone over to the students and it’s someone from the university telling them ‘we would love to have you.’ And everyone there just melts. It was such a powerful moment. And now Teen Sharp has… they have lightning in a bottle,” Pfeifer said.

“They have the most rewarding thing I’ve ever shot. If I could do one project like that a year, for the remainder of my career, that would be a success for me.”

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Wilmington Brew Works

Wilmington Brew Works

Wilmington Brew Works enters Third Year with Glasses Raised

Earlier this year, as they were approaching just their second anniversary, CEO Craig Wensell, CFO Keith Hughes and VP of Marketing John Fusco of Wilmington Brew Works holed up in their expansive Miller Road location to discuss the state’s then-recently announced phased re-opening. Their navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic since then has been both successful and a testament to the partners’ collaboration and the strategic partnerships they have created along the way.

“We were almost dead in the water there for a little bit,” Hughes recalls. “There was a national shortage of crowlers and growlers, and there was nowhere to put the beer we were making. It seemed like every day there for a while, something would happen that had us trying to figure out how to keep the lights on.”

Throughout the pandemic, local breweries, along with the Delaware Brewers’ Guild, have worked to keep breweries up to date with changing restrictions. They also have come together to help each other out when supplies have run short.

“We put out a call because we were very low on crowlers,” Wensell says. “And, lo and behold, Drew [Rutherford] from Stitch House reached out right away and helped us out.”

Pivoting quickly also helped.

“On the weekend of March 13, I was on the computer all weekend building a website to allow us to take online orders for pickup,” Fusco says. “We were able to launch that the day the government shut us down. At the end of that week, we could not believe how much business we had done.”

The three actually have been together for a long time, working as very early collaborating partners on Bellefonte Brewing Company. Fusco did the logo and design work for that, Hughes put the business plan together, and Wensell brewed the beer.

“Building a good team is very hard,” Hughes says. “[It is often important] to understand when not to get involved in something. We are all very Type A here, which is usually a tough situation to have, that many opinions. You have to respect the person and their role, which I think we do a good job with here.”

The combination of this niche community, great beer, a convenient location and a relaxed and inclusive atmosphere makes Wilmington Brew Works unique to the region.

Hughes and Fusco originally connected with Wensell as homebrewers.

“[Ed Mulvihill] at Peco’s Liquor told me there was someone I should meet who was creating great beer,” Hughes remembers. “I was involved early on with some of the financial parts of Bellefonte, and when this came around I was excited to be a part of it.”

The trio, Fusco says, developed their own design ethos for how they wanted to do everything. For example, he says, the naming convention for their brews.

“[That] came from the very first beer that we ever put out called Superfluous Nomenclature, Fusco says. “We wanted something

difficult to read, with long words that could introduce people to new vocabulary. We have a big list of weird words that we collect and try to match with each other.”

“Our most recent beer, Sartorial Absence, came from a podcast I was listening to about the history of clothing. The word ‘sartorial’ kept coming up and making me laugh. We then had Dave Sanchez [from Spaceboy Clothing] design our label for that, which was a lot of fun.”

Sartorial Absence also brought a bit of notoriety to Wilmington Brew Works with a Facebook post that was posed to look like Wensell was brewing beer without clothing. That, Wensell reassures, was “all staged.”

Wilmington Brew Works’ first collaboration had occurred when Wensell was approached by Herb Inden, Wilmington’s director of Planning and Development, with a conveniently located spot just off Interstate 95. The location had been empty for close to 20 years, Wensell says, and the city did an “incredible” job preparing it for the new brewery.

The building itself was created by Francis Irénée du Pont after he left the DuPont Company in 1917. The long, winding Spanish Mission style was unique for this region. Blueprints from some of du Pont’s many patents, which include the first steam-powered car, a liquid vending machine and a steam power plant, all hang inside the brewery.

Another of Wilmington Brew Works’ many collaborations, the on-site addition of La Pizzeria Metro, has arguably been the most valuable. Metro is one of the hottest restaurants in the city, and the Wilmington Brew Works trash cans typically are piled high with pizza boxes at the end of each night.

“I spent four months in Naples,” Fusco says, “and Metro and Pizzeria Vetri in Philly are the only things close.”

Wensell calls this collaboration “perfect from the start” as the Wilmington Brew Works team never sought to be a brewpub or enter the actual restaurant business.

Wilmington Brew Works attributes a lot of its pre-pandemic success to the multipurpose Alamo Room, which is physically connected to La Pizzeria Metro. The Alamo has hosted parties, concerts, plays, games and even yoga.

“We’ve had so many people tell us, ‘We’d never been here before. This place is wonderful. We’re coming back,’” Hughes says. “Or we’d get calls on Monday from people who were at parties wanting to schedule their own.”

Wensell notes that among the range of activities taking place in the Alamo Room, one in particular has been a specialty. Spoken word, he says, is a niche they have been able to fill.

“We’ve had comedy and Delaware Shakespeare,” he says. “The [Delaware Poet Laureates], the Twin Poets, played back there and were fantastic. And these things have consistently drawn a great response to the point that things sell out, and people call and harass me on the phone. They want to speak with the manager.”

The combination of this niche community, great beer, a convenient location and a relaxed and inclusive atmosphere makes Wilmington Brew Works unique to the region. Wensell notes that one of their most surprising demographics has been parents of young children and mothers with babies who are looking for somewhere they can be comfortable.

“We have these long tables because we want to encourage people to come, hang out and meet strangers,” he says. “So many people have met friends here for the first time.”

The hyper-focused local approach has been a win for Wilmington Brew Works, creating a microcosm of a small town in its offerings.

“It’s allowed us to really focus on what we do – it’s like we are not really competing with other breweries so much as ourselves,” Wensell says. “Ultimately, the COVID shutdown was a fantastic opportunity for us.”

“Our team looked at it as the excuse we needed to take the steps we were going to have to make anyway.”

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bloom daily planners

A Blooming Business

bloom daily planners love Delaware

UD grads help girls, women, teachers, moms and more stay organized

Kaylyn Minix and Michelle Askin couldn’t have planned it any better. They met in 2010 while interning at Student Media Group, a collegiate marketing company that produces academic planners for students. Each free planner features a local business guide.

At the time, the University of Delaware students were both devotees of paper planners. Together, they saw the potential for a female-centric product that would go beyond conventional products.

“We wanted to create something inspirational, attractive, fun – we wanted to expand the brand,” Minix recalls.

Newark, Delaware-based Student Media Group gave the women their blessing, and bloom daily planners became its sister company. The goal: “Helping women bloom into the best version of themselves.”

Today, bloom boasts more than 200 product types in a variety of categories. The original softcover planners come in more than 20 designs. There also are hardcover planners, vision board planners and wall calendars.

The company also offers colorful stickers to brighten the pages, festive folders, planning pads for a day’s worth of tasks and desk easels with inspirational quotes. In short, “anything and everything that keeps you organized and makes your life a little bit easier,” Minix says.

The success of bloom daily planners proves that in a digital world, paper products still reign supreme. Moreover, COVID-19 has not squelched anyone’s need to jot down goals, dreams and to-dos – as any working parent who has had a child learning at home can attest.

The Power of Productivity

Since the “Dress for Success” 1980s, there has been a dizzying array of planners and processes to help people become more productive. Consider the Day-Timer system and the more recent bullet journal.

Thanks to their jobs with Student Media Group, bloom’s founders attended trade shows for college bookstore buyers. They knew what was available and what was missing. “We used our contacts with those college stores to get feedback,” says Askin, whose degree is in English, communications and interactive media.

Initially, bloom sold a few designs on eBay. The results were positive. From there, the company jumped on the Amazon juggernaut and launched a website, bloomplanners.com. They’ve regularly added new online sales platforms, including Walmart and Etsy.

No matter the outlet, customer feedback is documented in a system that links the comments with individual products.

“We’re constantly tweaking things based on what our customers are requesting – that’s always been our formula for creating new products,”

Askin says. “It really creates a community aspect within our brand. Our customers feel like they are part of the process because they completely are.”

That community revolves around social media – bloom has almost 17,000 followers on Twitter and 85,000 on Instagram, which is its most effective outlet. The company also is on Pinterest.

“We try to cater to our different audiences on each platform,” says Minix, who earned her degree in marketing and operations management.

Blooming with the Brand

The primary target market for bloom is women aged 25 to 35. But the company also offers planners for students in elementary, middle and high schools. And Askin’s 2020 pregnancy led to the addition of planners for expectant and new moms. “We’re creating products for every age and stage of a woman’s life,” she says.

The advent of COVID-19 boosted sales of planners designed for teachers. “Moms were feeling overwhelmed and craving that structure,” Minix notes.

During a stressful time, many customers find it therapeutic to surround to-dos with doodles or the stickers that bloom daily planners sells. So the company has increased the number of its products that focus on self-care. Take, for instance, a sticker of a female yogi with the words “Heavily Meditated.”

“There’s nothing that quite compares to paper and writing your to-dos down and crossing them off,” Minix says. “You get such a feeling of accomplishment.”

Still, the founders understand that “digital is everywhere” and admit to using their phones and computers as well. Consequently, bloom also offers digital products that customers can download, and customers who register online for an account have access to printable sheets.

UD Delivers

As bloom blossoms, the Delaware natives have not forgotten their academic roots. They typically have about six UD interns per semester handling graphic design, operations, social media and marketing. Most of bloom’s staff employees were initially interns.

“We’re growing really quickly, and we’re always looking for new talent,” Askin says. “We let them create their own position within the company – what can they see themselves doing? Just like we became ‘intrapreneurs’ within the Student Media Group.”

Some employees commute from nearby Philadelphia, which is an advantage of being based in Delaware: bloom can tap into a large creative talent pool yet reside in a community where “everybody kind of knows everybody,” Askin says.

“It’s a very supportive, family-like atmosphere,” she says of the First State, “and we’re very, very proud to be Delaware girls.”

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Gyanendra Gupta

Chef and Co-owner, Raas Restaurant

Gyanendra Gupta loves Delaware

Gyanendra Gupta – Celebrating the Flavors of India

Raas enhances ethnic cuisine at the Delaware Beaches.

In the past, Delaware beach restaurants primarily served family-friendly fare. Think burgers and captain’s platters (a fried or broiled seafood medley with a side of slaw). Those days are long gone. Today, the resorts boast so many offerings that the area is collectively known as the Culinary Coast.

Credit chefs like Gyanendra “GG” Gupta, who with his partners brought Indian-inspired cuisine to downtown Lewes.

Since opening in 2019, the restaurant has developed a loyal fan base. In part, that is because Indian cuisine had been missing from the healthy roster of area ethnic options, which include Thai, Mexican, Japanese and Chinese restaurants.

And then there is GG, the friendly face of the restaurant, who regularly makes the rounds in the dining room to greet guests and suggest dishes. He is soft-spoken and gracious. He also has an impressive resume: GG has worked in five-star hotels in his native India and in the Caribbean.

The Journey to Lewes

One of five children, GG grew up watching his mother prepare the family meal. “I was a mama’s boy, you know, I love that,” he says fondly. He was 8 when he began questioning her actions while she cooked. Why was she adding this? Why was she stirring that?

He began accompanying her to the market. “Not only did she pass me the cooking skills, but also the purchasing skills,” he says. “Everything had to be fresh. When we were young, I don’t think we had a refrigerator in the house.”

GG’s father wanted him to be a doctor, but the passion for cooking was too strong. After earning a bachelor’s degree, he enrolled in a three-year hotel management program.

The luxurious Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, a 650-room hotel, hired him as a management trainee, and for five years, he worked as a chef in the hotel. “I’m a real five-star hotel guy,” says GG, who’s opened numerous restaurants for high-end hotel groups. He worked at properties in Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada and St. Lucia.

Today, the resorts boast so many offerings that the area is collectively known as the Culinary Coast.

While in Grenada, he met Lewes native Vinay Hosmane, who was in medical school. (Hosmane’s father, Ramachandra, began working at Beebe Hospital in 1978.) They became friends.

Back in India, GG rejoined Taj to open The Vivanta brand in Goa, a world-famous coastal resort. The area made an impression on GG and his family, who returned to Goa after working in Jaipur.

GG and Hosmane, who became a cardiologist, kept in touch and visited each other. In 2015, GG was a guest chef at the MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival, which held events throughout Delaware.

While touring the state, Hosmane suggested opening a restaurant at the beach, and GG agreed.

Switching Gears

Hosmane and some associates had been looking for an investment property in the resort community. Meanwhile, Hosmane’s father knew investors interested in the hospitality industry. With GG’s help, the two groups pooled their resources to create Raas, which means “celebration.”

The location, a circa-1899 Queen Anne Victorian on Savannah Road, might seem an odd choice for an ethnic eatery. But Hosmane knew it well. As a child, he rode his bicycle past the house and admired the sweeping front porch and turret. Hosmane felt that it defined the coastal lifestyle. What’s more, the classic architecture speaks to the British Raj that has influenced Indian cuisine.

Built by Capt. W. “Diver” Johnston and William H. Virden, the home is best known as a former residence of Mayor Otis Smith, who oversaw the menhaden fisheries in Lewes. (At one time, the small town was the leading producer of menhaden in the country.)

As a spa, the structure’s exterior was a garish can’t-miss purple paint. The new owners returned it to a soothing blue. Inside, there’s a pop of saffron along with turquoise. White linens cover tables. The atmosphere is decidedly more upscale than an Indian restaurant in strip malls.

Between the massive renovations on Raas, the summer 2019 opening and the pandemic, GG has had little time to rest. When restaurant dining rooms were closed in spring, he forwarded takeout orders to his cell phone, so he did not miss a call. Once dining rooms reopened, he carved out more alfresco seating for the increasing number of people who want to eat outside.

Lewes-area residents and visitors have embraced the flavors of India. “They call me back to say they never had a dish before, and it was phenomenal,” says GG, who appreciates the sense of civility and culture in the area. “People want us to be successful as much as we do.”

The network of support characterizes Delaware, he notes. If he’s standing on the covered porch, it’s not unusual for a driver to honk and call out: “Hey, Chef GG!”

Many visitors are so pleased with the cuisine that they want him to replicate the concept. But while Indian food is “in my blood,” he says, a second restaurant may showcase a different ethnic cuisine. After all, he’s opened numerous Italian, Thai and other restaurants in hotels.

For now, he’s satisfied with making his mark in downtown Lewes. Says GG, “If my guests are happy, then I can sleep at night.”

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Doug Adams

Running Technology Entrepreneur

Doug Adams loves Delaware

Doug Adams

Doug Adams believes that little things can make a huge difference in helping people live healthier lives.

“What I and many others love about running is that it is simple — you just put your shoes on and go run. But it’s actually a lot more complex,” Adams shares. “There are important intricacies involved with running healthy or running fast.”

Adams designed a device called Trace 3D that aims to help runners train properly with these intricacies in mind. The program measures a runner’s “gait” — the flow of motion within each stride, and then Adams takes that data and maps it against his knowledge as a physical therapist to quickly put together a deeply customized training plan to improve form.

Adams grew up in Newark near White Clay Creek State Park where he spent his time running the trails, playing frisbee golf, and swimming. “Between my junior and senior year of high school, I started doing triathlons,” Adams says. “Then I had an English project where I decided to write about running, and I was surprised to find there is a lot of science behind running — which is effectively the oldest sport in the world. Learning all of that hooked me.”

At the University of Delaware Physical Therapy Program, Adams was able to work under two of the most renowned researchers on running in the world — Dr. Irene Davis and Dr. Rich Willy. “We have a great PT school at Delaware. It’s a great place to be injured, if you have to be,” Adams jokes. “It was there that I found a passion for running gait analysis, and through their leadership started a vision for what I am doing now.”

Adams acted quickly and strategically on his vision, creating three different companies to support healthy running form. In 2015 he started The Association for Clinical Excellence which is the educational element of his work. This was quickly followed by both Ace Running, which manufactures the Trace 3D product, and the Omega Project, which is the physical therapy clinic that specializes in endurance athletes.

“While working with student patients at UD, I found the 3D analysis incredibly helpful, but wished there was a way to have that information all of the time. So we decided to create a portable version of the technology.”

Adams partnered with STT Systems on Trace 3D, a motion analysis company out of Spain that has deep experience doing 3D-coding of motion for bicyclists. They worked together on the development of a user-friendly interface that could be easily taught. “Not only is it simple to use, it is fast — data that used to take hours to compile now takes around five minutes.”

“Delaware has been a great location for us with its proximity to so many different areas — being close to Washington D.C. when working with military contacts is critical.”

With a portable product that was intuitive, fast and a fraction of the cost of traditional 3D analysis systems, Adams quickly knew he had something useful and potentially scalable.

Trace 3D works in conjunction with the Runner Readiness Assessment to “have a look at the entire body to show at general strengths, weaknesses, and core stability,” Adams says. “We then take the information gathered by Trace 3D and can easily classify if they are an over-strider, a bouncer, a weaver, a glute amnesiac, or a collapser. From there the plan is straightforward.”

Adams says the numerous partnerships that he and his business partner Ari Kaplan have found in Delaware have been critical in connecting the dots. It was through the Horn Entrepreneurship

Program at the University of Delaware that they discovered Afworks, which is the Air Force’s program for encouraging innovation within their processes. “We realized immediately how much the military needed quick and convenient access to the data we were capturing,” Adam says.

“The number two reason for failure of the military fitness test is not being able to pass the run portion. Not to mention the rates of running-related injuries. It costs the Air Force 43 million dollars a year for people who fail out of basic training with lower leg injuries. What we have is not only a great opportunity but great cost savings.”

The Delaware Technology Innovation Program (DTIP) was critical in kick-starting Adams’ connection to Afworks. After receiving their Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research grant, Ace Running has worked closely with DTIP to secure Phase 2.

Adams explains that the first phase is about finding the customer, and the second about testing it in a real-world situation. “So we are going to five Air Force bases throughout the country. We will look at people who either failed the fitness test or are coming back from an injury to see if we can help them perform better. If that happens, the military is interested in getting this out on a large scale.”

Adams and his team are working on the mobile app that will be needed to scale these efforts. “We believe that the military hasn’t been able to show improvement using their current tools because it has not been able to take advantage of individuality. There is no perfect running form, but there are things that one might do that is high risk for them, that might not be high risk for me or you.”

Having spent most of his life in Delaware, Adams has a unique perspective and appreciation for the state’s benefits. “Delaware has been a great location for us with its proximity to so many different areas — being close to Washington D.C. when working with military contacts is critical,” Adams reflects. “Delaware also has a very advantageous corporate structure and programs like Delaware Technology Innovation Program. And people are really friendly here. Networking in Delaware is surprisingly well-connected and willing to connect you to others. There is only one degree of separation here. We have connectivity and warmth that you don’t get in other places.”

Adams says the Delaware Greenway Trail and Delaware State Park systems are key benefits for runners in the state. “I moved to a place specifically to be connected to somewhere on a trailhead. Now there is a track going into Baynard stadium, and The Jack Markell Trail is an amazing experience.” Adams shares his passion for running and hiking with his wife and young children, who also love to be in nature.

One of Adams’ goals is taking his creations and using them to work with youth to instill proper form and injury avoidance as early as possible.

“Running is one of the few sports that you do without practice. Other sports have drills, pitching techniques, such as working on your swing in golf — but runners just run,” Adams says.

“I would love to take Trace 3D into school physical education classes to show people how to run.” With that in mind, the Omega Project team has been offering open screen nights for students and has recently donated watches to Delcastle Technical High School to help track activity.

Scalability is critical because Adams can only see so many patients in a week. He currently sees 400 people a year in a physical therapy setting. “But if I can teach 20 people who each see 400 people or an app that could educate millions…”

Adams is aware that people tend to do what they have always done, and running occurs as obvious to most.

“People take lessons before playing golf. Why wouldn’t people do that same with running? A little bit of guidance will create much better returns in the sport.”

“If we can work to change the mindset from ‘I’m tired of getting injured’ to ‘I am going to work on this so I don’t get injured’ that’s our ideal client. My overall goal is to make as many people as possible live healthier lives,” Adams says.

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Jonathan Whitney

Drummer and Artivist

Jonathan Whitney loves Delaware

Jonathan Whitney

When asked what he does, Jonathan Whitney describes himself as “a creative, a connector, and a composer who loves learning and problem solving.” But when asked what makes his heart sing, he responds “when I’m playing with a group of musicians and the audience gets where we’re going and we’re all going there together.”

A drummer and “artivist” (a combination of artist and activist), Whitney received his degree in music education from the University of Delaware and immediately got a job as band director at the Tatnall School for 11 years. He lived in Philadelphia for six years and earned a master’s in jazz studies but was pulled back to his native Delaware.

“I love this city; the artistic community in this city is tight,” Whitney says. “I lived in Philly until I got engaged and my wife said she wanted a driveway. In Delaware, we all talk across genres. In a given day, I can run into a painter, a spoken-word poet, a jazz musician, and a classical musician and we’re all bouncing ideas off each other. People here aren’t creating art for art’s sake; they’re creating it to improve Wilmington and tell the story of the people who live here.”

You can find Whitney’s fingerprints all over the city’s efforts to respond to the nation’s racial climate.

“I’m digesting that in many different ways,” he says. “Five pieces on my album being released in November took [inspiration from] local artist Eunice LaFate’s paintings and created music that searches for understanding and solutions. My next album is a series of arrangements of spirituals and gospel music through a jazz lens.

And then there are the murals.

On May 31, Whitney and fellow artivist Eliza Jarvis had just watched local protests sparked by George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis and they (along with photographer Joe del Tufo) decided to commission artists to paint over the plywood boards installed to cover damaged windows on downtown buildings. They connected funders to the artists, who have created three works – at Spaceboy Clothing on North Market Street, two at Blitzen on West Ninth and a fourth scheduled for late October at The Nomad Bar on North Orange Street.

The mural success led Whitney — who received a $6,000 Established Art Fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts in June 2020 — and Jarvis to form Flux Creative Consulting on Sept. 1, where they’re creating events for corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies to engage communities through the arts, with a focus on amplification of the great things that are already going on in Delaware.

“We don’t have the silos here that you often see; there are just so many ways for people to engage with the arts in Delaware.”

“We want to continue to empower our broader community to have conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion. We’ve seen more conversations in the past six months than we did in the previous six, even in a pandemic.

“What I love about Delaware is that leaders in the nonprofit and for-profit worlds are willing to mentor people that they see are engaged,” he says. “Delaware is all about partnering and leveraging resources because we’re small. We don’t have the silos here that you often see; there are just so many ways for people to engage with the arts in Delaware.”

Whitney says he finds creative inspiration throughout the state, starting with Rehoboth Beach (“It’s great to walk along the beach and know that Wilmington is only 90 minutes away”) but also lists the Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, the Gibraltar Gardens on Greenhill Avenue, the sculpture garden at the Delaware Art Museum (where he previously worked as manager of performance programs and community engagement). He also mentioned the monthly First Friday Art Loop “where you can walk between the Delaware Contemporary art space and the Chris White Gallery at the Shipley Lofts and stop for inspiration from the student work at the Delaware College of Art and Design.”

In terms of performing, Whitney lists the new Mid-South Audio recording studio in Milton and says that he can’t wait for Nomad to reopen for live performances.

Whitney closed the interview by answering a few quick questions:

What’s the question you wish more people would ask themselves?

How can I love more?

What’s the pebble in your shoe (that thing that tends to derail you)?

I’m always trying to figure out how to reach more people, always worrying about wasting the gifts I was given. I’m a workaholic and sometimes I can’t make myself satisfied with the work I’m doing and that takes me out of my rhythm.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“It’s not about forcing people to do what you want. It’s about finding a way for them to move in the direction you want on their own” from Chet Tietsworth, another legendary drummer from New Jersey.

What do you love about teaching?

Watching those light bulb moments all day long, when students say “Oh, I get it” or “Oh, I can do that.”

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Two little girls and the arts. When I open my eyes in the morning, I’m already thinking about what today brings and what I’m going to do to make the world a better place for them.

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Cost of Living Index Calculator

Cost of Living Index Calculator

Cost of Living Index Calculator

Cost of Living Index Calculator