When businesses run by Kathy Collison and Donny Legans won EDGE grants from the Delaware Division of Small Business, they got more than a lot of money. They got a lot of good advice.
“The biggest takeaway is that the application process forces you as a new business owner to think through a lot of things that you didn’t even think about,” Collison said. “Even if we had not won it, it was a win-win. We got five years ahead on our business plan.”
Legans was similar in his praise. “Don’t delay,” he said to other entrepreneurs about the program, which is taking applications for the next cycle from Feb. 1 to March 1. “It was the first domino. Other grants knew we were serious, based on the strength of it.”
Encouraging Development Growth & Expansion is a competitive program that twice a year awards up to $100,000 to five STEM-based companies and up to $50,000 to entrepreneurs. The funds are provided as a $3 (state) to $1 (business) match. Businesses must have been in operation for less than seven years, employ 10 people or fewer, be majority-located in Delaware and impress the judges.
Collison and her husband Joe co-own Pink Electrical Services, a Clayton-based electrical company.
Legans and his wife Kim co-own the Rail Haus, a beer garden in downtown Dover.
EDGE and Pink Electrical
Joe Collison has been an electrician for more than 25 years, Kathy said, and “he always wanted to be in business for himself. He wanted to have conversations with customers, see their needs, work within their budget and help them make better choices.”
They began the business paperwork for Pink Electrical in 2020 and booked their first customer in 2022. They now employ two electricians and serve all of Delaware, with Kathy, who retired in 2023 from her state job as a public health administrator, handling the back office.
Pink Electrical is using the $50,000 EDGE grant to buy a work truck, a utility trailer and other equipment.
Beyond the capital expenditure, the grant benefits included an online tool that helped them “drill down” into what Delawareans were paying for electrical services and what Delaware companies were paying electricians. That sort of research led them to focus on homeowners and small businesses.
Kathy also praised the guidance they got from Anastasia Jackson, Kent County regional business manager with the Delaware Division of Small Business.
Pink Electrical has also been helped out with in-kind Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystem grants from the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit founded by the former governor. In the first round, they were mentored by Gregg-Brooke Koleno from IA Business Advisors. In the second phase, the E3 grant paid for their website.
EDGE and Rail Haus
The Leganses were inspired to create the Rail Haus by seeing how Frankford Hall helped transform Philadelphia’s Fishtown section (where they had been living), and they want to do the same for downtown Dover. “We want to make downtown Dover awesome,” Donny said.
The Leganses now live in Dover, and they began paperwork on the Rail Haus in 2020 and opened the business in November 2023 in the former Southern States building on West Street. It’s named for the nearby railroad tracks and the German word for “house.”
The EDGE application process has taught them the power of appearances. “It helped me identify that every dollar you invest in the outside space, you get back $3.85 in sales the first year,” he said.
The $50,000 they got was used to buy outdoor heaters, fire pits, trees, sod and a sprinkler system.
The Rail Haus sits on an acre, with 20,000 square feet of outdoor space and 2,600 of indoor space. As Delaware’s first year-round beer garden, the Rail Haus got a lot of media attention, with ShoreCraftBeer.com calling it a “game-changing” family- and dog-friendly business.
Development of the Rail Haus was a $3.5 million project, Donny said, and it got a lot of help.
That included $311,000 from the Downtown Development District program administered by the Delaware State Housing Authority, $300,000 from the Critical Improvements Program administered by the Downtown Dover Partnership (Donny serves on the board of the partnership and recused himself from the partnership’s grant review), the $50,000 EDGE grant, $12,000 from from Delaware’s Urban Forestry program , a $5,000 façade grant, a $5,000 Kent County matching grant, a $3,000 architectural grant and a $3,000 grant from the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Donny praised the advice he got from Jackson and Laura Wisler, now deputy director of the Delaware Division of Small Business.
“They look at it as an investment,” he said. “EDGE wants companies to succeed.”
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