Gebbia Loves Providence

Airbnb Co-founder Joe Gebbia Talks Rhode Island’s Role in Planting His Startup’s Seeds

It’s not every day that I get to share the stage with a RISD grad whose disruptive international room-renting service is now valued at $31 billion. At the Chamber’s 2017 Economic Outlook Luncheon on June 5, I was joined by Governor Gina Raimondo and Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, whose company has exploded in more than 191 countries in fewer than 10 years.


The company was famously founded by not one but two RISD grads: Gebbia and Brian Chesky, who was also in town last week to deliver the commencement speech at RISD. I’m grateful to both men for remaining strong advocates for our state and its business strengths over the years.


Chesky and Gebbia famously founded Airbnb in 2008 after renting out an airbed in their apartment when an overcrowded conference in San Francisco filled up every hotel in the city. “Anybody could have rented an airbed during the conference that weekend,” he told the luncheon crowd of more than 500 people. “It was really [about] looking at a problem and turning it into an opportunity. That was the basis of our company. Anytime there’s any kind of rejection, any kind of problem, that becomes an invitation to think of a new idea.”


Gebbia, who attended RISD in 2000 and earned dual degrees in graphic design and industrial design, now serves on the RISD Board of Trustees. During the luncheon, he traced both his startup mentality and Airbnb’s culture back to the experiences he had at RISD.


“We actually didn’t invent anything new,” Gebbia said of founding Airbnb. “There’s nothing proprietary about what [Airbnb does] as a company. It was really translating what RISD teaches so well—being able to see two different things and recombine them in a new and a different way.”


Airbnb has long been headquartered in San Francisco, but perhaps after the warm reception its founders received in the Ocean State last week, they may consider a move to the smallest state, as leading companies like GE Digital, Johnson & Johnson, Fidelity and others have recently done. In Gebbia’s own words: “The culture of Rhode Island and the culture of Providence is one that’s ripe to attract companies like ours, and part of that is the talent pool. A lot of cities don’t actually see the broader picture. Silicon Valley is actually an entire ecosystem. It’s not just one thing. In order for that to work you also have to have access to capital, media, culture and mentorship.”


Under Gov. Raimondo’s leadership, Rhode Island now has all of those things—and so much more.

Taking Providence to Chicago for the Social Innovation Summit

Joe Lotuff of Lotuff Leather, Peter Hirshberg of Maker City and I talk about the economic resurgence of Providence at the Social Innovation Summit in Chicago.

Joe Lotuff of Lotuff Leather, Peter Hirshberg of Maker City and I talk about the economic resurgence of Providence at the Social Innovation Summit in Chicago.

In today's post, I'd like to share some thoughts about a panel that I was thrilled to moderate at the Social Innovation Summit in Chicago called “Urban Transformation: Rethinking Cities as an Engine for Growth & Development.”

Summit organizers called it a “global convening of black swans and wayward thinkers,” and I was proud to be among them. Joining me on the panel were Joe Lotuff, co-founder of Providence-based Lotuff Leather, and Peter Hirshberg, an innovation advisor and author of Maker City: A Practical Guide to Reinventing Our Cities. Our discussion focused on how manufacturers and makers today are driving prosperity in cities by helping them evolve into social innovation hubs.
In Rhode Island, this connection is readily apparent: As we’ve doubled our number of social enterprises in the last year, our economic outlook has greatly improved. But our state isn’t new to social innovation. At the turn of the century, Providence was the most prosperous city in America. Our depth of expertise in manufacturing even sparked the Industrial Revolution. Those who ran the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce—one of the oldest chambers in America—were the industrialists of their time, but over the course of a couple decades, Providence lost its footing when the textile and jewelry industries left. Through the lens of the Chamber’s long history, we’ve been able to see how manufacturing can change a city. In the process of finding our way back to prosperity, we have also made a return to our city’s focus on innovation. 
This is thanks to initiatives like the Social Enterprise Greenhouse, a network of 400-plus social enterprises and the 300-plus business and community leaders who support them. All of the state’s 11 colleges and universities have partnered with the Greenhouse, and nine now have social enterprise programs in place so that far more young people in our state are thinking about launching these ventures and being connected to social enterprise. The Greenhouse has launched a statewide campaign with those of us at the Commerce. Called Best for Rhode Island, it encourages business to do even more good in the state.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently named Rhode Island the second-best state in America for innovation and entrepreneurship. Our state earned this distinction largely by rethinking the way local businesses, schools and institutions collaborate with the state and with one another. To ensure success in Rhode Island, this has been a key focus for our governor, Gina Raimondo. The incentives and other opportunities within her economic toolbox are keeping Providence’s rock-star talent in-state while attracting smart minds from outside. They’re helping match small companies with universities to conduct research and development, and allowing industry clusters to collaborate and grow together. The recently launched Innovation Campus competition will also help turn our universities’ research capacity and the commercialization of that research into new products, businesses and jobs.
What I loved about this summit is that it wasn’t about bringing people together to talk about the next big idea, but it was about bringing together those people who are ready to build the next big idea. That’s something those of us in Providence have always excelled at.


Meet the Founder of Airbnb

Meet Joe Gebbia, founder and chief product officer of Airbnb, and hear how this RISD grad with a design thinking mindset created a global phenomenon of 100 million users and became one of the top business innovators in the world today.

A creative entrepreneur from an early age, Gebbia’s groundbreaking home-sharing platform began in his San Francisco apartment in 2008 out of necessity to pay his rent. What started as three airbeds, a pop-tart breakfast, welcoming hosts and an insider’s guide to the city, is now at the center of hospitality, human connectivity and economic stimulation. The Airbnb concept has spread to 65,000 cities in over 191 countries, creating a new economy for thousands of people around the world. The company is valued today at $31 billion and climbing.

Joe has spoken globally about both entrepreneurship and design, and received numerous distinctions such as the Inc “30 under 30” and Fortune “40 under 40.” His lifelong appreciation for art and design led him to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he earned dual degrees in Graphic Design and Industrial Design. He now serves on the institution’s Board of Trustees.

Attend the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook Luncheon and hear about the habits and disciplines that anyone can adopt to gauge growth opportunities and reimagine a product, a business or even an entire industry. Also, get an insider’s perspective on Airbnb’s newest division devoted to humanitarian and social impact experiences.

“What Airbnb represents is a form of design that not only doesn’t create stuff in the world, but helps people think differently about the stuff they already have. It helps people reimagine the excess they have in their lives, and how they can repurpose it in a more useful way.”

Our conversation with Joe Gebbia and Governor Gina Raimondo will leave you feeling inspired to be an innovator and a disruptor in your own universe--- wherever that may be.

Contact for registration details. Or log on to for online registration.

PVD: An Emerging Silicon Valley Clone

We are so proud that Providence is being recognized by Inc. Magazine for its thriving startup community. In its May 2017 issue, Inc. calls out Providence as one of "The 6 Best Cities to Start A Business Right Now." Here's what they had to say:

The State of Rhode Island has made major investments in entrepreneurship. In 2016 they attracted GE Digital, Johnson & Johnson, Virgin Pulse and a world renowned Cambridge Innovation Center--an accelerator for innovation enterprises.
Rhode Island has created college tuition incentives to attract new talent and used the existing talent of top nearby research institutions like Brown and Harvard to create an emerging Silicon Valley clone. USA Today ranked Brown #1 in the country for applied mathematics.
"We had to make connections to eds and meds, especially for existing companies," said Stefan Pryor, Secretary of Commerce at State of Rhode Island. "We have an Innovation Voucher Program. If a company is looking for R&D we'll pay for a college or university medical center to do that R&D research. We have made 22 of these arrangements so far and increase the funding year after year. It's helping to fuel the innovation economy.

Read the full article here. Share it with you everyone you know!! Make Providence your start-up community. Call us to learn more.

--- Laurie White, president, GPCC

"RI's Promise" Is A Keeper

As is well known, our key focus at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce is economic development on behalf of business. And today we wanted to step out and make a few comments publicly about what’s now a universal issue facing general business and entrepreneurs everywhere. And that’s the demand for talent.

America’s business community is feeling optimistic. They’re in an expansion mode. They’re hiring. They’re carefully calibrating what they need to do and where they need to be to produce the most profitable outcomes.

Likewise, the Rhode Island business community is feeling optimistic about the future, and they’re hiring. Our local entrepreneurial environment has never been stronger, particularly due to the high concentration of elite colleges and universities in the area. Yet, the need for even more talent remains intense.

When talking about issues, I like to come at it from a different angle. I point to the “best practice economic development literature” for policy guidance. I think that’s important because it sets context. Area Development and Chamber Executive are two of the most helpful.

Area Development Magazine -- each year in the first quarter -- ranks the policy issues of most importance to American business when it comes to site selection and business facilities planning. In other words: jobs, opportunity, employment, growth. The number one and number two issues. What are they? Quality infrastructure and quality workforce.

American Chamber of Commerce Executives tells us what chambers and business leaders all across this country and internationally are actually doing to drive economic performance. ACCE reports that in 2016, for the first time ever, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher (36%) outnumber workers with a high school diploma or less (34%).  The face of the workforce is changing.  Everyone knows it.

I bring this up because it shows the degree to which this is an issue nationwide and as an object lesson for RI that competitor states are going at it full bore. Our businesses --- from start-up through mid-cap and Fortune 100 --- are competing with businesses in other communities that are getting their talent pipeline in order real fast.

We want to say very clearly that we support Gov. Gina Raimondo’s Rhode Island's Promise proposal to make us a national leader in college affordability and college completion. This emphasis on talent development is squarely in line with the Chamber’s views on how to cultivate a stronger business climate. Rhode Island employers are creating jobs, and we want those jobs to go to Rhode Island kids.

We are particularly impressed with the central themes of Rhode Island's Promise: reducing the loan debt burden on students and families; improving on-time graduation for students; driving desirable enrollment at Rhode Island College, the Community College of Rhode Island and the University of Rhode Island; and increasing the concentration of our college educated workforce.

We have shared this message in testimony before the House and Senate Finance committees. And we’re teeing it up again today to remind us all to stay focused on the big picture.  We must produce more college graduates. As a nation, we can't afford not to.


RI's Broadband Capabilities Drive Entrepreneurship

For those of you who love rankings, check out this interesting report from the U.S. Chamber Foundation. It shows Rhode Island coming in at #2 overall on the metric "innovation and entrepreneurship." If you've read through the pages of this website, it won't surprise you that our strengths are most pronounced in academic R&D and broadband.

 They point out that "years of challenges in manufacturing industries have compelled the Ocean State to look toward opportunities based in technology and knowledge-based jobs to diversify and strengthen its economy. Those efforts have been helped along by the state’s status as a national leader in broadband access.

Rhode Island also now ranks high in STEM job concentration and high-tech job concentration as a share of total jobs. Governor Gina Raimondo founded the state’s first venture capital fund, and has made innovation, skills development, and entrepreneurship priorities of her economic development strategy," the report concludes.

And the good news doesn't stop there. The Gallup organization, too, is eyeing Rhode Island. They've seen the big wins we're putting up on the board with major U.S. consumer brands investing in Rhode Island. As such, we have rocketed from #50 to #28 on a recent nationwide index measuring job creation. We commend all the risk takers in Rhode Island that are driving our entrepreneurial genius. Keep innovating.

Thanks for the feedback!

We really appreciate the feedback we've received on the re-launch of We have added some additional content and loaded up the Calendar of Events as a result of what you shared. 

I'd like to particularly thank Kevin Jankowski, director of the RISD Career Center, who always has his "RISD critique hat on."  He was generous in supplying us with images of recent RISD portfolio reviews and networking sessions to spice up the visuals. (Check out his page for info on how to hire a RISD grad.)

Also, we love the fact that the Jonathan Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship at Brown University circulated links to our site on Facebook.

We're getting lots of page views which will hopefully translate to more entrepreneurial activity in Providence. 

This week is going to be an exciting one with a couple of big announcements coming on the economic development front.

We'll be providing updates so be sure to check back. In the meantime, continue to share your thoughts, ideas and suggestions. 


Entrepreneur Providence Re-Launch

On behalf of the team at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, we are happy to announce the re-launch of

Over the past couple of months, lots of exciting new projects have come to fruition. The influx of energy and talent has been amazing --- with much more soon to come.

Through the work of our contributors, we will keep you up to date on the flavor of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and show you why it makes sense to choose Providence.

Check back often for news, events, profiles, rankings and accolades. "Entrepreneurs begin in PVD."

Special thanks to Bank of America and The Beacon Mutual Insurance Company for their underwriting support of this special economic development project.