If you could track innovation with a heatmap, Rhode Island would be on fire. As home of the Industrial Revolution, innovation is baked into our DNA, but what’s more important is that the state is still actively cultivating creativity, both on the Innovation Campus being built with the University of Rhode Island and through our Innovation Voucher program. The latter allows companies with fewer than 500 employees to receive grants of up to $50,000 to fund R&D assistance from a local university, research center or medical center. Our state also offers Industry Cluster Grants to encourage companies in a sector to work together to solve problems, exchange ideas and develop talent.
Little Rhody is exciting for many reasons, but entrepreneurs and business leaders associated with the state inevitably say that they’re most thrilled by our unique and long-running capacity for design thinking and innovation. Here’s what some of them have said on the subject in recent months:
“We actually didn’t invent anything new. There’s nothing proprietary about what we do as a company. It was really translating what RISD teaches so well. It was being able to see two different things, and recombine them in a new and different way.” —Joe Gebbia, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) graduate and cofounder of Airbnb
“One unique attribute in Rhode Island is design thinking. It’s absolutely essential; you can’t commoditize design or human creativity. In the age of the algorithm and A.I., anything that can be crunched will be crunched, but design rests on human creativity. Design, storytelling and the creation of empathy and relationships will become the most valuable scarcity.” —Andrew Keen, author/speaker/Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur
“Rhode Island excels in design, whether it’s tech design or traditional design, and we punch above our weight in engineering, between what’s coming out of Brown and the University of Rhode Island.” —Jon Duffy, president of Duffy & Shanley
“One of the things the Chamber has done over the past few years is convene people who have an interest in innovation—that had never been done before—folks in academics and business and government and research and development. The role they’re playing is very unique because they’re asking some very interesting questions: What does it take for entrepreneurs and young companies to be thriving and successful? And how can companies like mine enable those companies in a larger ecosystem?” —Donna Cupelo, regional president of New England at Verizon Communications Inc.
“The Community College of Rhode Island students epitomize innovation. When I think about innovation, I think about out-of-the-box thinking and resourcefulness, and in order to be an effective community college student you need to figure out how to work a couple of jobs, support your family and be a successful college student, so it’s just baked into their DNA. … They’re working in spaces that are very digitally driven, where they’re being required to really innovate on the move in order to serve the kind of employers that they’re going to go on to serve once they cross our graduation stage.” —Dr. Megan Hughes, president of Community College of Rhode Island
“There’s only one Silicon Valley. There only ever will be. We’d be ill-advised to try to replicate it. We have our own unique assets, and yet we can also draw upon that other fount of innovation in the country at the moment, Boston and Cambridge.” —Stefan Pryor, Rhode Island secretary of commerce
“There are a couple of drivers behind our innovative mindset. When we think about Rhode Island being the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution 200 plus years ago and then we think of creating, designing and building the Block Island Wind Farm in 2016, [you can see that] it’s in our DNA. We have to innovate. It’s who we are. And it’s a really small state so the great part about being small among many is that we have a huge concentration of talent here [who are] furthering this design thinking and innovation.” —Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBS RI
“Without question, there’s a sense of innovation amongst our higher education institutions. A lot of our colleges and universities in the state are on the cutting edge in thinking about how to do curricular renewal and how to change the quality of the collegiate experience so that we’re preparing graduates who are more engaged and have more relevant skill sets and talent to engage with today’s economy.” —Frank Sanchez, president of Rhode Island College
The ability to solve problems in creative and innovative ways can be a game-changer for an organization. We invite you to visit our EntrepreneurProvidenceRI.com site to dive into the talent opportunities in our state.