Innovation Fellows make strides on ambitious plans
SELLING POINT: Soren Ryherd, president of Working Planet Marketing Group, is spearheading the Retail Project, which has launched two online brands so far: upscale pet boutique Felix Chien and urban-gardening supplier Urbilis.
To win a competition seeking the greatest possible good for the most people, The Rhode Island Foundation Innovation Fellows Allan Tear and Soren Ryherd had to be ambitious.
Tear, a co-founder of technology-startup-accelerator Betaspring, pitched a set of similar entrepreneurial hubs for Ocean State creative industries in design, food, social ventures and advanced manufacturing.
Ryherd, president of Working Planet Marketing Group Inc., pitched creating up to 40 new, online retail brands that would eventually fill vacant storefronts throughout the state.
As an economic experiment, seeing whether the two winners can deliver their plans on the $300,000 The Rhode Island Foundation promised over three years could be valuable and instructive in its own right.
“I joked to [Rhode Island Foundation President and CEO] Neil Steinberg that I had won $300,000 to do $1 million worth of work,” Tear said about the fellowship. “This is meant to be catalyst money.”
A year after the fellowships were awarded, both Tear and Ryherd have made significant progress toward their goals and both still have a long way to go.
Called Rally Rhode Island, Tear’s creative-economy, community-building project is tracing the path he took from the Providence Geeks group into Betaspring and more recently the Founders League entrepreneurship consortium.
The first step is to introduce enough motivated people in each creative sector to each other until they form a self-sustaining group. Then volunteer leaders emerge to organize entrepreneurial “strategic experiments” and the group reaches critical mass.
If the group becomes large enough, the hope is that it can either evolve into or spinoff a startup-incubation arm.
So far the process is progressing at different paces in each of the four industry sectors Rally RI is targeting.
The fastest progress is in the art and design space, for which Tear has organized a monthly community-gathering series called Clambake, which is drawing at least 100 people to hear industry leaders talk at each event.
Matthew Grigsby, co-founder of Providence-based industrial-design consultancy Ecolect Inc., has stepped up as the volunteer leader of the Clambake group.