R.I. Foundation lays roadmap for small-business success with study
TWO THINGS STAND OUT from this graphic depiction of Rhode Island's economy from the Rhode Island Foundation's report, "Rhode Island Small Business Supports": the vast majority of companies in the Ocean State have fewer than 20 employees, and food service and production companies, as well as manufacturers, employ a significant percentage of the state's workforce.
PROVIDENCE – On Tuesday the Rhode Island Foundation announced the results of a report that analyzed the state’s small-business support capabilities, identified weaknesses in the business ecosystem and suggested opportunities for improvement.
Neil D. Steinberg, president and CEO of the foundation, said in a statement: “Small businesses are the backbone of Rhode Island’s economy and our communities. They shape the character of the places we live, employ our friends and family, and support our local nonprofit organizations.”
When the foundation initiated this study nine months ago, its goal was to improve the state’s business ecosystem by making access to services easier for small businesses and entrepreneurs, while bolstering secondary groups that fuel small businesses with resources and support, particularly in underserved communities, and aiding networks which have identified industry-specific needs.
The study was performed by Next Street Financial LLC, a 10-year-old Boston firm that provides advice and resources to clients looking to improve business climates and economic development opportunities.
Three solutions suggested by Next Street were to:
Create a navigable resource for companies to identify available capital and resources in Rhode Island
Expand and strengthen successful service and capital models
Prioritize meeting the needs of manufacturing groups, culinary enterprises and minority businesses
Jessica David, the foundation’s senior vice president of strategy and community investments, said while the foundation does not have the resources to act on all of the suggestions, they have prioritized two of the firm’s suggestions.
First, she said, Rhode Island Foundation will, with the aid of R.I. Commerce Corp., create an easily navigable online database in which small business owners and service providers can connect with the resources they are currently lacking.
The Detroit BizGrid, an online directory and print infographic available to local businesses and service providers, is an example of what Next Street and the foundation have identified as a solution to the disconnect between small businesses and available resources in Rhode Island.
David said Commerce and the foundation hope the Rhode Island version will be available by “June at the latest.”
Second, the foundation will gather data to generate a list of all capital opportunities available to small businesses within the state.
In addition, David said: “We’re willing to contribute our resources and play a convening and organizing role, but we’ll need the community to participate and own it.”
The foundation plans to host representatives from manufacturing groups, minority businesses and service providers such as the Center for Women and Enterprise, and the Small Business Development Center at the University of Rhode Island to address needs moving forward.