Now that the Rhode Island Foundation has created a road map to boost opportunities for small-business success in the Ocean State, who will step up to follow it?
On Feb. 14, the foundation published "Rhode Island Small Business Supports," which analyzes ways to improve the state's economic ecosystem.
Included in the findings compiled by Boston-based Next Street Financial LLC were three main recommendations: easing navigability of available services and capital; supporting successful service and capital models; and prioritizing the needs of manufacturing, food and minority-owned businesses.
According to Jessica David, the foundation's senior vice president of strategy and community investments, RIF chose to immediately act on one solution it could achieve within its means: creating an easily navigable online resource guide through which service providers and business owners can connect.
"Right now, there's no one place to get this information," she said.
But the foundation, she noted, is neither a small business nor a support service.
"We're not the doers … but we can get the right people with the right amount of expertise in the room," she said.
So who will help bring the other recommendations to life?
The report does not say who is responsible for completion of its recommendations.
David envisions a coalition of business-service organizations will address the remaining issues.
Those who provided information for the report included foundation grantees; Liz Tanner, R.I. Commerce Corp.'s vice president of client services; Christian Cowan of Polaris MEP; representatives from the Center for Women & Enterprise; and industry associations.
Commerce RI is tasked, using foundation funding, with creating the resource guide. The project is expected to be completed in June, said David.
The economic-development agency says it is in the early stages of that work and could not comment on it. Nor could it comment on any other work it might do involving report recommendations.
Polaris MEP did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Mark S. Hayward, district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration's R.I. office, said he met with the foundation to discuss how to fill funding gaps left by the state's failure to provide a full match of an annual grant to the Small Business Development Center at the University of Rhode Island. The state last year left URI to come up with $75,000, which SBA says puts the small-business center in jeopardy.
The report named the SBDC as a top deliverer of entrepreneurship aid, but said "one-on-one, intensive business planning and technical-assistance capacity is limited and often connected with … financing." But the report stopped short of calling on the state to increase funding. •