Christian Cowan, University of Rhode Island Research Foundation executive director

BUILDING MANUFACTURING: Christian Cowan, executive director of the University of Rhode Island Research Foundation, has helped support the state’s manufacturing sector through his work with Polaris MEP and 401 Tech Bridge. 
PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
BUILDING MANUFACTURING: Christian Cowan, executive director of the University of Rhode Island Research Foundation, has helped support the state’s manufacturing sector through his work with Polaris MEP and 401 Tech Bridge. 
PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY

PBN Leaders & Achievers 2023
Christian Cowan
University of Rhode Island Research Foundation

Executive director


CHRISTIAN COWAN STARTED his career by learning all he could about engineering. From textiles to engineering management, from mergers and acquisitions to manufacturing, there was very little he didn’t gain experience in.

No matter where his career brought him, Cowan always thought about Rhode Island. Cowan, now executive director of the University of Rhode Island Research Foundation, traveled the world through his work and wanted to bring back what he learned to the Ocean State.

Here, Cowan saw endless opportunities for blue and green technology using the state’s natural resources. After working for a few startups, in 2014 Cowan joined Polaris MEP as its director. The nonprofit supports the growth and evolution of the Rhode Island manufacturing community by using continuous improvement, workforce development and technology transfer services.

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“This was when I jumped into a nonprofit and wanted to figure out how to help Rhode Island through economic programs,” Cowan said. This passion helped him launch 401 Tech Bridge, an initiative designed to accelerate dual-use technology commercialization projects in partnership with the U.S. Navy.

Through Polaris’ and 401 Tech Bridge’s programs, Cowan has helped bring jobs to the community and drive passion for clean and safe manufacturing, and boost local economies.

Cowan’s leadership style is guided by his desire to bring technology from other places back to Rhode Island. The work of Polaris MEP and 401 Tech Bridge under the URI Research Foundation has been critical for Rhode Island’s technology commercialization efforts. Cowan’s leadership, he says, has been instrumental in growing capabilities to match the state’s economic strategy.

“All of those programs, I’m looking to make sure that they are extremely effective and intentionally reaching out to communities and engaging with them in a deep way,” Cowan said.

The lion’s share of this work amounts to Cowan’s passion for blue and green tech and keeping Rhode Island manufacturing within the state’s borders, he said.

“See what you lean into and follow your passion,” Cowan said. “Effective leaders are interested in making sure the people you’re leading are impactful and want to make a difference.”

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