R.I. Commerce Corp., R.I. Foundation collaborate on initiative to help minority-owned business community

Updated at 5:35 p.m.

PROVIDENCE – R.I. Commerce Corp. and the Rhode Island Foundation are collaborating on a project that will help support, sustain and grow minority-owned businesses in the Ocean State, with two firms with national and local reach now working to make this project a reality.

In September, the R.I. Commerce board of directors authorized Commerce staff to solicit vendors to conduct a study on implementing a minority business accelerator to help assist minority-owned businesses and its owners in the Ocean State. R.I. Commerce spokesperson Matt Sheaff told Providence Business News Friday that this idea came out of the state’s economic-development strategy, titled Rhode Island Innovates 2.0.

Two months later, R.I. Commerce issued a solicitation, titled “Supporting the Start-Up, Sustainability, and Growth of Minority Businesses in Rhode Island,” in partnership with Rhode Island Foundation seeking firms to work on the project, according to an email from Rhode Island Foundation spokesperson Chris Barnett Friday.

Two organizations – Camoin Associates, based out of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the Providence-based Multicultural Innovation Center – will work as partners on this project. Three total proposals were considered, Sheaff said. The $150,000 cost will be split evenly between R.I. Commerce and the Rhode Island Foundation.

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According to its website, Camoin has worked on more than 1,000 projects in 32 states in order to support efforts to create economic opportunities for individuals and communities to thrive. Some work that Camoin specializes in, per its website, includes workforce development, industry sector and supply-chain analysis, and economic-development strategic planning. Sheaff said Camoin has previously worked with Rhode Island-based organizations, including the Rhode Island Black Business Association, on various initiatives.

The Multicultural Innovation Center, per its website, provides member organizations various benefits, such as a comprehensive consult to help pinpoint opportunities and gaps, cost analysis and business growth planning.

The project has five key elements. First, Barnett said via email, is to review and compile a database of Black, Latino and minority-owned businesses currently operating in the state. Then, the firms will assess resources that are currently supporting such businesses and provide recommendations on organizational capacity, collaborations, gaps and opportunities for deeper investment. The focus, Barnett said, would be on what specific resources are being provided to minority-owned businesses and entrepreneurs at different growth stages.

The next step in the project is reviewing the best national practices for supporting minority-owned businesses and owners, Barnett said, focusing on models that help Black, Latino and other entrepreneurs achieve higher rates of business success. The firms would then gain feedback from such businesses to find out about what their needs and gaps in services are.

Lastly, the firms will provide a report that both includes a database of minority-owned businesses and a summary of best practices in business assistance in programs to help such businesses. Sheaff said Camoin and the Multicultural Innovation Center are currently working on the project and a draft of recommendations from the two firms on best practices is expected to be submitted to R.I. Commerce by the end of June.

“We’re excited to be able engage the consultants that will develop data on this important segment of our business community; assess existing resources available, as well as any gaps or barriers to providing those resources; and review best practices in other states that could potentially be adopted here,” said Rhode Island Foundation CEO and President Neil D. Steinberg in an email Friday. “This effort is in line with our long-time commitment to the small-business ecosystem and our commitment to equity and inclusion as a key to economic success for all Rhode Islanders.”

On Friday, R.I. Commerce’s board voted 9-0 to approve, with two abstentions, a memorandum of understanding with Rhode Island Foundation for R.I. Commerce to provide its monetary half for the project. Board members Donna M. Sams and Vanessa Toledo-Vickers, who served on the selection committee that chose the two firms, abstained from Friday’s vote.

(This story has been updated to include comment from Rhode Island Foundation CEO and President Neil D. Steinberg.)

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.