The Rhode Island Foundation has awarded two Rhode Islanders $300,000 grants over three years to pursue their bold ideas for improving the state’s economy.
Amy Bernhardt and David Dadekian will receive 2014 Rhode Island Innovation Fellowships, made possible through the vision and generosity of philanthropists Letitia and John Carter.
“We recognize Amy and David for their ambitious strategies for addressing challenges and creating change in Rhode Island,” said Neil Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO. “We are appreciative of Letitia and John Carter’s devotion to Rhode Island and are pleased to play a role in transforming their dreams into one of our boldest initiatives.”
Now in its third year, the program is designed to stimulate solutions by Rhode Islanders to Rhode Island challenges. Bernhardt of Providence and Dadekian of Coventry were chosen from a pool of 343 proposals.
“Letitia and I applaud each of the applicants on their talent, ambition and commitment to our state. We look forward to seeing the constructive change they generate as a result of these fellowships,” said John Carter.
Bernhardt’s project, Colorfast, will create a state-of-the-art research and manufacturing pilot facility for the design and production of digitally printed textiles.
“Digital inkjet printing of textiles is the new wave of technology in fabric production. By reconnecting design and manufacturing resources, and by leveraging our unique textile history, Rhode Island will be poised to become an industry leader," said Bernhardt.
“This innovative pilot will position Rhode Island to tap into the global textile market. A high-end digital fabric printing facility will transform this technological exploration and creative invention into reality by producing quality goods and services that will directly benefit the Rhode Island economy,” she said.
Dadekian’s project, the Eat Drink Rhode Island Central Market, will house a number of food and drink related businesses, including a public market, commercial production and processing facilities, and an educational component.
"My plan is to create a centralized culinary hub for Rhode Island, a complete business-to-business and business-to-consumer center, as well as being a destination for visitors to Rhode Island. This culinary hub would be integral to the way Rhode Islanders eat and create a model for wider emulation in other regions of the country," said Dadekian.
"Ultimately a stronger connected food industry touches many aspects of the life of every person. Food is a health issue, an economy issue, a climate issue, a sustaining life issue and purely a pleasure. Rhode Island can be at the forefront of all these things and more," he said.
In addition to the two winners, the selection panel also named ten finalists, recognized for their merit and potential.
Ken Castellone proposed creating an experiential, after-school STEM Academy and Summer Coding Boot Camp to increase interest in computer science, particularly among under-served populations.
Maeve Donohue proposed creating a suite of common services connected to a single state-wide database that would enable users to manage their memberships, preferences and privacy with a single login.
Mary Flynn aimed to reduce public health care costs by showing low-income RITE Care insurance recipients how to improve their diet and health through healthy, low-cost recipes.
John Haley III, Howard Kilguss and Chris Maloney proposed improving Rhode Island’s commercial mussel harvest by increasing the availability of seed stock.
Deborah Perry proposed creating the “Fantastic Girltastic Code Company” to increase the number of women holding college degrees in computer sciences through intensive girl-centric training, access to female role models and mentors, and connections to local institutions of higher education and employers.
Leo Pollock and Nat Harris suggested creating The Compost Plant, an urban commercial composting facility designed to divert large volumes of organic waste from the landfill, improve food production by producing high-quality compost and anchor the launch of a statewide compost network.
Mike Ryan suggested recruiting a group of tech-savvy students modeled on the Peace Corps to help state and local governments improve their systems and on-line services for businesses.
Tom Shevlin suggested creating a collaborative mentoring and shop space aimed at cultivating Rhode Island's next generation of small-scale manufacturers.
Barbara Somers, Kathleen Castro and Laura Skrobe proposed exploring the feasibility of rearing blue crabs in fresh water ponds in Rhode Island.
Adrian Burke and Wanda Miglus proposed creating an advanced digital textile studio to make digital textile technology accessible to artisans and designers.
The seven-member selection panel looked for proposals that represented pioneering work, exceptional leadership, bold vision, risk-taking, potential to scale up and statewide impact.
Chaired by Steinberg, the selection panel also included David Dooley, president, University of Rhode Island; Ann-Marie Harrington, president and founder, Embolden; Charlie Kroll, founder and CEO,
Andera; Marie Langlois, retired managing director, Washington Trust Investors, and director, Rhode Island Foundation; Lisa Utman Randall, executive director, Jamestown Arts Center; and Don Stanford, chief innovation officer, GTECH.
This is the third round of funding. Previous rounds generated more than 600 applications. Soren Ryherd and Allan Tear received the inaugural grants in 2012.
Ryherd’s “The Retail Project” has created three on-line stores to date, Felix Chien, a retailer of upscale fashion for dogs; Urbilis, a concept built around high-design products for the urban gardener; and Slumbersome, which offers an array of bedding, masks and other products for people with insomnia. The goal is to open at least one so-called brick and mortar store in 2014. Follow his progress at www.retailprojectri.com.
Tear is building platforms to help entrepreneurs launch start-ups in sectors such as art and design, food and beverage and advanced manufacturing. Follow his progress on www.rallyri.co.
The 2013 fellows are Adrienne Gagnon and Dr. Lynn Taylor.
Gagnon’s “Innovation by Design” project will help foster the next generation of Rhode Island innovators by introducing the tools of Design Thinking to educators across the state. She is designing a set of fun, hands-on learning activities that will help kids tackle any challenge they've identified, in any subject, using the same process that designers use in their work. She is also offering students free, after-school design/build programs in which they create tangible community improvements, using Mobile Design Labs as their base of operations. Follow her progress on www.innovation-by-design.org.
Dr. Lynn Taylor’s project, “Rhode Island Defeats Hep C,” aims to make Rhode Island the first state to eliminate the hepatitis C virus infection using a comprehensive approach that includes increasing awareness, enhanced screening, developing further linkages to care, building infrastructure for a sustainable model and evaluation. Her outreach will be highlighted by a conference in Providence May 16 and a WaterFire event July 26. Follow her progress on www.ridefeatshepc.com.
The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. In 2013, the Foundation made grants of more than $31 million to organizations addressing the most pressing issues and needs of the state’s diverse communities. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. For more information, visit rifoundation.org.
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