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RI Biz Winners and Flops

Saturday, July 07, 2012


RI Biz Winners and Flops range from military housing CEO's growing businesses to a big flop for an EDC official playing both sides of the fence. But the most important winner may be the business grassroots effort to reinvent the RI's economy - RIsurgence.


RIsurgence - The reinvention of RI is now moving forward with the launch of RIsurgence. The RIsurgence effort represents a completely different approach to developing innovative ideas to improve Rhode Island’s economy. “RIsurgence is about democratizing the economic development process, and innovating unique and innovative ways to improve our economy. It is all about communication and collaboration. We need Rhode Island solutions, not canned solutions that have worked in other states,” said Marcel Valois, one of the co-founders.

The effort now has over 130 members and any one can register and participate. “We are now commencing a process where the RIsurgence participants vote on these various ideas. The winning idea(s) will ultimately move into a business-planning phase for ultimate execution, said Valois.

John Picerne - Founder and CEO of Rhode Island-based Picerne Military Housing, a leader nationally in building and managing U.S. military Housing, was a finalist in the highly prestigious Ernst & Young 2012 Entrepreneur Of The Year New England Program.  Also a finalists from RI – Alex & Ani’s Carolyn Rafaelian and G-Form’s Daniel Wyner

The awards are given annually to entrepreneurs “whose ingenuity and perseverance have created and sustained successful, growing business ventures.” Picerne, Rafaelian and Wyner were among 32 finalists selected from a pool of more than 1,700 submissions by entrepreneurs across the country.

Peanut Butter - Washington Trust again collected more than six tons of peanut butter during the Bank’s annual drive, held this spring. This year’s collections helped push the Bank’s 12-year total to more than 100 tons of peanut butter, enough to make almost four million peanut butter sandwiches.

Junior Achievement of Rhode Island – The nonprofit that helps with workforce readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy, received a grant from Webster Bank.  The program continues to grow.

Governor Chafee – In the midst of a crisis at EDC, the Governor has had a hands on approach to developing new business. This may be the future for RI’s economic development model.

Providence Geeks – Providence-based startup Sproutel makes interactive toys for children with chronic illnesses, starting with diabetes, asthma and obesity. Their first product - Jerry the Bear - takes a high-tech, playful approach to teaching kids how to properly manage their health.

At the July Geek Dinner this Wednesday, Co-Founders and new minted graduates of Northwestern University, CEO Aaron Horowitz and CCO Hannah Chung (recently named one of Inc. Magazine’s “15 Women to Watch in Tech”) unveil the story of Sproutel. They will introduce Jerry the Bear, and how they plan to help millions of kids. The event kicks off at 5:30 p and runs until 8 p at AS220.


Mike Saul -  The former number 2 at RI EDC, was applying for a job at the company just weeks after he helped negotiate the deal with the gaming company. Saul’s effort to join Curt Schilling’s company raises even more questions about the motivation by key decision-makers at EDC.

Jobs - The jobs situation continues to be mission critical, but the game plan for reversing the situation continues to be lacking. Elected officials continue to be bogged down on other issues. Speaker Gordon Fox recently appeared on WPRI-TV and was trying to explain his role 38 Studios, but never addressed the issues of job creation.

With the national job picture continuing to look stagnant, the need for leadership in RI is ever more critical. Rhode Island is ranked 49th for employment.

Financial District in Providence – With the Superman building nearly 100% vacant, a parking lot with a movie back lot style hacked up building façade facing Weybosset Street, it is ever more apparent how far the area has fallen since it once was the home to Fleet Bank. Fleet in 2000 was one of the 10 largest banks in America, employed 50,000 and served more than 20 million customers worldwide. 

Sadly, there does not seem to be a game plan by the City of Providence after more than 18 months in office.





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