Advancing Entrepreneurship in RI While Betaspring Takes a Break

Monday, September 08, 2014

 

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How can Rhode Island continue to promote innovation and entrepreneurship while mentorship-driven startup accelerator program, Betaspring takes the semester off this fall?  

“I believe that our economic future is all about entrepreneurship and innovation and there are a lot of different ways that we can support that idea. Betaspring has done great work and will continue to great work, but it is up to all of us to continue to build on the momentum around entrepreneurship and innovation in the state of Rhode Island," said Saul Kaplan, founder and Chief Catalyst at the Business Innovation Factory located in Providence.  

Creating a community of entrepreneurs

"At Brown, we have been trying through a lot of different ventures, whether it is Betaspring, or the Founders League, or the Social Innovation Fellowship to really spark the creation of a vibrant entrepreneurial community in Providence and across the state," said Alan Harlam, Director of Brown University's Social Innovation Initiative.  

"Part of this effort includes helping startups and entrepreneurs get excited about starting their businesses here by having a lot of other entrepreneurial ventures thriving here,” said Harlam. 

According to Harlam, helping achieve critical mass is essential in incentivizing startups to come to Rhode Island to participate in incubation and acceleration programs and making it attractive for them to remain in the state following the completion of the program.  

"Getting the critical mass plays an integral role.  It is a bit of a chicken and egg challenge and it is one of the reasons why having shared workspace hubs like Betaspring are so important," said Harlam.  "It creates true synergy -- just being together sharing resources, having people to bounce ideas off of and share networks is extremely essential to prosper and achieve success."

Shared vision of entrepreneurship 

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Saul Kaplan, Business Innovation Factory

Kaplan spoke to the importance of promoting a greater culture of entrepreneurship and innovation across the state of Rhode Island.  

"I think it’s a combination of programs that have been around the state, not just Betaspring, things that the universities do.  But it’s not just about those few startups that go to an incubator.  It is about helping all Rhode Islanders to be more entrepreneurial and to encourage more entrepreneurial activity," said Kaplan.  "We need to have a culture of entrepreneurship.  The key question is how we help existing businesses in Rhode Island become more innovative so that they can be stronger and more competitive and create more jobs.  It’s not just about startups and going through an accelerator program – although I think it is a great program and we should do more of that –but how do we encourage an economy that is going to create more jobs, and higher wage jobs for Rhode Islanders," said Kaplan.  

"I think it is going to take leaders from across the state both in the private and public sector and a shared vision of what we are trying to achieve. It is the responsibility of both our public sector leaders and our private sector leaders," said Kaplan.   

Options for entrepreneurs & startups 

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According to Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Janet Raymond, there are currently a number of programs including the Founders League that will continue to work to foster entrepreneurship in Rhode Island during the fall semester. 

“There is a lot going on in the entrepreneurship space.   Betaspring is a member of the Founders League along with the Chamber, URI and Brown which offers coworking space for startups.  This is a separate effort which will continue to operate during the semester Betaspring is taking off,” said Raymond.

"Betaspring provides a very intense boot camp-like mentoring program for the startups to connect them with mentors from the field in which they are seeking to operate," said Raymond, speaking to the unique mentorship-driven approach that distinguishes Betaspring from some of the other incubation and shared workspace options in Rhode Island.   

According to Raymond, there are a number of options for businesses looking for incubator or coworking space in Providence and around the state. 

“Incubator space exists including the Hatch in Providence and the Hives in North Kingstown.  There are also competitions with cash prizes including the RI Business Plan competition and Sharkfest at Johnston & Wales University” said Raymond. 

The Hatch Entrepreneurial Center provides 6,000 square feet of facilities, conference rooms, and meeting spaces for early-stage companies.  The Hive is collaborative, community-based coworking facility in North Kingstown which was designed to create an environment where members can come together to share ideas and forge new collaborations and partnerships.

Brown University, in partnership with Social Enterprise Greenhouse has been developing programs that will provide community-based startups with a number of the services including shared workspace, mentoring, and access to a broader network of local business leaders and investors according to Harlam.  

"The Social Innovation Initiative has been around for about six years and has launched a number of ventures.  One of the things that we are interested in exploring is finding out how to launch more of those ventures in Providence, and one of the ideas that we are working on is partnering with Social Enterprise Greenhouse, which mirrors the work we are doing at Brown but for community-based entrepreneurs who aren't part or associated necessarily with the university but are doing work to address a problem that is affecting society through an entrepreneurial venture," said Harlam. 

"Brown is partnering with Social Enterprise Greenhouse to develop a program that will support startups through the early stages of their venture and connect them with mentors in the business community with the expertise and connections and network access that they need to advance their venture.  There are a number of very exciting social ventures here, but the key is bringing them together so they can share ideas and resources," said Harlam.    

Social Enterprise Greenhouse is currently in the process of building a shared workspace, or social enterprise "hub", that will be launching in the first quarter of 2015.  

 

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