Updated March 27 at 8:27pm

Chamber meet focuses on innovation, collaboration


PROVIDENCE – The 2012 meeting of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, held Monday at the R.I. Convention Center, had many of the usual elements – a recounting of the region’s successes and challenges as well as some inspirational stories. But this year the event also made news that could potentially re-shape the region’s economy.

During his keynote presentation to the more than 700 business leaders in attendance, Boston Scientific Corp. President and CEO Michael Mahoney, a Barrington resident, committed the company to sponsoring two local entrepreneurs to attend the Stanford University Biodesign course, a highly sought-after three-day workshop that is designed to help executives understand the innovation process and learn how to apply it to their business ideas.

“The Rhode Island professionals who attend this course will return and plant the seeds that will help drive innovation and economic growth,” Mahoney said.

Greater Providence Chamber President Laurie White added that “this is a remarkably generous offer and a tremendous advantage for Rhode Island innovators. … We look forward to working with Boston Scientific on finding the best and brightest candidates for these two spots.”

Following Mahoney’s presentation, White moderated a brief panel discussion that included Dr. Timothy J. Babineau, president and CEO of Lifespan, Dennis Keefe, president and CEO of Care New England and Brown University President Christina H. Paxson, during which they announced that the three institutions would be forming a task force to explore ways that they can collaborate in the research arena.

Both initiatives promise to support entrepreneurship in the medical technology sector, with recognition that tighter alignment of the major players in the region in education and health services generates the greatest likelihood of discoveries that might lead to breakthroughs and new business formation. Keefe went so far as to say that “there is a direct and linear relationship between academic research, quality health care and innovation.”

The news announcements underscore the Chamber’s overarching theme of support for the Knowledge Economy, something that the business group has been emphasizing over the last four years as the key driver to economic growth in the region. White noted that there has been job growth in the sector since 2008 in Rhode Island at the same time that the non-knowledge-based industries have seen a job loss of 17,000, putting the state in the red overall during the period.

The Chamber’s recently released “Benchmarking the Rhode Island Knowledge Economy – 2012,” a joint study completed with the Rhode Island Science & Technology Advisory Council, contained a significant amount of good news, especially in terms of “The Knowledge Business Pipeline” and “Research and Development.” In both indicators, Rhode Island ranked at or above national averages in all but one – entrepreneurial climate, which the Chamber made a great effort to say was improving.

Using the annual Rhode Island Business Plan Competition as a barometer, Margaret “Peggy” Farrell, co-chair of the organization, emphasized the success that recent winners have had in attracting capital and in employing people. White pointed to the growth of Betaspring, the private startup accelerator program that has garnered significant public funding as well. She brought the founder of Crunchbutton, Judd Rosenblatt, on stage for a brief presentation that included demonstrating his company’s product, a mobile-device food-ordering system.

Throughout her remarks, as well as those of Jon Duffy, chair of the organization’s board of directors, White emphasized three points:

  • The private sector has a plan

  • The Chamber is tracking the region’s progress

  • The business community is collaborating across the board.

Duffy also promised that the Chamber would be developing its 2013 legislative agenda, one that recognizes that long-term economic development is driven by entrepreneurs.


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