Before his math skills took him to earth-orbiting satellites and Internet data analysis, Soren Ryherd liked geography and political science.
Those two interests have re-emerged in The Retail Project, a business venture that won one of two inaugural Innovation Fellowships from the Rhode Island Foundation. Intended to revitalize Rhode Island’s vacant retail spaces, The Retail Project will use Ryherd’s expertise in online marketing to launch Internet companies with the ultimate goal of supporting brick-and-mortar stores.
The $100,000,000-per-year fellowship (over three years) will provide the seed money to launch The Retail Project, which hopes to have as many as 40 Internet retailers up and selling in the next three years.
PBN: Describe The Retail Project and how it will work?
RYHERD: The initial idea was to solve the problem of empty storefronts that litter the state, because they are depressing – they make us feel terrible. In order to do this we need to change the market opportunity, because we are just in too small a market for most stores to exist and succeed in up and down economic times.
So, I started to think about how to expand the market. We have been doing Internet marketing for eight years and what we found is that the marketing opportunities on the Internet have nothing to do with the brick-and mortar location or storefront, it’s just this vast market that we are able to tap into through Internet advertising and through the Web. So I started thinking about, if we grew that first, which is much less expensive and less risky than opening a brick-and-mortar store, we could prove the concept and find an audience before we committed to the expense of brick and mortar. But then once we do open the brick and mortar, those jobs are secure.
PBN: What if, even with a successful online store, there isn’t demand for a brick-and-mortar store? Will you open one anyway?