In its inaugural Innovation Fellowships last year, The Rhode Island Foundation funded two projects with undeniable commercial potential built around growing retail and arts-centered startups.
This year the foundation chose two new fellows, The Miriam Hospital’s Dr. Lynn Taylor and DownCity Design Executive Director Adrienne Gagnon, from the medical and education sectors respectively, instead of from the business world.
Taylor wants to eradicate Hepatitis C in Rhode Island through education, testing and expanded treatment of the disease.
Gagnon wants to teach design skills to a generation of students through school curriculum and hands-on experience.
Like last year’s fellows – Allan Tear and Soren Ryherd – Taylor and Gagnon will receive $100,000 in each of the next three years to try to make their lofty goals a reality, thanks to underwriting by John and Letitia Carter.
Although both plans have altruistic underpinnings, they do touch issues with significant economic consequences for the state and region.
The cost of treating patients with Hepatitis C has been growing as more baby boomers infected between 1960 and 1990 begin showing symptoms of the disease.
Direct medical costs can reach $500,000 for the final year of a patient’s life, Taylor said, and then there are the indirect costs to families and of taking someone out of the labor force during prime working years.
Design talent, from architecture to graphic and industrial design, has been singled out as one of Rhode Island’s best assets at a time when technical skills are in high demand.
Like Rhode Island School of Design President John Maeda, Gagnon, a RISD graduate, is a believer in the fusion of art and design skills with science, math and engineering skills – so-called STEM to STEAM – as a potent economic force.
“We’re framing this as a way to help drive the economy, as well as educate,” Gagnon said. “Ideally we are helping the next generation develop the skills they will need to be leaders themselves and be adaptable people.”