Up until the last five years, only a few cities in the world were home to their own for-profit startup accelerators and even fewer could offer evidence of whether the entrepreneurial boot camps would prove sustainable or lucrative.
Soon Providence should have two such accelerators, a rarity for a smaller city without a large technology and venture-capital presence.
The Providence Design Forward accelerator, set to be launched this spring by the city and a group of private partners, is intended to both boost the local startup scene and stake Rhode Island’s claim as a hub of commercial design.
As the state deals with compliance issues related to its own accelerator investment, opening a new publicly funded accelerator may seem risky for a city recovering from its own economic-development stumbles.
But according to Design Forward organizers, finding a way to invest in local design businesses has been a priority of citywide cultural-planning efforts dating back to 2008, when accelerators were just starting to take off in places like Boston and California’s Silicon Valley.
“This has been a long time coming and came out of a rigorous planning process that called for investment in design-based businesses and the creative sector in the city,” said Lynne McCormack, director of the city’s Department of Art Culture and Tourism and municipal point-person for Design Forward.
Under tentative plans shared with the Providence Economic Development Partnership last month, design talent, entrepreneurial expertise and mentorship for the accelerator will come from a partnership between Rhode Island School of Design, Founders League, Rally Rhode Island and DesignxRI.
Rally Rhode Island was founded by Allan Tear, also co-founder of Providence’s other accelerator, Betaspring, as well as Founders League.
Funding for the new venture will come from Providence’s share of federal Community Development Block Grant dollars via the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Although the exact details of the Providence program have yet to be finalized, McCormack said she has looked to MassChallenge, a nonprofit Boston startup accelerator, as a model.