By Rebecca Keister
PBN Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE - The inaugural winners of The Rhode Island Innovation Fellowship, Allan Tear and Soren Ryherd, were announced Wednesday.
Tear, one-third of the creative force behind technology-focused start-up accelerator Betaspring, plans to use his three-year, $300,000 grant to develop a similar mentorship program for what he calls one of the state’s missing puzzle pieces in job creation – the arts and other social-impact ventures.
“It [will] focus on completely new clusters of talent that are underdeveloped as economic engines in Rhode Island,” said Tear. “We can see what helped technology take off and apply those steps.”
Ryherd will develop The Retail Project, which seeks to develop online stores into financial successes and then put them into brick-and-mortar locations to fill empty storefronts.
“The idea is to build desirable neighborhoods [with what] we think can become an economic engine for the state,” said Ryherd. “Rhode Island has a real challenge because the customer base [for retail] is so small. [These businesses] will fill spaces and create jobs only when they’re profitable and predictable.”
Ryherd said he hopes to launch the first online stores by late summer and aims to be moving into storefronts by the end of 2013.
He projects a longtime success of 39 online stores, two storefronts, and 33 jobs in the next three years.
Tear said his goal is to reach a 20 percent increase in the number of high-growth startups in the identified sectors, which also includes food and beverage, and advanced manufacturing, over the next three years.
Ryherd and Tear were chosen from 438 proposals. A selection panel was chaired by Rhode Island Foundation President and CEO Neil D. Steinberg.
The seven-member fellow award panel looked for proposals that “represented pioneering work, exceptional leadership, bold vision, risk-taking, potential to scale up, and statewide impact” according to a statement from the Rhode Island Foundation.
A Rhode Island Foundation program, the fellowship is funded through a donation from philanthropists Letitia and John Carter.
The Carters approached the foundation last year and have committed to supporting the fellowship as an annual program.
“This program is about making creative connections, inspiring leadership and catalyzing change,” said Steinberg. “It also allowed the foundation to go beyond traditional grant making in an unprecedented way.”