“You’re probably familiar with the story about Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, the two founders of Airbnb who went to RISD,” says Lisa Carnevale. “That’s an example of what can come out of design, and specifically designers trained in Rhode Island.” Carnevale is co-founder and executive director of DESIGNxRI. Imagine a nonprofit economic development organization with a mission to not only promote design, but help designers and design-related businesses flourish. Think South by Southwest, but with calamari instead of cactus, and a focus on connecting and developing small businesses.
“We’re a small state,” Carnevale explains. “The market is small and the jobs aren’t really here. But resilient entrepreneurs can do well here… Our program is helping to cultivate the really valuable assets we have.”
In addition to their annual DesignWeekRI conference (planned for October 2021), DESIGNxRI runs the Providence Design Catalyst, a competitive grant program to help design businesses reach their growth goals. Each year around a dozen applicants are chosen to participate in an intensive training supplemented by $10,000 to $15,000 of seed capital to help them hit the ground running. A recent round is underway with awardees announced March 9 and a program launch on March 17.
Anther Kiley was a graduate of the 2020 “Covid Cohort.” A graphic designer who’s a part-time faculty member at RISD, he had an idea for “Cardkits” – fun paper cutouts that could be used for imaginative and “non-screen time” play. Each Cardkit comes as a set of pre-cut cardstock parts. To bring a kit to life, you pop out the parts and join them together with white glue. It’s just the right mix of challenging and satisfying.
Going into the Catalyst program, Kiley anticipated scaling up to huge production runs with expensive die-cut machinery. Instead, through mentorship he pivoted, investing in a digital cutting machine. “This machine allowed me to switch my model to a small and nimble scale,” he explains. “I can make small batches, test out products and figure out what people want and what sells best. We keep everything small scale, local and sustainable.”
Criteria for the Providence Design Catalyst program includes many factors, perhaps the most important being how each awardee might contribute to the economic development of the City of Providence. A final showcase event for this year’s awardees is planned for July. Follow along at DESIGNxRI.com