12th Annual Symposium
June 5-7, 2023 | Phoenix, AZ


Rhode Island Innovation Campus Project: URI’s Public Private Partnership for Innovation and Economic Development

Posted May 30, 2019 by Lisa Armstrong
Deedee Chatham
Director Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Undergraduate Research
University of Rhode Island

What’s the smallest state to do?

Many Rhode Islanders joke that there’s only three degrees of separation between people in Rhode Island. It’s a small place and we bump into each other across multiple platforms and programs throughout our careers. Serendipity abounds. This level of interaction–together with our world class art, design, oceanographic, health care research, and density of world-class institutions of higher education–uniquely defines us.

FILO to Groove…

Rhode Island was first in and last out of the Great Recession of 2008 and we’ve finally gotten our groove back. In 2016 voters approved a $20M state bond which funded Innovation Campus projects jointly led by the University of Rhode Island and Commerce RI.  Already, this initiative is fueling sectors important to our state such as cybersecurity, data analytics, and agricultural technology, creating opportunities for students to interact with cutting edge researchers in industry and academia, and attracting more than $120 million in private investment to the state.

Sixteen proposals were submitted to URI and the Rhode Island Executive Office of Commerce for consideration in Spring 2018, each with a financial and industry partner match. Representatives from the community, Commerce RI, and URI managed the proposal process and review. Three projects are now getting underway, each a true example of innovation, collaboration, and partnership between government, industry, and institutions of higher ed. Their focus on entrepreneurship will catalyze technology commercialization and workforce development throughout the state and beyond. URI SPARC’s home in the main campus library will serve as a collaboration hub connecting students, faculty, and alumni of all colleges at URI.

Raj Melville, friend and mentor to all Deshpande Symposium participants, has been a coach and sounding board during these past few years as our entrepreneurial ecosystem, URI SPARC, has taken shape. The symposium each year is the place to establish meaningful connections and exchange ideas with those creating entrepreneurship programs at universities across the world. Arizona State University has generously sponsored, spoken at, and deepened the meaning and value of this great conference, and now will be URI’s partner in one of the first three Innovation Campus projects.


First to Launch: Innovation Campus Projects


URI/ASU Innovation Hub

URI, Arizona State University and Cisco Systems are collaborating on an innovation hub (the “iHub”) focused initially on cybersecurity, big data analytics and the Internet of Things. The iHub, valued at $11.5 million, will have two locations: a central Innovation and Entrepreneurship space in proximity to the students and faculty on URI’s Kingston Campus and a second serving as an industry gateway and co-working/accelerator space in Providence.  ASU has demonstrated rapid growth as a research university and has been ranked first for Innovation for the fourth year in a row by US News & World Report.  Step one – faculty collaborations between URI and ASU. Presently, these relationships are being kickstarted with seed grants.

Agricultural Innovation Center

The Agricultural Innovation Center will become the cornerstone of a revitalized agricultural ecosystem for URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences, with the goal of providing 10% of the state’s vegetable needs. The RI Mushroom Company has partnered with American Ag Energy, VoloAgri, and Verinomics with $4M in bond funds matched with $100M of partner funds to build massive indoor agriculture facilities exploring the future of farming.


The RI Hub project will create a community space in Providence with acceleration programs provided free of charge for pre-revenue and early stage startups. Total project funding is $5.5M, and URI partners include Brown, IBM Alpha Zone, Mass Challenge, and Ben-Gurion, a public research university in Israel which has pioneered the Alpha Zone technology accelerator. The first cohort of RI-HUB’s Mass Challenge will launch in June 2019. Alpha Zone acceleration will be focused on post seed funded companies in the enterprise solutions market.

Roaring into Economic Development

As the only public research university in Rhode Island, URI graduates the lion’s share of future innovators who remain in the state to build families and careers. “These three innovation campuses will strengthen our economy and position Rhode Island to lead a new industrial revolution in advanced industries,” said Governor Gina Raimondo. “Not only will these projects result in hundreds of good-paying, high-tech jobs, thanks to our partnership with URI it will also ensure that Rhode Islanders are set up to compete for those jobs.” The Innovation Campus partnerships will catalyze academic research into new commercial products, businesses, jobs, and workforce, cementing URI’s role as the critical driver of economic development and growth in Rhode Island.