Research Engine

A giant step forward for the RI innovation economy

CommerceRI received 16 bids for its RFP to develop one or more innovation campus research hubs, in partnership with URI

Image courtesy of CommerceRI

CommerceRI received 16 proposals for its RFP to create one or more innovation campuses, in partnership with URI.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 3/26/18
The range and depth of the responses to the RFP to build one or more innovation campuses in collaboration with URI showcases the potential of the innovation economy to be a driver of future economic prosperity in Rhode Island.
How will CommerceRI judge the proposals – by existing investments or by the potential value of the proposed innovation campuses? Given the number of good ideas generated, is there a way to develop alternative financing mechanisms for additional innovation campuses? Is there a way to temper expectations about potential job creation opportunities, given the long-term nature of the investments? What are the benchmarks to measure the potential success of the innovation campus proposals?
When The Providence Journal finally got around to publishing an op-ed by Richard Horan on March 14, some two months after it had been initially written, the news that Horan had left his position as senior managing director at the Slater Technology Fund to launch Biograph Venture Development LLC, a private venture capital firm, was inadvertently announced in his identifier for the piece.
The move from the public realm of Slater to the private playing field of Biograph was presaged in many ways by what Horan wrote about in his op-ed: the gap in financing in Rhode Island to enable new companies and early stage firms to succeed.
Despite the success in picking investment targets for seed investments at Slater, including companies such as IlluminOss, the level of state support kept falling during Horan’s 15-year tenure. Further, federal investment in Slater as part of a job creation initiative through the U.S. Treasury led to some problems when an audit of Betaspring revealed problems, causing delays in the transfer of the funds.
Now, Horan has an entire new set of challenges as the innovation ecosystem in Rhode Island gears up for investments in innovation campuses focused on the research enterprise. Stay tuned.

PROVIDENCE – One of the more dynamic approaches to grow the innovation economy in Rhode Island took its next step forward when CommerceRI announced on Friday, March 16, that it had received 16 responses for its RFP to develop an innovation campus in Rhode Island. [See link to ConvergenceRI story below, “The next generation of innovation campuses in RI.”]

The $20 million bond to invest in the development of one or more innovation campuses in partnership with the University of Rhode Island was approved by voters in November of 2016.

The current schedule is to announce the grant award winners either in the spring or summer of 2018 and to sign the final contracts in the summer of 2018, according to the RFP.

The conditions include a minimum bar of a requested $1 million match investment, but the preferred matching investment is between $5 million to $20 million, according to the RFP. The concept is to create an obligation under which the proposed funding matches exceed the state’s financial commitment of bond proceeds.

In the news release announcing the 16 responses and providing executive summaries for the proposals, CommerceRI further delineated its intent with the innovation campus program. “One or more Innovation Campus proposals will be chosen. The applicants have requested funding ranging from $1 million to $11.5 million,” the agency said. “Selected projects will be required to exceed the state’s investment from the bond proceeds.”

Stefan Pryor, the secretary of CommerceRI, voiced his excitement about the high quality of the proposals that the competition to create one or more innovation campus hubs in Rhode Island had attracted. “This is exactly what we were hoping for when [Gov. Gina Raimondo, in partnership with the [R.I.] General Assembly, proposed this program,” Pryor said in the news release.

In turn, Raimondo framed the citizens of Rhode Island as the ultimate winners. “The ultimate winners of this competition will expand our ability to help Rhode Island businesses grow and create jobs,” she said in the news release.

Sixteen candles
The 16 responses were remarkable in their diversity as well as in their research goals; the difficulty ahead may be in choosing between the different proposals, particularly given that a number of the proposals featured companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Wexford, which already have secured tax enticements from the state to set up shop in Rhode Island.

The proposals can be roughly divided into three principal categories: those that seek to create new facilities focused on specific product developments, such as a microgrid, an ocean laboratory or a farming enterprise; those that seek to serve as catalysts in the innovation entrepreneurial process, facilitating startups entering the marketplace; and those that are focused on enhancing and leveraging research capabilities in developing new technology products and services in areas such as computing and cybersecurity.

ConvergenceRI posed the following questions to CommerceRI about the decision-making process moving forward:

1. What are the benchmarks for measuring results for the creation of the innovation hubs? Are there specific targets?

2. What happens to the proposals that are not chosen? Is there another vehicle through which they may move forward?

[Editor's note: When answers are received, ConvergenceRI will update the story.]

Food for thought
Here is a brief overview of the proposals, based upon the executive summaries provided by CommerceRI:

The URI Microgrid Innovation Campus proposes to create a clean energy microgrid at URI’s Kingston campus that will be optimized for energy consumption to address the growing needs of the campus in an integrated manner. Heating, cooling, lighting, power, chilled water, and other systems will be provided in a comprehensive way to meet the specific needs of URI’s students, faculty, staff, researchers, and visitors on a least-cost basis for the next 30 years.

The corporate collaborative team includes: Anbaric Development Partners, LLC, which has built $1.5 billion in energy infrastructure projects and has another $4.5 billion in progress; Tx Grid 1 LLX, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Ontario Teachers’s Pension Plan, Schneider Electric; Ramboll; and Intersection, an Alphabet [Google’s parent company] portfolio focused on the digitization of cities, working in partnership with URI.

A team led by Arizona State University seeks to help Rhode Island create an innovation hub to encourage new products, jobs and companies based on innovations in cybersecurity and related Big Data analytics, and the Internet of Things. Citing more than 30 years of experience in establishing and sustaining innovation zones – and offering matching funds of $6 million – Arizona State University would partner with URI [and Ben Gurion University] to establish a 7,500-square-foot innovation hub for cybersecurity as part of a larger Rhode Island innovation campus.

A team led by BioInnovation Labs LLC, and Wexford Science & Technology, LLC, would seek to establish a pipeline of emerging technology and research platforms as part of the newly designated Providence Innovation and Design District, in order to “amplify” the momentum created by the state and URI into forging a catalytic, innovative, accessible environment that brings together researchers, entrepreneurs, and leading industry partners “to live, work, play, learn and discover.”

The proposal would seek to create a platform for increasing levels of collaboration among universities, including Brown, URI, and RISD, as well as the Lifespan health system, focused on creating an Innovation Campus on Parcels 22 and 25 in the Providence Innovation and Design District. Potential collaborators would include: the Social Enterprise Greenhouse, the Founders League, RI BioScience Leaders, RI BioHub, and MedMates, among others.

• The Rhode Island Innovation Hub & Accelerators, or iHub,
would be established as a vehicle to catalyze fruitful interactions between entrepreneurs, companies, academic researchers, students and business support organizations in order to commercialize innovations and accelerate startups that can address high-impact market needs, addressing what it called “the idea-to-impact gap.” The goal would be to create a sustainable innovation cycle to serve as a magnet for companies and for startup retention in the region.

The collaborative team would include: Brown University; IBM Alpha Zone, a division of the IBM Corporation; MassChallenge, and URI, with support and participation from Ben-Gurion University, First Data Corporation and Visible Systems. [The proposal added a caveat that iHub was not being positioned as a “Brown University” program but rather an initiative that would serve the state’s entire innovation ecosystem.]

The Entanglement Research Institute, Inc., or eRI, seeks to create a computing facility headquartered in Newport that would serve as a world-class quantum, alternative computing center. The state-of-the-art facility would employ a fee-for-service model, in partnership with the city of Newport and URI, to convene a synergistic community with access to leading-edge computing development systems and tools.

The collaborative working team would include AECOM, SENEDIA, D-Wave Government, Inc., Rigetti & Co., Zapata Computing, Cisco Systems, Scepter, Inc., Esri, and Planet Defense. eRI would employ between 52-68 full time staff in its first year of operations, with plans to expand its workforce to as many as 225-300 in the following three years.

The Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Center, in collaboration with URI’s graduate school of Oceanography and Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems/Seapower Capability Systems, seeks to build an integrated innovation campus as part of the graduate school of Oceanography, enhancing the existing ocean technology infrastructure research capabilities, as part of the Learning Center’s Project Proteus.

The design and fabrication of the new facility would be done in collaboration with academic and corporate leaders in the fields of oceanography, engineering, Big Data, climate science, naval architecture and construction.

The collaborative working team would include: Raytheon, a second Rhode Island defense contractor to be named at a later date, the Naval Underwater Warfare Center, the Southeast New England Defense Industry Alliance, the Undersea Technology Innovation Xenter, and High Performance Composite, Ltd.

Farming Turtles of Exeter seeks $3.7 million to construct a three-acre greenhouse for the purpose of growing microgreens – a highly nutritious, healthy, leafy vegetable for human consumption – as part of an innovation campus to conduct research on how to improve greenhouse design and crop yield in a sustainable manner.

The project will be supported by $3.5 million in financing from Farm Credit East Bank in the form of amortizing debt and $300,000 from the principals, Lauri Roberts and Joey Geremia. The innovation campus would be located on a 22-acre farm currently owned by the principals, or on a property near Peckham Farm.

The Johnson & Johnson medical device companies division seeks to develop on ongoing patient-centered health care service-model innovation campus that would improve patient outcomes while increasing efficiency and convenience. The goal is to more fully integrate the process of care delivery seamlessly into patients’ lives, so that high-quality care can be delivered anywhere, such as a patient’s home or work environment, applying new technologies, including robotics, artificial intelligence, 3-D and bioprinting, genomics and virtual reality.

The initiative will include the development of a comprehensive, centralized data platform that will aggregate data from thousands of patients on the variables that impact and optimize recovery, as part of the Smart Mobility initiative. [The proposal is being submitted by DePuy Synthes Products, Inc., an affiliate of Johnson & Johnson.] The collaborative team includes: URI, Brown and RISD.

Loft, LLC, seeks to create a slingshot accelerator space, known as Loft URI, professionally run and powered by a community of passionate educators and industry innovators through a network of connected hardware and software.

The working academic collaborators would be URI’s College of Engineering and Bryant University’s International Business College. Private industry collaborators would include: Propel, LLC, Nautilus Defense, Motel.is, Robson Advisors, SEG, Senedia, Bose, 908Devices, Hartman International, Hasbro, HiRoad and Rigaku.

The Advanced Materials Innovation Center for Design and Manufacturing will focus broadly on materials innovation but with a concentration on two sectors that are demonstrating strong innovation related growth potential – textiles and composites.

The innovation campus proposal is a partnership led by Polaris MEP and includes as core partners the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association/Composites Alliance of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Textile Innovation Network.

The working collaborative team includes: URI, Roger Williams University, RISD, AS220, IYRS [International Yacht Restoration School], and DESIGNxRI. The center is envisioned as a connected innovation campus, with nodes at each school and a collision space for shared programmatic activities.

The Advanced Materials Innovation Center for Design and Manufacturing is proposed as a $7.64 million platform effort, with $3.4 million requested from the Innovation Campus program for real estate, equipment and related costs. A proposed match of $4.25 million will come from private and federal contributions.

The Rhode Island School of Design [RISD] proposes to engage in the planning, design and construction of a Rhode Island Innovation Campus in partnership with URI and the support of Saint Gobain, S.A. and Tiffany & Co. as corporate collaborators, to create a collaborative, interdisciplinary applied materials research and innovation campus.

The innovation campus would be consist of a series of interdisciplinary labs, woven through its central campus on North Main Street and extending to its southern perimeter on S. Water Street. The project represents the first phase in the planning, design and renovation of space for one to two labs, focused on applied materials research.

This focus builds on RISD’s long-standing association with textiles, jewelry and metalsmithing, industrial design and other areas of manufacture and innovation in Rhode Island, supporting RISD’s current range of materials research and experimentation, including textiles and fabric applications, color reproduction and delivery, sustainable building materials, and smart materials and bioplastics.

The Rhode Island Ag Technologies proposal for an innovation campus includes several components: 20 acres to grow vegetables, 7.5 acres to grow mushrooms, 5 acres for seed development, 1.5 acres for plant and fungus genomic research, and 0.5 acres to be used by URI as an agricultural innovation center. The proposed facility would be built on the Peckham Farm site.

The collaborative partners would include: the Rhode Island Mushroom Co., the fastest growing agricultural entity in the state; American Ag Energy, a developer of large-scale controlled environment agriculture facilities, MISC, a major international seed company with revenues of $50 million, hybridizer and distributor of vegetable seeds, and Verinomics, a world renowned firm specializing in plant and mushroom genomic development.

The proposed innovation campus would leverage URI’s role as a large land-grant institution.

The Roger Williams Medical Center seeks to develop the Rhode Island CAR-T Design and Development Center as an innovation campus in partnership with URI to serve as a national and international supplier of novel cancer immunotherapeutics that are in high demand.

CAR-T immunotherapy treatments are produced from a patient’s own T cells through a genetic re-engineering process that enables personalized and targeted tumor killing.

The Center will also serve as a hub for development of new immunotherapy treatments, a nexus of biotechnology job creation, and a fulcrum for educational programs to support the career growth of URI and Community College of Rhode Island students. The proposed innovation campus would be housed at Roger Williams Hospital.

The team of collaborators would include: Sorrento Therapeutics, PureTech Health, URI and CCRI.

The Peace Dale Design Center seeks to create an innovation campus headquartered at the Palisades Mills as an onsite demand apparel micro factory and workforce training center, working in partnership with Solielle Design Studio, Accurate Services, Inc., Palisades Mill, and URI.

The apparel micro factory will feature a new form of experimental machinery that fully integrates what is known as Soft Product manufacturing under one roof. Working with its technology center, EFI/Optitex, the campus will be the first location in the U.S. and internationally to showcase a condensed manufacturing system.

The Peace Dale Design Studio is currently relocating printing and embroidery production from Los Angeles to its Peace Dale facility.

SphereE has formed a consortium of eight established, entrepreneurial, cutting edge organizations that share a vision: the concept of the circular economy, a systemic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities and provides environmental and societal benefits.

Under the proposal, the consortium will create a lively Innovation Campus for what it calls the Center for Advancing a Circular Economy, featuring advanced workshop and learning settings, as well as product and manufacturing focused development and research, to be located in a downtown Providence space.

The team of collaborators includes: Smart Game Systems Inc., WishKnish Inc., Focus Vision Media, Filarski Architects, and URI.

The URI Transformative Innovation Group, or UTIG, led by Infralinx Capital Partners LLC, proposes to create a two-phase innovation campus, in partnership with IBM Security, Samach + SEO, and URI, focused first on building a $10-16 million cybersecurity operations and training center in Kingston, serving URI, the state and corporate community to protect data and transmission.

The second phase would build out a series of innovation facilities at the Kingston, Narragansett and Providence campuses serving other core URI educational disciplines.

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