The University of Rhode Island’s Business Engagement Center: Five Years Running

KINGSTON, R.I., — December 20, 2018 — Though it might not be a household name, the University of Rhode Island’s Business Engagement Center is well known to hundreds of Rhode Island businesses.

Celebrating its fifth anniversary at a recent event held at the Thomas M. Ryan Center, the business center was established to be a one-stop service center for Rhode Island companies, based on an innovative model created by the University of Michigan.

“We recognized the value and the wealth of resources and expertise that the University of Rhode Island could provide to businesses,” said University of Rhode Island President David M. Dooley. “And we were convinced that this sort of model, particularly in a state this size, could be especially powerful.”

In the fall of 2013, the URI Business Engagement Center opened its doors on the Kingston Campus. Since its opening, the BEC has facilitated engagement with hundreds of Rhode Island businesses looking to partner with the University in areas ranging from consulting expertise and technology transfer assistance to sponsored research opportunities and access to student talent, customized workforce development training, facilities, and everything in between.

“By working closely with Rhode Island businesses on a very individual level, we are able to help facilitate their growth and their success, as well as the broader impact they can have on our state’s economy,” said Dooley.

Since its opening, the BEC has hosted more than 800 corporate visits to campus and has helped the University bring in more than 220 corporate supporters for various programs, activities and events, including a showcase of Innovation Voucher Awards, which took place on campus during the recent anniversary celebration.

The awards highlighted projects developed in partnership with URI faculty and students, demonstrating the value of collaboration between the University and the business community. Sponsored by the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation (CommerceRI), the Innovation Voucher Program helps facilitate relationships between Rhode Island companies and universities, research centers, or medical centers within the state to enhance their research and development capacity. The BEC worked with companies, providing voucher proposal assistance and facilitating related connections with URI faculty and students. To date, the BEC has provided assistance to 21 companies that have successfully won CommerceRI voucher awards.

The Cooley Group, a Pawtucket-based company specializing in high-tech and innovative textile solutions, showcased its project at the event, which centered around smart billboards and how they can address market demands. Stephen Siener, a URI alumnus and vice president and general manager for new business development at the company, noted that the BEC and CommerceRI have been critical partners in the firm’s success. “The work we were able to do with URI through the help of the Innovation Voucher Program and the BEC has enabled us to develop new products and helped us to take our R&D to the next level,” said Siener.

Vic Ricci, chief technology officer at Naval Underwater Warfare Center Division Newport, and a URI graduate said, “URI is one of our main academic partners. The University provides a substantial workforce pipeline in the STEM disciplines including excellent programs in the ocean sciences, which are highly relevant to the undersea domain. Additionally, their research and engineering prowess, coupled with their proximity, supports our continuing education goals for existing employees pursuing graduate degrees. Moreover, our access to some of the nation’s leading researchers fosters collaboration that leads to innovative solutions for our undersea warfighters.”

“The BEC is a great avenue for companies, like The Cooley Group, NUWC and others, to connect with URI,” says BEC Executive Director Katharine Hazard Flynn. “I am honored to have been a part of getting the BEC off the ground five years ago and happy that we’ve been able to meet a real need out in the business community and among our government partners. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish in the next five years!”