How Rhode Island Is Connecting Its Largest Employers To Its Small Business Ecosystem

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The following piece was originally posted on Dec. 30, 2018 via Rhode Island Inno and is republished here with permission.

Throughout the year, Gov. Gina Raimondo has placed a heavy focus on not only growing Rhode Island’s economy, but on creating an ecosystem that would bring the state’s largest employers and small businesses together.

SupplyRI is one initiative that has been at the forefront of this agenda.

The program, which is a product of CommerceRI, is aimed at connecting local suppliers with larger Rhode Island institutions, and creating opportunities that help smaller companies grow and expand through its database, website, trainings and events.

“Strengthening and growing our economy requires commitments and investments from all stakeholders — large institutions and small businesses, the private sector and the public sector,” Rhode Island’s Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said in a statement at the beginning of the year when the program was launching. “This new initiative will introduce larger companies and institutions to smaller suppliers, and, through the strengthening of the local supply chain, it will assist in opening up opportunities for Rhode Island businesses and creating jobs for Rhode Islanders.”

Pryor’s prediction has come true in many respects, as many of the Ocean State’s key businesses have signed on to the program and helped small businesses grow and flourish.

SupplyRI started with nine anchor institutions, but is now up to 12 including Amica Insurance, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Brown University, Care New England, Citizens Bank, Delta Dental, General Dynamics Electric Boat, Gilbane, Infosys, Lifespan, Rhode Island School of Design and Roger Williams University.

Rhode Island businesses can become members of SupplyRI at no cost and anchors get access to an online database of pre-screened local and diverse suppliers in Rhode Island across purchasing categories.

They also get help from staff at Commerce Rhode Island to conduct supplier outreach and matchmaking through a concierge-like service, as well as access to events to meet local and diverse suppliers.

Local suppliers get sent request for proposals and other anchor requests from Rhode Island businesses. They also get a profile in SupplyRI’s eCenter so SupplyRI anchors businesses can locate them.

Additionally, suppliers get to attend private events with anchor institutions and access to Rhode Island’s supplier training resources and capital access programs such as the Commerce Corporation’s Small Business Assistance Program.

One business that has taken advantage of SupplyRI is Pawtucket-based Shri Bark.

Alison Bologna, an award-winning journalist and co-anchor at NBC 10, helped found the business as part of her mission to create a happier, healthier Rhode Island.

It began when she opened Shri Studio, an urban outreach yoga studio Pawtucket. While running the studio, she experimented with baking healthy snacks that quickly gained popularity and would become known as Shri Bark.

The “karma-packed snack” is now served in many Rhode Island schools as part of their healthy morning meal, and consumed by as many as 13,000 Rhode Island school children every month.

Thanks to SupplyRI, Shri Bark made direct and quick connections to the educational and food communities, and became a preferred vendor for food provider Sodexo.

As a result, Shri has been able to generate jobs and spread to other states like Massachusetts and Connecticut, and even as far away as India. Shri also uses a local bakery as its distributor, a local co-packing plant and a local artist for the package designs.

“We’re small compared to companies like Kellogs,” Bologna said on an interview with GoLocalProv. “When it comes to bringing in a breakfast program into a free and reduced breakfast program, not only are we competing with a benchmark for a price … but it’s also about becoming a preferred vendor and that is where the state was really helpful.”

Full-time journalist and Content Strategy Lead at GoingVC writing about business, the economy, startup culture movies, sports and much more.

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