Urban Ventures garners attention of lawmakers in mission to bridge gap for small businesses

STATE HOUSE – Starting any business can be a difficult feat, and the staff of Urban Ventures knows this all too well. What they also know is that while lawmakers are looking for every way possible to slice through red tape for business owners, entrepreneurs in urban centers still face numerous challenges outside of the more obvious obstacles.

Today, lawmakers listened to staff, clients and officials involved in Urban Ventures, a General Assembly-generated nonprofit with a mission to provide the public and small businesses with development assistance through education, training and consultation.

Entitled “Generating Jobs and Helping the Urban Economy,” Urban Ventures Executive Director Jr Neville Songwe gave lawmakers a brief overview of how the organization has worked to provide direct support to small businesses as part of the 1999 Rhode Island Economic Initiative. Since its inception, the nonprofit has serviced more than 600 clients in Rhode Island’s urban communities, providing customized business development support for entrepreneurs and small business owners who need help enduring the trials of running a company or a start-up.

The group presented at the invitation of Sen. Juan M. Pichardo (D-Dist. 2, Providence) and Rep. Agostinho F. Silva (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls), who said they are committed to expanding the nonprofit’s reach during this vulnerable time in Rhode Island’s small business economy.

“Here is an example of a resource-heavy organization created through legislative action that has made a real difference in our neediest communities,” Senator Pichardo said. “I want to thank Mr. Songwe and the board for sharing success stories from their clientele, their process and their hopes for the future of our state. It is only through innovation and perseverance that we will learn from our past mistakes and come out better on the other side of all this. As we heard from one of the organization’s board members, this is a useful tool that is ‘already on our doorstep.’ I hope to see them reach out to more businesses and nurture some unique ideas from our most vibrant, eclectic communities.”

Senator Pichardo introduced a resolution (2014-S 2742) in March calling for a $140,000 appropriation to Urban Ventures through the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation. The money would be used to expand the nonprofit’s reach and resources.

“A lot of people are unaware that a force set in motion way back in 1999 has been quietly developing the groundwork for small businesses to achieve success across the state,” Representative Silva said. “It’s very difficult to start a business or keep a business going in this economy, but this organization works to at least guide business owners around common pitfalls and missteps. They’re essentially on the front lines. I wanted my colleagues and members of the public to not only see there are resources out there for people who are looking for assistance in marketing what they have to offer in an efficient way.”

Songwe said he hopes the General Assembly will provide additional support to Urban Ventures so that it can continue coaching entrepreneurs and cultivating a landscape of unique, sustainable enterprises.

“We’re in the business of helping individuals realize their dreams and then helping them chase after them,” he said. “We’re on the ground doing the work and keeping businesses focused on what’s important. We’re also innovators; creativity is so essential to our process and we want to extend that notion to our clients. For years, we’ve been doing more with less and teaching others to emulate that model. With more funding, we could exponentially increase our outreach. Here’s why it’s important: from our vantage point, there are countless individuals who are so talented at what they do but experience frustration in how to build a business around their vision. We effectively bridge that gap with technology and education.”

Urban Ventures is more recently known for its partnership with the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, which resulted in a $4.5 million Broadband USA grant for the support and implementation of a “virtual incubator,” a program that supports development of micro-entrepreneurs. Currently, the nonprofit serves 125 clients in 18 cities and towns.

For more information, contact:
Brenna McCabe, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457