My Co-Founder Erica Davies and I first had the chance to tour Innovate Newport in hard hats. We moved our way through the 33,000-square foot coworking, private office and meeting space—previously a historic school building in the heart of Newport, Rhode Island—in awe. The space had been meticulously designed and constructed to spark innovation and community with open, airy and bright spaces throughout. 

Since officially opening its doors May 1, Innovate Newport has done just that and then some. Today, the innovation center has quickly become a go-to meeting spot for our state’s innovators, change-makers and technologists. The co-working space and economic development center is constantly abuzz with entrepreneurs and business leaders chatting about how to affect positive change together. The innovation hub has hosted countless events since opening its doors, exploring everything from design thinking to millennial parenting to branding and marketing. 

At Trilix, we have been so fortunate to get to spend time with the movers and shakers at Innovate Newport, connecting over our shared desire to help the communities we serve transform. We sat down with Tuni Schartner, Innovate Newport’s Director of Entrepreneurship & Innovation, to talk about the Rhode Island innovation scene. 

Tell us a little about Innovate Newport—what was the impetus for its opening and what is its mission today?

Tuni: Innovate Newport is a world-class innovation center that is a collaborative initiative/partnership between the City of Newport, Newport County Development Council (the non-profit 501(c)3 arm of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce) and The Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island. One of our top priorities is to support the economic development initiative that is taking place throughout the state, with a focus on the City of Newport and the Greater Newport region. We are an important cog in the collective wheel that is helping to strengthen and diversify the region’s economy. From supporting DOD contractors to the US Naval Undersea Warfare Center to the blue economy and technology startups, as well as so many locally based professionals, we provide a convening space for the leaders and entrepreneurs of today. It’s exciting to be able to act as a bridge and a convener. 

In addition to creating and sparking community, we focus on bringing trainings, programming and seminars to our space. There are so many amazing organizations like Social Enterprise Greenhouse, DESIGNxRI, Polaris MEP, VMS of RI, Venture Café, and Sprout CoWorking—to name a few—that are offering their  programming in the Providence area, and our mission is to bring that same programming out to the Greater Newport region, too. 

Through our work, we’re able to be a critical piece of the local, regional, and state-wide innovation ecosystem. I always like to give credit to all the people who work so hard to bring innovation to our state, and I can’t talk about Innovate Newport without acknowledging and thanking those that came before and those that are here now. Innovation, and economic development, is a team sport, and it’s not for the faint of heart. 

At the end of the day, Innovate Newport was strategically designed to create collisions between local professionals/businesses and leaders, and every single week I get the privilege of watching those collisions happen. Whether you are an office suite tenant, an established business or a contractor, we created the space for collisions to form.

What are some ways you have observed that Rhode Island is having considerable impact on the innovation space? In what ways is our state—and its entrepreneurs—paving the way for innovation, transformation, technology acceleration, etc.?

Tuni: I could literally go on and on about that! When I think about what’s been happening in the Rhode Island innovation space today, it’s truly blowing my mind! I often say that right now, we are at the point of “the great convergence.” So many companies, innovators and changemakers have been on parallel paths for years—trying to bring innovation, technology, advancement and transformation to the state—and for the first time ever, it seems like our paths are converging! Whether it is CIC Providence and Venture Cafe PVD opening up here, or coworking spaces popping up more regularly, we are all supporting each other’s efforts, being super collaborative and mindfully working on programming that will continue to advance the state and local businesses. There is so much cross-pollination going on and for someone who loves cross-pollinating, this is super exciting! I have never, in my 30 years of being an entrepreneur, witnessed so much collaboration as I am now. 

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One area that is really booming, in particular, is the technology startup scene. As a mentor and Board Member with VMS of RI, we get to meet with RI startups regularly. We have seen so many tech companies pop up, especially in the medtech space. That seems to be one of the highest growth sectors in our economy, and for some reason that sector never had a seat at the table until now. Whether you are talking about bio life sciences or the blue innovation space, there is a ton of movement in the technology space that is happening and that will continue to happen in the years to come, that is being supported by RI Bio and NEMIC.

In a lot of ways, I think we have become the little sister of Cambridge because of our world-class educational institutions, leadership training programs and bustling startup scene. 

On the flip side, where do we will still have room to improve and how do you think local businesses and leaders can play their role in championing innovation?

Tuni: We all need to just keep showing up! And keep cross pollinating! We need to keep working together. Just as we are doing with Trilix and Innovate Newport, we need to support each other and work together—and that doesn’t have to necessarily mean contracting with one another. It can be about creating community together, supporting each other’s missions and staying in these collegial relationships. 

We all need to continue to solve the puzzle together. We are all part of the team that continues to work together. I am starting to realize that what motivates me is leading an intentional life. I am committed to doing my part to bring whatever skills I have to build the Rhode Island economy and improve opportunities for our youth and adults as we move into the future. We just need to keep doing more relationship building and executing collegial behavior—working together whenever possible.

OK, final question! What is your prediction for the RI tech, startup and innovation scene in the next 5-10 years? 

Tuni: I think we will be like Cambridge. I think you will see all of our rockstar, educational institutions continue to work more collaboratively with local businesses. I see us becoming a tech hub like Cambridge has become and entering a hyper-growth phase. There are so many layers to our growth strategy, that I can only be excited about the future for Rhode Island’s innovation scene!


Want to join the innovation conversation with us? Drop us a line here and let’s talk about the ways we can support each other’s innovation journeys.

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