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Partnership Fosters Manufacturing Entrepreneurship

Two Rhode Island non-profits are partnering to foster entrepreneurship in manufacturing. RIHub and Polaris MEP will collaborate on programming that connects startups, university students and innovators to manufacturing resources for greater success in the sector.

"We work with entrepreneurs and inventors who need help with the design and manufacturing of their products" said Annette Tonti, Managing Director of RIHub. "RIHub is excited to leverage Polaris MEP's manufacturing expertise and network to provide an invaluable resource to early-stage entrepreneurs. This partnership directly supports our state's entrepreneurs and provides a path to economic growth for our economy."

"Partnering with RIHub will help Polaris MEP accelerate innovation within existing manufacturing businesses and encourage the creation of new ventures," said Kathie Mahoney, Polaris MEP Center Director. "We also hope to inspire more entrepreneurs to take a fresh look at career pathways within the manufacturing sector."

RIHub is intended to make entrepreneurship accessible and empower innovation in Rhode Island. The non-profit is a "network of networks," facilitating engagement across sectors as well as offering mentoring, programming an incubator and co-working space. Polaris MEP is an affiliate of the national NIST Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership and a non-profit business unit of the University of Rhode Island Research Foundation.

The new partnership seeks to connect more University of Rhode Island students and faculty to manufacturing, along with students at other Rhode Island-based universities. Polaris MEP and RIHub will co-create workshops and resources explaining how new products get built and new manufacturing businesses launched.

High School VR Training

To encourage exploration of manufacturing careers, Polaris MEP is launching a virtual reality (VR) pilot program funded by a mini-grant from America Works. America Works is a national initiative coordinating the manufacturing industry's efforts to generate a more capable, skilled and diverse workforce. Polaris MEP was one of seven MEP Centers to win a mini-grant.

The VR program will introduce Rhode Island high school students to a variety of manufacturing careers. VR headsets are used to give the students a career exploration experience that could include simulations of robotics jobs, assembler roles, quality assurance positions and other jobs.

"The exciting thing about this initiative is the way we are partnering with Rhode Island's leading Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs," said Lindsey Brickle, Senior Workforce Programs Manager for Polaris MEP. "We will bring VR headsets to the CTE, and students can immerse themselves in today's high-tech, high-skilled manufacturing jobs without ever leaving the classroom."

The VR headsets are provided by and linked to Career Success services from TRANSFR VR. TRANSFR partners with industry and education to address the growing skills gap. One module lets students try a variety of on-the-job tasks linked to manufacturing careers. If a CTE student is interested in a specific job, other VR modules immerse them in training simulations that develop skills valued by future employers.

The mini-grant will support one of several Polaris MEP initiatives to develop a pipeline of talent for jobs that are going unfilled while reducing cost and risk for Rhode Island employers.

"Even before COVID you could not easily tour a manufacturing facility, which meant high school students and parents often had a limited view of these jobs," said Brickle. "By going virtual, we will be showing the real appeal of rewarding manufacturing careers."

For more information contact:

Polaris MEP

315 Iron Horse Way

Providence, RI 02908

401-270-8896

info@polarismep.org

www.polarismep.org

RIHub

225 Dyer Street

Providence, RI 02903

info@rihub.org

www.rihub.org

America Works

info@americaworks.com

www.americaworks.com

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