Innovative grant program opens application period for Catalyst, providing funding and professional development training to design entrepreneurs

Mayor Jorge O. Elorza today joined DESIGNxRI Executive Director Lisa Carnevale and 2021 Catalyst Design Program graduate Aleksandra Azbel to announce the launch of Providence Design Catalyst. The 2022 program will provide qualifying Providence-based design businesses with $150,000 in grant funding capital in amounts between $10,000 and $15,000, in addition to business mentorship and professional development training to promote business growth.

“The Providence Design Catalyst program brings our City’s world-class talent together with the tools necessary to take their businesses to the next level,” said Mayor Jorge O. Elorza. “Over the past couple of years, business models have changed dramatically, but DESIGNxRI’s commitment to mentoring, supporting, and investing in Rhode Island’s design businesses remains constant. I am proud to join DESIGNxRI to invest in our designers and small business community.”


Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, DESIGNxRI Executive Director Lisa Carnevale & ’21 Catalyst Design Program graduate Aleksandra Azbel answer media questions. Discussed? Addressing the “Brain/Talent Drain” & Ms. Azbel’s perspective as a successful design entrepreneur. Ms. Azbel’s Design Business, Sashoonya, prints organically dyed and eco-printed textiles in Providence, Rhode Island Social Media: Instagram: @sashoonya Website:


Providence Design Catalyst is a competitive grant program that provides seed capital, business mentorship, professional development training, and peer-to-peer networking to help design businesses reach their growth goals. Combining the global expertise of teachers, dedicated support from business mentors, and financial investment based on milestones and achievements, the Providence Design Catalyst program creates vital momentum for sustained business growth. The program is run by Providence-based DESIGNxRI, an economic development nonprofit for the Rhode Island design sector.

“The Design Catalyst program has proven to be an effective tool to growing creative businesses in Providence,” said Lisa Carnevale, Executive Director of DESIGNxRI. “Catalyst is one of the only programs of its kind in our state that combines financial investment with dedicated business support and milestone accountability. We can’t wait to see the applicants this year!”

This year’s program will again feature a partnership with CIC Providence. CIC will welcome Providence Design Catalyst cohort participants to their state-of-art offices, offering them co-working memberships and hosting program events and gatherings.

“Our community returns to CIC Providence even more enthusiastic to embrace the creativity that sparks ideas and the collaboration that helps fix the world through innovation,” said Rebecca Webber, General Manager of CIC Providence. “CIC is especially excited to partner with the Design Catalyst program for the third consecutive year to support the business plans of the most creative innovators in Providence.”

The Providence Design Catalyst program began in 2015, with the first cohort running in 2016. Since then, DESIGNxRI and partners have invested in 60 design businesses. Since its start, DESIGNxRI program highlights include:

  • $986,000 of investment into 60 design businesses
  • 40 business mentors engaged from the RI business community
  • 62-69% of businesses have increased production (expanding operations, moving into larger facilities, selling more products)
  • 30% of businesses added staff capacity with interns, freelancers, or full-time employment
  • All businesses analyzed and re-envisioned their business model and growth capacity, making thoughtful decisions on what was needed foundationally to continue on their growth trajectory.
  • Additionally, 21% of participant businesses received additional funding and/or mentoring from outside sources.

“The program gave me the financial and community support necessary to extend my product, brand, and confidence as an entrepreneur,” said Aleksandra Azbel, founder and director of Sashoonya, and graduate of the 2021 Catalyst program. “Working with DESIGNxRI staff, educators, and cohort has helped me define and sharpen the mission and vision of my business, which streamlines my marketing and keeps me focused on current projects as well as long term growth goals. Having my voice and ideas shared through the program has been a critical source of empowerment to keep me moving forward through an unfamiliar and challenging landscape.”

The Providence Design Catalyst is funded by the City of Providence through the Federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. Along with CIC Providence, the Rhode Island School of Design is also a partner in the Providence Design Catalyst program, serving on the steering committee with others from the business community.

To learn more about the program, including full eligibility requirements and how to apply, visit the DESIGNxRI website. Applications will be reviewed by the Design Catalyst steering committee, led by DESIGNxRI, and will be accepted beginning today, November 9, 2021, and running through January 3, 2022.

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