1. Home
  2. /
  3. Learn
  4. /
  5. Design Catalyst

The Program

Design Catalyst is a competitive, milestones-based grant program for Rhode Island creative businesses. This program provides seed capital, business mentorship, professional development training, and peer-to-peer networking. Creative businesses are selected after an application process involving interviews, reviews of growth milestones, and financial sustainability assessments. Business growth milestones are significant achievements or stages that a company reaches as it expands and develops. These milestones indicate the progress and success of the business. Examples can include: revenue goals, customer acquisition, physical space and program expansion, new hired employees. These milestones vary depending on the industry, business model, and goals of the company.

  • All selected businesses must participate in all development workshops, skill-building clinics, peer-to-peer networking over the course of December 2023-April 2024
  • All selected business participants will receive access to CIC Providence co-working space for the duration of the program.
  • All businesses are matched with a mentor to assist in their specific growth goals.
  • Grant funds reimbursed up to $15,000
  • Funds are disbursed in three separate portions once the business reaches milestones towards their defined goals. The funds awarded will reimburse purchases.*


The Providence Design Catalyst program eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • Business owner(s) must be at or below the 80% income threshold as defined by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Income eligibility is based on gross annual household income as filed in your 2022 taxes. To determine eligibility, add the income of all household members 18 or older, then locate the size of your household in the table linked above. Household size should include all adults and children living in the home, however, only the income from adults aged 18 or older should be included. If the household income is less than the dollar figure for the size of the household, applicant income is eligible. If selected as a finalist in the application process, businesses will be required to provide appropriate documentation for income verification (all owners’ 2023 returns or current financial statements). More on this in the application.
  • Business owner(s) maintain a primary residence in the state of Rhode Island. 
  • Have an established creative or design micro-enterprise (five or fewer employees including the owner(s) / current interns, does not include unpaid interns or volunteers) based in Rhode Island.
  • Business must be a commercial enterprise (Student-owned businesses or nonprofits are not eligible).
  • Businesses must accept the commitment to participate in the full six-month program including attending classes, meeting with their mentor, submitting status reports, submitting reimbursement requests, engaging with their peers, and participating in the final showcase.
  • Previous Providence Design Catalyst businesses are not eligible.
  • Business Co-owners must reside in Rhode Island
The Timeline+

Applications open: September 1, 2023

Application Info Session: October 4, 2023

Applications Due: October 13, 2023

Notification to Awardees: Week of November 6–10, 2023

2023 Class Schedule+

There are two mandatory curriculum components of the Catalyst program: Workshop and Clinics. Workshops are full-day, in-person sessions at CIC Providence (10am–4pm) with a lunch break. Pre-work will be assigned to maximize workshop time. Clinics are single sessions with local experts. They run remotely on Wednesday afternoons from 4-7pm.

The following are dates for 2024 Catalyst workshops, clinics, and requisition deadlines:

Thurs, Dec 7th Orientation Location TBD
Week of Jan 1-5
10AM – 2PM
REQUISITION 1 / Requisition Clinic Location TBD
Fri, Jan 12th
10PM – 4PM
WORKSHOP 1  CIC Providence
Weds, Jan 17th
4 – 7PM
CLINIC 1 Virtual
Tues, Feb 6th
Fri, Feb 9th
10AM – 4PM
WORKSHOP 2 CIC Providence
Tues, Feb 13th
4 – 7PM
CLINIC 2 Virtual
Tues, March 5th
Fri, March 8th
10AM – 4PM
WORKSHOP 3 CIC Providence
Weds, March 13th
10AM – 4PM

CLINIC 3 Virtual
Tues, April 2nd REQUISITION 4 Location TBD
Fri, April 5th
10AM – 4PM
WORKSHOP 4 CIC Providence
Weds, April 10th
4 – 7PM
CLINIC 4 Location TBD
Thurs, May 2nd Final Showcase Location TBD


Reimbursement Grants

A reimbursement grant means that accepted businesses receive the funds only after you’ve incurred the costs for purchased items, services, etc. Accepted businesses will need to submit expenses for review in order to receive reimbursement. Applicants should be aware of the following:

    • Accepted businesses will need to submit expenses for review in order to receive reimbursement. 
    • Expenses must meet the guidelines provided by our funders.
    • Expenses must relate and contribute to reaching stated application milestones. 
    • Businesses may have to hold up to $5,000 worth of debt for up to 10 weeks while waiting for reimbursements to be processed. (Note that this $ amount is greatly dependent upon the amount of grant award the business receives.) * Make note in the last question of the application if you are interested in or would need help identifying other resources while you have to wait for the funds.


    Kristine Merz (she/her) is a versatile entrepreneur and expert in human-centered research and design, passionate about driving impactful transformations in people’s lives. As the founder and president of Orange Square, a certified WBENC woman-owned business, she has been delivering award-winning brand transformations for over 20 years, using tried-and-true methods to help organizations discover, define, and deliver new brand strategies and identities. Kristine is also a co-founder of Joyuus, a digital health innovator that focuses on creating accessible well-being for mothers and those who care about them during the 12 months postpartum. She is also the author of “Shift,” a book that explores how to lead change through human-centered innovation. In addition to her entrepreneurial endeavors, Kristine serves as the board chair of Farm Fresh RI, demonstrating her commitment to the community striving towards a shared vision of a better, more equitable future for all. 

    Workshop 1: Entrepreneurship Strategy and Workshop 3: Cost Structure & Budget

    Adriana Dawson is a nationally recognized social impact leader driving results at the intersection of Purpose + People + Profit for over 20 years.

    Her multi-sector career led her to the telecommunications industry in 2019 when she joined Verizon as Community Engagement Director, where she currently oversees the Verizon Foundation and social impact programming efforts for her markets. In this role she leads and expands Verizon’s partnership network, strategic investments, and collaborates up and across the enterprise supporting regional and national initiatives. In addition, she serves as a Global Lead for SOMOS, an enterprise-wide Employee Resource Group (ERG) giving voice to Verizon’s 5K+ Hispanic/Latinx employees.

    Adriana, a first generation-professional, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from Northeastern University and holds a Master of Arts in Management Communication from Emerson College.

    Clinic 1: Competitive Analysis and Vision

    Dwayne Keys (he/him) is a Financial Coaching Manager & Interim Director of Programs (Multifamily) at Compass Working Capital, a non-profit organization dedicated ending asset poverty, in which he works one-on-one with Compass clients, supervises a team of financial coaches & leads the programs & relationships for Compass’s multifamily housing partners. He’s an Accredited Financial Counselor® (AFC®) and certified in Financial Social Work. For over 18 years Dwayne has advocated on behalf of historically excluded communities for economic justice and full inclusion in economic prosperity, with a focus on eliminating poverty, preventing displacement, and supporting anti-racism initiatives. Prior to joining Compass in 2017, Dwayne spent 13 years working in for-profit banking and financial services, holding roles in customer relationship management, service and sales. A 22-year resident of the Southside of Providence, Dwayne serves on multiple boards and commissions based in the city and throughout RI. Dwayne attended Johnson & Wales University where he earned his A.S. in Retailing, B.S. in Marketing and M.B.A. in International Trade.

    Workshop 2: Business Development

    C. Alexander Chiulli represents varied businesses, non-profit organizations, emerging companies, educational institutions, management and consulting organizations, and individuals. Often serving as outside general counsel, Alex regularly assists clients on formation, corporate, contract, governance, employment, regulatory, policy, governmental, real estate, insurance, transactional, and general liability matters. Alex additionally devotes a significant portion of his practice to advising clients on intellectual property, entrepreneurship, Internet, privacy and information, non-profit, and First Amendment law. An experienced litigator, Alex regularly appears before state and federal courts and agencies in Rhode Island and Massachusetts on wide-ranging civil, appellate, and administrative matters, as well as before the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. Before law school, Alex worked for Fortune 500 and start-up businesses in the areas business development, project management, and market research.

    Clinic 2: Core Legal Concepts for Small Business

    Megan Boyaval is a fractional head of marketing for start-ups, defining strategy and execution plans that make the most of limited resources. Her specialty is helping leaders answer key questions about the optimal growth plan and creating marketing programs that work. Megan sees transformation potential everywhere, and she is passionate about healthcare delivery, product design, customer & employee experience. Megan earned a degree from Smith College and is a former board member of The Steel Yard, in service to the maker community.

    Workshop 4: Marketing Your Design Business

    Devin Samuels

    As the Senior Program Manager at Social Innovation and Change Initiative at Harvard University, Devin Samuels leads the New World Social Innovation Fellowship as the program’s resident educator, program designer, and implementer with the aim of fostering an exemplary learning experience that drives impact. Prior to this role, Samuels was Programs and Events Manager for DESIGNxRI where he led the small-business accelerator program, Providence Design Catalyst, and created Equity x Design RI, a multi-business program which led to the creation of new equity-based protocols within the field. Devin continues to bring this level of intentional program creation, management, and facilitation into his work at SICI.

    Concurrent to this, Samuels has been an arts educator teaching and performing poetry nationally for the past 15 years. With a strong investment in community, Devin Samuels has spent years cultivating youth and adult arts education spaces. His pedagogy utilizes poetics and the radical imagination to grow critical thinking, self-reflection, and empathy as primary drivers of social change. Devin is a 2017 Poetry Foundation Incubator Fellow and his work can be found in City & Sea Poetry Anthology, Slag Review, Wayne Literary Review 2018 and Systemic Crises of Global Climate Change: Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender.

    Devin Samuels currently serves on the board of Detroit Jews for Justice, is the Co-Director of the Providence Poetry Slam, and an active member of multiple movement and arts organizations.

    Clinic 4: Pitching Your Business

    2024 PARTNERS

    Providence City seal depicting when the city was founded and incorporated<br />

    City of Providence

    Real Jobs Rhode Island

    CIC Providence

    Rhode Island Commerce

    Eastern Bank


    Photo of Rye Dean and Lumuku playing cards.
    Anyhow Studio, a community pottery studio and the owner smiling.
    Alaina Mahoney, a welder, working with a power hammer.

    “I am SO appreciative of this opportunity to grow, both personally and professionally. I feel like DESIGNxRI is so special because it is building a community that can support and foster creative people at all stages of their career. One year later, I am no longer just a person with an idea. I am making it happen through concrete steps. There has been A LOT of learning along the way, but that has also helped me believe in myself more and more. All of this is invaluable.”

    -Rye Dean, LUMUKU 2018

    “When I first opened, I listed 1 Intro to the Wheel class; now I am running 6-7 classes per term and they sell out within 1-2 days of the listing plus a waitlist. I have 9 active members, plus more folks who use the studio space. I hired a studio manager who works part time as well as a studio assistant.”
    -Liz Welch, Anyhow Studio 2021

    “The Design Catalyst program allowed me to acquire new customers and ramp up my production abilities with the purchase of new equipment. The studio space that I found during the program has been essential for my business. I am still in touch with my peers from the program which helps having people to ask questions to who have been through the same experiences.”

    – Maria Prus, M Designs Studio 2019

    “I was able to decide which legal entity to use for my work, hire a legal advisor, and hire a designer to build out the branding. I was also able to purchase technology equipment that I very much needed to carry out the work of my Design Studio.”

    -Shey Rivera, Studio Loba (formerly known as Design Studio for Culture + Planning) 2021

    “I have gained so much confidence in my business and have continued to grow. I have taken on new collaborations and many new wholesale orders. I think I am in a much better place than I would have expected after the program.”

    -Alaina Mahoney, A.M. Design and Fabrication LLC 2020


    Over $1 million invested directly into Providence design businesses ($1.3 million is program resources)

    40 business mentors engaged from the RI business community

    69% of participant businesses developed a new product line and/or extended their brand

    62% of participant businesses extended an existing product line and/or added production

    31% added staff capacity with interns, freelancers, or full-time employment

    60 design businesses in total have completed this accelerator program

    21% businesses received additional funding and/or mentoring from outside sources

    All businesses analyzed and re-envisioned their business model and growth capacity