1. Home
  2. /
  3. Programs and Events
  4. /
  5. Fall Design Catalyst

The Fall Design Catalyst Program

July - December 2024

Looking for the Providence-based Spring Catalyst Program? Click here

The Program

The Fall Design Catalyst program 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 potential strategic growth milestones, and financial sustainability assessments. Read more about milestones and funding below.

All selected businesses must:

  • Participate in all development, skill-building classes over the course of July 2024-December 2024.
  • Participate in the final public presentation event.
  • Meet with their mentor weekly for the first 3 months of the program.
  • Schedule and attend 3 meetings with Catalyst’s financial advisor during the program.

All selected businesses will receive:

  • Access to Innovate Newport co-working space for the duration of the program.
  • A dedicated mentor to assist in specific growth goals.
  • Grant funds ranging from $1,500-$15,000 (contingent on attendance of all classes, completion of all associated coursework, and consistent meetings with mentor).

The Timeline

Applications open: April 16, 2024

Application Info Session: April 24, 2024

Applications Due: May 12, 2024

Program Starts: July 10, 2024


The Fall Design Catalyst Program eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • All business owner(s) must be of low-moderate income as determined by the RI department of Housing and Urban Development. CLICK HERE and reference the highlighted 80% line to confirm eligibility. Income eligibility is based on gross annual household income. To determine eligibility, add the income of all household members claimed on your taxes aged 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).
  • Business owner(s) must maintain a primary residence in Rhode Island.
  • Participants must have an established creative or design micro-enterprise (five or fewer employees including the owner(s) / current interns)
  • Participating business must be a commercial enterprise (Student-owned businesses or nonprofits are not eligible).
  • Participants 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.


Program Schedule

Date Time Event Location
July 10 10am-4pm Program Orientation Innovate Newport
July 17 10am-4pm Class 1
Entrepreneurial Mastery: Building Block Strategies for Success
Innovate Newport
July 24 9:30am-12:30pm Class 2
Legal Basics for Creative Businesses
July 25-30 Financial Advising Week
July 31 10am-4pm Class 3
Finance for Creatives
Innovate Newport
Aug 7 9:30am-12:30pm Class 4
The Entrepreneurial Self: Vision, Mission, and You as a Business Owner
Aug 14 10am-3pm Class 5
Brand Identity
Innovate Newport
Aug 21 9:30am-12:30pm Class 6
Marketing Foundations
Aug 28 10am-3pm Class 7
Implementing Your Marketing Plan
Innovate Newport
Aug 30 -Sept 3 Financial Advising Week
Sept 4 9:30am-12:30pm Check In Week Virtual
Sept 22 Funding Proposals Due
Oct 1 Funding announcement
Oct 4 Funding awarded
Oct 9 2pm-7pm Class 8
Presentation Workshop
Innovate Newport
Nov 13 9:30am-12:30pm Class 9
Presentation Scrub
Dec 11 TBD Final Presentation! Innovate Newport

Business Milestones and Funding

After completing the first eight business development classes and all associated coursework, grantees will be required to submit three strategic business growth milestones, along with a proposed grant budget supporting the achievement of each. Milestones will be crafted during the program, and submitted before/after the final workshop.

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.

These submissions will be reviewed and approved by our Catalyst Steering Committee. Based on these identified milestones and budgets you will be awarded funding to spend out over the remaining 3 months of the program (till December 2024). Please note that while you may submit a budget for each milestone, you may not necessarily receive the full amount of funding you request. The actual funding allocation will be determined by the Catalyst Steering Committee, taking into consideration the feasibility and impact of each milestone.


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. 

Blake Johnson (she/her)
Attorney Blake Johnson is a Rhode Island native, born and raised in Providence. She was a part of the 3+3 program at Roger Williams University with an undergraduate degree in Legal Studies and Philosophy, graduating cum laude in 2019. She then graduated from Roger Williams School of Law in 2021. While in law school, Blake focused on business and transactional classes and was a part of the Business Start-up Clinic. She was also a student ambassador and Vice President of the Alliance. She is a member of the Rhode Island Women Bar Association, Cannabis Justice Coalition and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. She is licensed to practice in New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. In her practice, Blake focuses on cannabis, as well as arts and entertainment, but has worked for clients in almost every industry.

Blake is also the founder and co-owner of Black Dragonfly Events LLC, a full service event planning and design company that specializes in fundraisers and social events. She, with her co-owner Andersson, plan, design, and decorate any event from baby showers, to weddings, to retirement parties and anything in between, as well as setting up photoshoot backdrops and the like. Providence is considered the Creative Capital of New England and, through her business and legal practice, Blake wants to help this little big state live up to that name.

She enjoys reading, baking, amatuer pohtgraphy, and spending time with her dog and turtle.

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.

Dwayne Keys works at Compass Working Capital, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending asset poverty with a focus on Black and Latina women-led households specializing in HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. Dwayne joined Compass as a financial coach working one-on-one with Compass clients, worked as a Financial Coaching Manager supervising a team of financial coaches, and is currently the Director of Programs, Multifamily in which he oversees Compass’s partnerships and growth of FSS with multifamily owners. Prior to joining Compass in 2017, he spent 13 years working in for-profit banking and financial services, holding roles in customer relationship management, service, and sales. Dwayne is also the Managing Director of D Key Solution, a consulting firm he launched in 2015 that provides services in meeting facilitation, community engagement, and change management with low-to-moderate income Black and Brown communities in areas such as zoning, urban planning, preservation, community development, neighborhood revitalization, small businesses, and overall economic inclusion. Dwayne attended Johnson & Wales University where he earned his A.S. in Retailing, B.S. in Marketing and M.B.A. in International Trade. He is an Accredited Financial Counselor® (AFC®), certified in Financial Social Work and is pursuing his designation as a Certified Associate in Program Management (CAPM). For over 20 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.

Galen Mooney is a web designer, educator, and marketing strategist helping creative business owners attract their ideal clients online. She combines design best practices with personalized marketing strategies to help businesses connect with clients they love. Galen is the founder of Local Creative, a web design agency specializing in personality-driven design and small business marketing. With over 10 years of experience in the industry, Galen is an accomplished writer, speaker, and virtual event host passionate about sharing what she’s learned through her blog and video content.

Sara Ossana (she/they) 
Originally from Arizona, Sara has been an integral member of Rhode Island’s design, art, and manufacturing community since 2002. Currently serving as the Program Manager for The Terra Carta Design Lab at RISD, launched in 2021 by His Majesty King Charles III and Sir Jony Ive, in this role Sara advances innovative solutions to address climate justice using systems in nature. RISD stands out as the sole US institution among four global schools participating in this groundbreaking competition.

Beyond her role at RISD, Sara co-founded O&G Studio and champions American design, craft, and manufacturing. Additionally, she contributes her talents as a world builder in theatre and performance, collaborating with luminaries like William Kentridge and the Centre for the Less Good Idea in partnership with the Brown Arts Institute. Sara’s multifaceted expertise and dedication to her craft make her a driving force in both local and global creative spheres.

Fall 2024 PARTNERS

Real Jobs Rhode Island

Papitto Opportunity Connection


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

The grant program has helped me to think about my business for its possibilities, not as a static thing. I had not taken the time to reflect on the story of my brand, how it has evolved, and the service that I really offer - the program made me see so much more. With this new self-knowledge, I feel positioned to update my storytelling and make my next steps with an eye to increased profitability and work-life balance.

-Rachel Robinson, Robinson Press 2022

“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 $1.2 million invested directly into Rhode Island design businesses ($1.6 million including program resources)

58 business mentors in total have been engaged from the Rhode Island business community

50% of participant businesses developed a new product line during the program

100% of businesses expected to extend an existing product line and/or offerings in the next year

50% of businesses added staff capacity with interns, freelancers, part-time, or full-time employment

81 design businesses in total have completed this accelerator program

87% of businesses had their own workspace or studio by the end of the program

62% of participant businesses increased their profits during the program