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Grants award, fund local designers

Providence Design Catalyst program provides seed funding for local designers

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, March 15, 2019

Founded by two RISD graduates, INDO- creates furniture that blends traditional and contemporary styles.

A shared warehouse in South Providence contains a maze of construction tools, half-finished wooden furniture, geometric light fixtures and the buzz of five different design studios.

“INDO-”,a contemporary furniture design studio founded by two Rhode Island School of Design graduates, is just one that occupies the space.

INDO-, founded by Manan Narang  and Urvi Sharma, is focused on blending traditional and contemporary styles to create unique furniture. The name INDO-, meant to be read as a prefix, is reflective of the studio’s mission, Narang said. “It’s not complete by itself — it sort of works with another aspect, and it’s the combination that creates new work.”

Earlier this semester, INDO- won a grant from the Providence Design Catalyst program, which is led by the non-profit organization DESIGNxRI. The grant allocates $10,000 to $20,000 to each of the nine winners, in addition to offering “business mentorship, professional development training and peer-to-peer networking” to help design businesses, according to its website. This year, one winning studio is owned by Phoebe Neel ’14, and three others are owned by RISD graduates. Twenty-one businesses applied.

Originally from New Delhi, the two INDO designers- met at RISD and decided to stay in Providence after graduation. They plan to use the grant to grow their business and gain marketing experience.

“One part is to do what we did last year which is to exhibit work, get more press, get more work out and more eyes on it,” Narang said. “The other aspect is working with a mentor on things that the both of us don’t necessarily have experience on. How do you market yourself?”

DESIGNxRI hopes to facilitate growth for the design sector of Rhode Island through the Design Catalyst program, which aims to “make sure that design businesses and designers here are getting opportunities, developing their businesses and making sure more talent thrives here,” said Catherine Chung, the program and events manager at DESIGNxRI. Since 2015, they have invested $635,000 into 30 design businesses in Rhode Island through the program. Funds come from the City of Providence’s Department of Community Development and Real Jobs R.I.

With the third largest percentage of creative sector jobs in the United States, Rhode Island’s design sector has experienced significant growth in the past decade, according to Chung. The sector has grown by 500 businesses between 2007 and 2012, according to DESIGNxRI’s website. “We’re excited to see where this growth will go,” Chung added. 

Nic Schumann ’14.5 won the Design Catalyst grant last year for his company “Work-Shop.” After meeting his business partner at the University and deciding to remain in Providence, Schumann found that new companies often struggle with having the time or resources available to dedicate to long-term planning. “(The grant) gives space to think about those bigger picture strategic questions,” he said. He added that the grant funding “is super helpful, even though it sounds like it’s sort of a drop in the bucket overall.”

Narang, Sharma and Schumann all cited similar motivations for staying in Providence, deciding against the traditional route for a designer: moving to New York City. Providence is “much more friendly in terms of starting your own business,” Sharma said, citing a close-knit and collaborative design community.  Narang echoed this sentiment, stating that “you’re not exactly working together, but there’s this sense of community.” While New York’s design sector tends to be saturated with designers, “the barrier to doing impactful work is just significantly lower here,” Schumann added.

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