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RI Turns To Innovation Economy in Face of Record Job Losses; A List of Tech and Life Sciences Firms in the State to Watch

Xconomy Boston — 

We at Xconomy Boston, despite focusing much of our coverage on business and innovation in Massachusetts, cover stories on companies from all over New England—understanding that there is a regional innovation ecosystem. (Plus, there are some great stories to be told outside of the tech-rich Route 128 corridor.)

Rhode Island, for one, is producing some interesting companies with interesting stories. But the nationwide economic downturn has been especially acute in the Ocean State. As many are aware, Rhode Island reported an 8.8 percent unemployment rate for September—giving the smallest state dubious recognition for having the highest jobless rate in the country. With many of those job losses coming from industries such as construction, retail, and hospitality, the state hopes for growth among firms in innovation sectors such as life sciences and IT to stabilize the broader economy.

“These companies represent our new economy,” says Saul Kaplan, executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, a quasi-public agency. “These companies have really strong growth potential and they represent industry sectors that are more resilient to economic downturns.”

Of which companies does Kaplan speak? Xconomy has compiled a list of several of the firms leading the expansion of Rhode Island’s innovation economy, including biotech outfits, software developers, and Web-based firms. The state is seeding many of these companies through the Slater Technology Fund, a publicly funded venture firm based in Providence, RI.

Here are the companies:

Andera (Providence)

If you’ve ever opened a bank account online, there’s a solid chance that the Web-based software supporting your transaction came from Andera. Founded in 2000 by Brown University graduate and CEO Charlie Kroll, privately held Andera has emerged as one of the top firms in the nascent online account opening and funding business, with more than 200 institutional customers.

Employees: 50

Recent news: Andera revealed last month that Umpqua Bank, an Oregon-based bank with 148 branches, had launched Andera’s software platform on its Web site.

EpiVax (Providence)

EpiVax uses an informatics system developed by founder and CEO Annie De Groot to discover how certain drugs
elicit unwanted immune responses. The 10-year-old biotech firm has applied its “computational immunology” expertise to optimize existing drugs as a service to large pharmaceutical firms and to develop its own vaccines for HIV, TB, tularemia, and other serious illnesses.

Employees: 16

Recent news: EpiVax reported in September that the National Institutes of Health awarded the firm a $600,000 to develop a treatment for Type 1 diabetes.

IMT Services (Warwick)

When I typed “travel insurance” into a Google search this week, the top Web site to appear on my screen was InsureMyTrip.com. IMT Services, founded in 2000, is the operator of InsureMyTrip.com and provides integrated technology services for the travel insurance and travel industries. The Web site aggregates travel insurance providers to help travelers find the best rates. “We’re sort of the Orbitz of travel insurance,” CEO Jim Grace told me.

Employees: 41

Recent news: American Express signed on with IMT last summer to offer a variety of Amex travel insurance products at InsureMyTrip.com last year. Grace tells me that the company now has such relationships with 24 insurance carriers and underwriters in U.S. and Canada.

Neurotech Pharmaceuticals (Lincoln)

Neurotech, formerly of Paris, France, is focused on the development of new treatments for eye diseases. The venture-backed biotech firm says that it expects to report the results of mid-stage clinical trials of its protein-based treatment for retinitis pigmentosa and dry age-related macular degeneration in 2009.

Employees: 30

Recent news: Neurotech announced the opening of its 27,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Cumberland, RI, in October. Also, the FDA recently granted the company Fast-Track designations to expedite approvals of its lead drug for both retinitis and macular degeneration.

Rite Solutions (Middletown)

Imagine a company where new ideas are traded like stocks on an exchange and the employees behind the ideas are rewarded for the evolution of those ideas into products and services. That’s Rite Solutions, a provider of software development and engineering for the U.S. government and commercial customers, which has garnered international attention for its internal stock market called “Mutual Fun.” In fact, CEO Jim Lavoie told me that one idea launched on the firm’s stock market led to a contract to develop a content-delivery system used in a portable video player for Pawtucket, RI-based toy maker Hasbro.

Employees: 175

Recent news: Lavoie says that his eight-year-old firm now provides the U.S. departments of Defense and Homeland Security with decision-management systems designed to expedite the decision-making process for the departments during crises.

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