A program for Rhode Island manufacturers want to seize market challenges and thrive

Rhode Island manufacturers have faced tough times, and recently many see positive trends. Yet, increased competition from the domestic and global supply chain, rapidly changing sales and marketing tactics that make it easier for your customers to find your competition, and disruptive technological advancements such as additive manufacturing, blockchain and automation, may have you looking for help navigating this new landscape.

If you’re determined to compete (rather than just hoping for the best), apply now to be added to the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge waiting list.

The Manufacturing Innovation Challenge matches companies with a team of subject matter experts with deep industry knowledge who work with the company’s leadership team to conduct a strategic review of the business. The process brings greater visibility to the company’s strengths and challenges and culminates in a report of the company’s maturity across 8 categories that offers insight and recommendations, allowing the company to focus their time and resources strategically.

Are you ready to move your company forward?

If you’re a manufacturer who knows “the way we’ve always done it” isn’t cutting it, the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge is for you!  Add Your Company to the Waiting List!

The Manufacturing Innovation Challenge is a program of Polaris MEP. Originally developed with support from a grant from the Office of Economic Adjustment, U.S. Department of Defense to the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge is now open to Rhode Island manufacturers whether or not they have defense contracts. 



“The Manufacturing Innovation Challenge was an exceptional opportunity to look at our business from industry experts. It led to an internal discussion to clarify who are customer is, and to create processes to help end users pull products through the distributor channel—this is creating a lift in business,”

Michael Black, President
National Marker Company

“We’re seeing such energy created around this project. We intend to take these lean and 5S processes to the rest of the company. It can re-configure what’s happening within the workspace. It feels pretty significant.”

Marc Amato

The Manufacturing Innovation Challenge helps you develop organizational clarity, making action and change easier. During the 360-degree business review, the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge consulting team help you and your leadership team pinpoint areas ripe for change and advancement, galvanizing your leadership around a set of priorities.

The process provides insight into the company’s current state and identifies opportunities to innovate, improve processes and transform your future. As you move forward with the plan, Polaris MEP will help you find resources to implement the recommendations.

Since 2015, 50 Rhode Island Companies have participated in the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge or its predecessor, STEAMengine. The return on investment for the 29 companies that implemented recommendations from the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge was 14:1.

“The benefit was having someone ask, ‘Why are you doing it this way?’”

Chris Goodwin

Case Studies

Revealing Niche Markets

The Assessment:

The 360-degree strategic assessment with the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge team helped the company identify a niche their product fills in the retail market, but the company doesn’t have a brand strategy or product packaging that is appropriate for retail.

The Result:

The company worked with a marketing expert and a product design firm to develop new packaging that highlights the product is made in the U.S.A and of superior quality. The company expects to receive more than a half million dollars in new revenue as the product’s market is expanded within sporting goods stores across the country.

Expanding a Customer Base

The Challenge:

A contract manufacturer in the defense, medical, and industrial sectors wanted to increase revenue.

The Assessment

The MIC team conducted a total business review of the company and found the company’s dated website was not an accurate representation of the company. The clunky, non-responsive design created an image of a stodgy, small company. It did not project the image of the company, which is capable of handling large and complex orders.

Taking the MIC team’s suggestions, the company partnered with a local web design solution provider to create a brand strategy communicated through a responsive website with SEO optimization, enhanced search, inbound marketing opportunities and online branding.

The Result:

The new website generates inquiries from qualified leads capable of placing six-figure orders over the course of a year and has generated leads resulting in at least $1 million in new sales. The new strategy helped the company to expand their customer base, and develop relationships with companies that invest significantly more, increasing the company’s average order size significantly.

Structures and Strategy for Next Generation Leadership

The Assessment:

A Rhode Island manufacturer moving into the 3rd generation of ownership saw significant opportunities for expansion and the development of new product offerings. However, the current work processes and reporting structure was not well developed.

The Process:

After completing the 360-degree strategic assessment with the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge team, the company created a succession plan and a workforce development strategy. The effort helped employees develop new skills and take on increased responsibility over time.

The Result:

The company is expanding product offerings into composites, metrology, and metal detail work, adding diversity, stability, and profitability to the business. The company became a Raytheon approved vendor and will add 3 or 4 new employees in 2018. Revenue is expected to increase by more than $1 million.

Take a fresh look at your business with the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge

Add Your Company to the Waiting List!

The Fine Print

The Manufacturing Innovation Challenge is available to Rhode Island manufacturers through Polaris MEP. The assessment team is comprised of 4 high-powered professionals and a Polaris MEP representative with deep industry experience, including strategy, marketing, industrial design, operations, finance and organizational development. The Manufacturing Innovation Challenge is a fee for service program. The 2018 competitive application offers an opportunity to participate in the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge with a 50% cost share and with the opportunity to receive a credit of $5,000 toward projects contracted through Polaris MEP to implement recommendations received during the assessment.

Catalyze and Educate

From 2015-May 2018, funding from the Department of Defense, U.S. Office of Economic Adjustment through the RI Commerce Corporation supported the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge and these additional opportunities for manufacturers in Rhode Island. These ongoing programs are worth exploring if your company is interested in becoming more innovative and competitive:

Design for Manufacturing Innovation Certificate Program

developed by Rhode Island School of Design Executive Education in consultation with national manufacturers and designers.

Design Thinking Certificate Program

developed by Bryant University Executive Development Center offer an innovative and contemporary approach to the world of design.

Design Catalyst

is helping three Rhode Island manufacturers toward new product development, enabling them to diversify their product portfolios and potentially enter new markets.


enhances the potential that sits at the intersection of industrial design and advanced manufacturing by helping companies realize the benefits of new manufacturing technologies.

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From 2016-May 2018, the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge was implemented as a program of Polaris MEP, in partnership with Commerce RI, and made possible by a grant to Commerce RI from the Office of Economic Adjustment, U.S. Department of Defense. The Manufacturing Innovation Challenge is now offered by Polaris MEP, as a fee for service-program.