"It's phenomenal to be able to live on the East Side, take my 10-year-old son to karate at the JCC, run to his Little League game at the Fox Point field, then go to a meeting downtown," says Warshay. "It's much more conducive to having a balance between the crazy demands of entrepreneurship and the other things that a 44-year-old with kids cares about."
And many established IT professionals, Templin notes, "have the luxury of being more portable than most people, and not having to chase a job, but rather [to] say, 'I'm going to be here, and I'm going to start something here.' Providence is a great place for that."
The emergence of a close-knit geek community, which provides easy access to expert mentors and technical advisers, can also be a big selling point for younger entrepreneurs — such as those who launched DandyID — Tear and Warshay say.
Providence's intermingling of techies and artists — due in part to how they share many spaces, from AS220 to Monohasset Mill — is another major asset, says Kipp Bradford, a biomedical engineer who serves on the AS220 board and often works with artists.
Artists "give me a different perspective that I wouldn't get anywhere else," he says "It makes me look at the possibilities. It doesn't make me think, 'How do I make this widget for this market?' It makes me think, 'How is technology used, and how do people interact with it, and society, and what can change about that?' "
Yet Bradford, who earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at Brown in the mid-1990s and stayed in Rhode Island, still sees this as a tough place to work.
"I don't think there's really the critical mass of people who have experience building 'smart' products, or medical devices, or engineers who've got experience dealing with regulatory issues," he says. "There's just such a huge pool of talent in the Boston area that just doesn't exist here, and there's a lot of universities spinning technologies out."
Since hitting a wall with his own Providence-based startup, a hearing aid company called Bionica Corporation, earlier this year, Bradford has been consulting for companies in the Boston area, and the existence of that "safety valve" has made it easier to stay here. "I figured Boston is only 45 minutes away," he says, "so it's not so bad."
Seeking the tipping point
What about young entrepreneurs, the ones developing ideas in their dorm rooms, research labs, and in classes with professors like Warshay?
They could make a particularly big impact on Rhode Island's IT sector, Templin says, because "they're the first generation of digital natives, and they're incredibly insightful about the medium." And Brown, Rhode Island School of Design, and the University of Rhode Island, especially, have programs that attract top-notch talent.
Yet historically, graduating students have quickly left the state, as Czyzewicz did. Warshay, who started a software company here with friends upon graduating from Brown in 1987, recalls being seen as "wacky." Even today, he says, most of the students in his Brown entrepreneurship classes head to New York, Los Angeles, or other big cities.
He doesn't blame them — Providence, he says, is nowhere near as fun or exciting for your typical 22-year-old, professionally, culturally or socially.