The East Side of Providence, Rhode Island is a tale of two cities. On one side, you have the historic Federalist Era architecture distinguishing the neighborhoods where Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design comprise the state’s intellectual and creative center. On the other hand, you have the blue-collar neighborhoods where successive generations of immigrants—Irish, Italian, Portuguese, Dominican, African, and Vietnamese—have worked to make a living for centuries.
Kendre Rodriguez ’16 grew up in this setting and it was here that she made an important life decision. “I saw how important education is to economic opportunity, so I knew I would make the absolute most I could out of my own education and then use this experience as the basis for serving the public good. My particular interest is in fostering stronger entrepreneurial communities.”
Her educational opportunity came at Paul College, where Rodriguez stands out as one of the more proactive learners in a college loaded with high achievers. An Entrepreneurial Studies major, she participated in the Carsey Social Innovation Internship program, working for Social Enterprise Greenhouse (SEG) to create Rhode Island’s first social enterprise incubator and accelerator.
Kendre also competed in the community track of the New Hampshire Social Venture Innovation Challenge in 2014, in which her Harvest to Market team placed second. “Harvest to Market is a web platform that overcomes the fundamental logistical challenges associated with finding and buying local food,” says Rodriguez.
In addition to her academics, Rodriguez participates actively in student life on campus. She is a former deejay at WUNH, having hosted her own radio show Sundays from 5 – 8 a.m., playing jazz, pop, and hip-hop for the early-bird crowd. And she currently serves on the Student Senate as the Academic Affairs Council Chair, a position on the Student Body President’s cabinet responsible for advocating and implementing academic policy changes on behalf of the undergraduate student body.
She is also one of four student officers on the newly formed Rines Student Angel Investment Fund, a project to which she recruited honor students, Cassidy Croci ’16, Matthew Haskell ’16, and Peter Shellenberger ’18.
Professor Jeffrey Sohl, Rodriguez’ thesis adviser and the faculty director to the Rines Student Angel Investment Fund (see related story), recalls a lunch meeting he and Rodriguez attended with fund donor Mel Rines ’47. “Mel expressed a desire to meet the students who would be working with me in developing the project,” recalls Sohl. “Kendre and another student joined me.”
During lunch, Rodriguez began chatting with Rines about some of his WWII experiences. When the former fighter pilot asked how she found out these facts, she told him she found it in Dimond Library after reading his autobiography, Flying High: The Story of a Fighter Pilot. Three days after the meeting, she sent a hand written thank you note, on behalf of Sohl and herself, to the donor. “It is events like these that continually surprise me and demonstrate a maturity beyond her years, a creative spark that seeks to go the distance, and beyond,” remarks Sohl.
With an initial investment of $350,000 from Rines, the first semester of the two-credit course will focus on education around startups as well as meetings with local and regional angel investing groups, such as the Portsmouth firm e-Coast Angels and Alpha Loft’s new Accelerate NH program, to help the students gain experience and learn the steps of due diligence before beginning to invest. Come spring, the team will actually co-invest with e-Coast Angels.
“The co-investment process is to guarantee we work with valid start-ups and to also learn and experience the life of actual angel investors. We’ll meet regularly with e-Coast Angels and then pitch our investment proposals to our advisory board,” Rodriguez says.
Rodriguez’ prominent role founding the investment fund and serving as an officer will form the basis for her honors thesis, putting the capstone on a brilliant undergraduate career and, just as important to an aspiring entrepreneur herself, bringing her one step closer to writing her own chapter in the tale of two cities.