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Can the Geeks save Rhode Island?

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The small but growing IT-digital media sector centered around Providence has been one of the bright spots in the local economy. But to what extent can it help the Ocean State to overcome its perennial economic also-ran status?

Marion Davis takes on the topic in this week's Phoenix:

Sara Czyzewicz earned a computer science degree at Rhode Island College and a new-media certificate from imedia, proved her Web design skills at the Westin Providence and a local firm — and then promptly left the state, as have thousands of ambitious 20-somethings have before her.

She worked for the ad agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky in Miami, then in Boulder, Colorado, where she thrived on the vibrant tech entrepreneurship culture. In April, she co-founded a startup, Weavemet, to develop a social networking tool called DandyID.

Almost immediately, there was an acquisition offer on the table, and then a cash infusion that will allow the firm to employ five or six people through next summer. But here's the twist: DandyID won't be based in Boulder. It's moved to Providence.

"There is a whole new level of energy here that doesn't exist in a lot of other places," Czyzewicz says. "Boulder seems a little more geared toward technology entrepreneurs and business, whereas Rhode Island also has that artistic, design, creative side." She adds, "You are who you hang around with." In Providence, "people feed off one another's energy, and that has helped us tremendously."

DandyID is the kind of startup that excites local techies and economic development leaders alike: young people on the cutting edge of technology and social trends, with an idea likely to make it big, and a commitment to grow in Rhode Island.

Czyzewicz, a Pawtucket native, is part of a growing wave. In the last few years, a slew of new technology firms have emerged here, from Web and mobile application designers, to biomedical informatics and engineering experts, to military contractors, to companies that leverage IT to more efficiently sell insurance, run wellness programs, and more.

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