Atlanta often ranks among the nation’s top cities for black entrepreneurs annually. Much of that acclaim stems from the contributions of Herman J. Russell, the late legendary founder and chairman of H.J. Russell & Co., the largest black-owned construction firm in America. H.J. Russell is No. 14 on the 2017 Black Enterprise Top 100 list of the nation’s largest black-owned businesses with revenues exceeding $253 million.
Now, James “Jay” Bailey, the newly appointed president and CEO of the Russell Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (RCIE), wants to build upon Russell’s phenomenal legacy. The 48,000-square-foot entrepreneurial center expected to open early next year will be in the former headquarters of the H.J. Russell & Co. in Atlanta’s Historic Castleberry Hill neighborhood. The center’s goals will include helping African Americans open new businesses and expand existing ones, offering resources to help those firms foster and sustain growth, and promoting economic empowerment.
In June, Bailey says the center will launch a $10 million dollar capital campaign to create a world-class facility. Bailey added that most of the money will be used to renovate the space donated by the Russell family. The funds will help pay for state-of-the-art technology to provide innovative office space, classrooms, and conference rooms to inspire, educate, and accelerate minority entrepreneurs.
“It will be much more than another accelerator or incubator; we want RCIE to become the epicenter of economic advancement and entrepreneurship for under-represented communities across the country.”
An Atlanta native, Bailey told Black Enterprise how the RCIE will operate. The center received $3 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration in November 2016 to fund the design and renovation of the center’s existing building.
BE: How will the center help potential entrepreneurs open a business, provide them support services, and gain access to capital?
Bailey: We will inspire, educate, and accelerate. Images matter. The RCIE will celebrate the accomplishments of black entrepreneurs throughout history. The center will be a collaborative, co-working ecosystem for aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs that connects a customized curriculum with access to industry-specific resources, roadmaps, and role models. RCIE will help foster and grow relationships between financial institutions, angel investors, venture capitalists, and Atlanta’s top entrepreneurial talent.
BE: What type of programs will RCIE offer?
Bailey: We are currently developing our program offerings. However, we are going to take a truly inclusive approach–nothing for the community, without involving the community. We will bring the community together with some of the best entrepreneurial minds from around the country to design a space that creates the next generation of doers, innovators, and job creators.
BE: How will the center help existing black businesses continue to grow?
Bailey: RCIE will be a high-energy, inclusive community with lab-to-market resources for emerging industries that will drive real diversity, inspiration, and collaboration among Atlanta’s thought leaders. We have access to an elaborate and established network of dynamic entrepreneurs, government leaders, financial institutions, major corporations, colleges, and universities, anchored by the successful track record and reputation of H.J. Russell & Co. We will harness all these resources to create an ecosystem designed to propel businesses forward and connect the next generation of revolutionary entrepreneurs to the tools and relationships needed to turn dreams into reality.
BE: What makes the center different, resourceful, and intriguing?
Bailey: The RCIE exemplifies black people owning and controlling the narrative for economic development, economic empowerment, and entrepreneurship for black people. The legend, Herman J. Russell, is one of America’s quintessential success stories. He’s one of the greatest entrepreneurs in history, leaving a legacy that has and will continue to inspire endless generations.
BE: If people are interested in making a contribution to RCIE’s fundraising effort, what should they do?
Bailey: To stay abreast of our progress, they can follow us on our social media platforms, including RCIE.org. When significant updates are available, and the fundraising campaign is ready to receive public support, donors will receive a notification. Potential donors can also use the website to contact RCIE now about making tax-free contributions.