After achieving a milestone $25 million fundraising over the past two years, the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RCIE) in Atlanta is boldly building on that drive this year.
Calling itself the nation’s largest nonprofit center for Black entrepreneurs, the RCIE has finished work on Phase I and II with a capital raise of $12 million and $13 million, respectively. The RCIE initially pledged to build the center debt-free by reaching its $45 million “Beyond Innovation Campaign” goal. It started serving entrepreneurs in 2018.
Now, the entrepreneurial facility is raising another $20 million and beginning its final Phase III construction expansion this month. Other plans for January include rebranding the center and renaming it the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs (RICE). Moreover, the center plans to launch a new website this month as well as ramp up construction to add both new space and programming.
The fresh moves come as black businesses have been trounced by COVID-19 and other issues that devastated many African American areas last year. According to a report published by The Washington Post in July, some 26% of Black businesses closed their businesses between February and May 2020. In contrast, just 11% of white business owners have shut down.
The National Bureau of Economic Research disclosed 41% of Black-owned businesses had closed due to COVID-19 as of May 2020. And some observers in recent months have stated that smaller firms — including black businesses — still need extra and ongoing support.
Jay Bailey, CEO and president of RCIE, shared with Black Enterprise by email why now is a good time for African Americans to use the center to help them open or expand businesses.
“Black entrepreneurs have been disproportionately impacted by a multitude of factors that prevent them from pursuing business and employment opportunities — from the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic to barriers stemming from systemic racial injustice and social inequity. RCIE is boldly pursuing pathways to expand the possibilities for entrepreneurs in Atlanta and beyond at a time when ensuring equitable opportunities for Black-owned businesses matters more than ever.”
He added, “Black entrepreneurs require more than symbols of hope at this critical time. They need institutions to manufacture it. RCIE will do our part to help create and accelerate opportunities for Black business owners. When they feel cut off from opportunities and support, we bring them into a family of dynamic people like them, with the curriculum, coaching, co-working, connections and capital to help ensure they prosper, not just survive.”
RCIE reports it now works full-time with 120 black entrepreneurs, with over 4,000 black businesses in its network. In 2021, RCIE claims it will add 100 to 150 of those entities. It also hopes to finish its Phase III fundraising effort within the next two years.
On the construction side, the last phase will include a two-story Legacy Concourse, 300-seat outdoor amphitheater, and rooftop deck. Other amenities will consist of multifunction classroom and learning space, Zoom rooms and socially distanced workspaces, and over 10,000 square feet of extra meeting and office space as well as co-working labs.
The work and functional spaces included in the facility expansion will be used to support RCIE’s programmatic offerings, including but not limited to team development and talent acquisition, scalable digital platforms, and COVID-19 response, relief and rebuild, officials say.
Located near the Atlanta University Center, the largest association of HBCUs, RCIE reports it aims to create 2,000 jobs in the city and develop 250 new startup companies by 2025. It further intends to provide resources to 700 existing businesses to help them each grown by five to 10 employees and boost Black household wealth in Greater Atlanta by over $70 million during that time frame.
The RCIE reports Atlanta ranks among the lowest cities in the U.S. for economic mobility for Black people, underscoring the relevance of its work to impact change. At the same time, Atlanta often ranks among the nation’s top cities for black entrepreneurship and startups.
Much of that praise is tied to gifts from Herman J. Russell, the late legendary founder and chairman of H.J. Russell & Co., America’s largest black-owned construction firm that ranked No. 25 on the 2019 Black Enterprise Top 100 list.
Baily disclosed RCIE’s initial fundraising was spurred by a major donation from the Russell Family to honor the legacy of Herman J. Russell. His gift included $2.5 million and the 50,000-square foot building — valued at $5.3 million — that once was the original headquarters for the construction company.
RCIE’s reported early successes creating and accelerating opportunities for Black entrepreneurs helped attract additional support from prominent philanthropic and corporate partners during Phase II. A list of RCIE donors can be found at www.rcie.org.
Burunda Prince, the center’s chief operating officer, offered this statement:
RCIE is a catalyst for change in combatting systemic inequities through economic opportunities for entrepreneurs and small business owners, but our work is not done nor can we act alone. The responsibility does not fall on one family or organization. There is still a critical role corporate, public and private partners and individuals can assume to amplify our efforts and help Black 2 entrepreneurs monetize their assets, build wealth and stabilize our communities to move the economy forward. If we’re successful, Atlanta, our region and our Country will thrive.