Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs
The Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs (RICE) was founded in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2018. It was created as a business generator, designed to inspire and support local African-American entrepreneurs as they innovate, create jobs and build wealth.
Today, the Center supports over 120 companies, representing more than 500 individual jobs. Their stakeholders represent a variety of industries, including technology, education, consulting and film/media. The Center provides them with more than 50,000-square feet of meeting space as well as a host of different services, including mentoring, networking and capital resources.
Free legal services are also provided to RICE Pacesetter stakeholders through a local law firm. Pacesetters Studio is RICE’s premier program for local entrepreneurs. It supports ten growth-stage African-American companies selected for a two-year in-house entrepreneur studio experience.
Earlier this year, the Economic Development Administration awarded a $5.3 million CARES Act award to improve and expand the facility and to increase their capacity to promote entrepreneurship, support sustainable economic growth, and create jobs in the region.
According to Burunda Prince, RICE’s Chief Operating Officer, businesses owned by women account for 52 percent of the Center’s stakeholders.
“In the black community, women have always been entrepreneurial,” Prince said. “It is something that we are proud to cultivate and pass on to future generations.”
One such company is the Brown Toy Box, based in Atlanta, which creates educational products designed to foster an interest in science and technology while being culturally reaffirming. Their signature character, a young girl named Maya, is a junior scientist who shows kids the importance of understanding biology and other related sciences. Other characters include Dre, an astronomy student, and Justin, who teaches robotics. The company recently signed with Target to supply their products to more than 1,800 stores nationwide.
Another RICE stakeholder envisions a world in which everyone has access to clean water and the most up-to-date information on water management. Aquagenuity, also based in Atlanta, has produced a test to determine the safety of any given water supply. The test has real-world, practical applications in the United States, and through RICE’s support, the company is working to make the test available nationwide.
RICE relies on word of mouth to get their message out, and it seems to be working. Their stakeholders seek them out as they are the only business generator primarily focused on helping African-American entrepreneurs. With a solid foundation in Atlanta, RICE continues to expand, aiming to reach 1,000 African-American entrepreneurs by the end of 2021.
While many industries saw a decrease in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, RICE experienced unanticipated growth. Prince attributes this to a shared commitment to entrepreneurship and to the community.
“It is so inspiring to work with entrepreneurs, who defy the odds day after day. It’s inspirational for me. They are my heroes.”