The Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs (RICE), a nonprofit dedicated to developing, growing and scaling Black entrepreneurs, announced Tuesday it had received a $1 million grant from PayPal to create a new academy for entrepreneurs who work in the retail space.
The PayPal Retail Academy will teach up to 50 entrepreneurs about non-traditional retail paths, how to develop global marketing strategies and navigating supply chain issues. PayPal employees will also help mentor and coach the business owners.
Jay Bailey, president and CEO of RICE, said the academy is intended to be an MBA-level of training on retail. The participating entrepreneurs will also be eligible for grants ranging from $2,500 to $10,000.
“These kinds of academies are essential for small businesses actually to thrive — and when small businesses thrive in their communities, that takes that neighborhood and supercharges it,” Dan Schulman, president and CEO of PayPal, said in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“I love the multiplier effect of all of these things because it’s not just one business, but it’s one business that’s successful that enables other businesses around it to be motivated.”
Currently, RICE supports more than 360 Black-owned businesses. About 25% of them are retail product companies, according to Bailey. There are four stages to RICE’s entrepreneurship curriculum; once a business owner has finished the fourth stage, they are eligible to take part in the PayPal Retail Academy.
The new academy will launch in January 2024 with an inaugural cohort of 25 entrepreneurs and a second cohort of 25 to follow. Participation in the academy does not have a specific end date; rather, the resources will be available to the entrepreneurs through the life cycle of their business, Bailey said.
Four faculty members who are experts in e-commerce, shipping and retail are being hired for the new academy and two additional people have been hired to track and measure the academy’s impact.
“Black businesses, we over index in the retail space,” Bailey said. But there’s a gap “when you look at the number of businesses that actually scale to mass retail or beyond,” which is why he believes the new retail academy is important.
RICE previously received a $100,000 grant from PayPal, part of the digital payment giant’s $535 million pledge in June 2020 to try to help close the racial wealth gap.
During an event at RICE on Tuesday to announce the new grant, Donald Beamer, senior technology advisor for the city of Atlanta, spoke about how it seems the previous well of support for Black organizations is waning. Beamer also said some businesses are now being targeted, like Atlanta-based venture capital firm Fearless Fund that is being sued for a grant program geared towards Black women and small business owners.
“[PayPal’s grant] comes at a time when it seems like investing in Black businesses and Black people has fallen out of favor,” Beamer said.
Bianca Kiovanni is an entrepreneur at RICE who is finishing up the fourth stage of the curriculum. The owner of Simplicity Beverage Company and Advanced Integrated Health Care, Kiovanni said being part of RICE has been a “game changer” for her. She said she thinks the impact of the new retail academy could go beyond just the curriculum.
“To say my small business in some way, shape or form is connected to a multibillion-dollar company with global recognition is everything,” Kiovanni said.
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