Truist gives $2 million grant to Atlanta Black entrepreneurship center

Philanthropic arms of Charlotte-based bank to go support Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs initatives
The Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs is seen on Tuesday, August 29, 2023.
Miguel Martinez /

Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

The Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs is seen on Tuesday, August 29, 2023. Miguel Martinez / Miguel Martinez /

The Truist Foundation is contributing $2 million to Atlanta’s Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs to help expand Black businesses.

The Russell center, also known as RICE, aims to grow Black businesses and address the disparity in access to capital for Black entrepreneurs, who often depend on personal and family savings for financing. It was launched in 2019 to honor the legacy of Herman J. Russell, who founded Atlanta-based H.J. Russell & Co., one of the city’s biggest Black-owned construction firms.

The Truist grant comes the same day data firm Crunchbase released a report showing venture capital funding for Black-owned businesses plummeted in Atlanta and across the country last year. In Atlanta, VC support to Black entrepreneurs fell to just $23 million in 2023 after hitting a high water mark of $467 million two years earlier.

The grant from the Truist Foundation and the Atlanta-focused Truist Trusteed Foundations, philanthropic arms of the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank, will go toward providing technical support for small businesses, helping pay for the completion of the RICE center building and funding a retail accelerator program to help small businesses work with large companies like Walmart and Target.

The $2 million shows that “we as an organization are invested in closing the racial wealth gap,” said Katie Saez, regional president for Truist in Georgia.

Truist’s contribution comes on the heels of a $1 million grant from Comcast NBC Universal for a number of RICE programs for mentorship and resources from industry experts to support Black entrepreneurs.

Truist was a key early supporter of the nonprofit center, said RICE CEO Jay Bailey. He said for any financial institution, the creation of thousands of new businesses and jobs is “only good for their bottom line as well.”

Over the last five years, other banks have also made significant contributions to RICE.

JPMorgan Chase is a major RICE partner. Last year, RICE also received a $1.5 million donation from Wells Fargo to help fund a new learning space, a supply chain accelerator and microgrants; a $1 million donation from PayPal for the launch of an MBA-type training program called PayPal Retail Academy, along with $800,000 from Walmart to help train business owners who produce consumer goods.

RICE supports about 360 entrepreneurs, with a goal to reach 1,000 by 2027. Bailey said during remarks at an event on the Truist contribution that RICE gives Black entrepreneurs “a safe space to fail and fly, where they have a deep sense of belonging.”

Last year, the Truist Foundation announced a separate $22 million program called Where it Starts to strengthen businesses and career paths for Black, Indigenous and People of Color in several cities across the Southeast through grants and other initiatives.

The contribution to RICE is separate, and is a “very strategic investment” to strengthen small businesses and help entrepreneurs to get access to capital, said Lynette Bell, president of the Truist Foundation.