Wells Fargo gives $1.5M to Atlanta group for Black entrepreneurship

The donation will be used in part to build a new learning lab at the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs
L’Angela Lee, owner and CEO of Honeysuckle Moon, talks about some of her products during an event at the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. Photo by Ben Gray ben@bengray.com

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

L’Angela Lee, owner and CEO of Honeysuckle Moon, talks about some of her products during an event at the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. Photo by Ben Gray ben@bengray.com

The Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs (RICE), a local nonprofit focused on boosting Black entrepreneurship, received a $1.5 million gift on Tuesday from banking giant Wells Fargo.

The gift will support a new learning space at RICE that is under construction and slated to open next July. It will also help support a new supply chain accelerator program and the creation of a digital platform to train entrepreneurs across the country, not just from Atlanta. And 10% — $150,000 — of the donation will go to microgrants ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 for the entrepreneurs who are members of RICE.

A rendering of the future Wells Fargo Learning Lab at the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, slated to open in July 2024.
Credit: Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs

Credit: Special

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Credit: Special

Wells Fargo has supported RICE from 2018, when it was just a vision but hadn’t quite taken form yet, said Tai Roberson, the bank’s senior vice president of philanthropy and community impact.

Now, the center supports more than 300 Black entrepreneurs in the city through training programs, physical meeting spaces, access to a logistics center and other business resources. At Tuesday’s announcement, five of the RICE entrepreneurs were given gifts from Wells Fargo, ranging from a new vending cart to a $5,000 grant.

But the funding from Wells Fargo and resources it will provide is just one part of RICE’s partnership with the bank, said Jay Bailey, president and CEO of RICE.

“It’s also about entrepreneurs knowing and feeling that they have access to some of the biggest brands that exist,” he said. “What does that do for their self-esteem, self-confidence and belief knowing that that level of access is afforded to them through the Russell Center?”

The $1.5 million gift comes at a time of growth for RICE. A few years ago, Bailey and his team launched a $44.4 million capital campaign (inspired by a Jay-Z album) to spur a 14,000-square-foot expansion. Around 90% of the campaign goal has been raised or committed, Bailey said.

RICE launched in 2019 and is housed in the former headquarters of H.J. Russell and Company, a pioneering Black-owned construction firm started by the late H.J Russell.

The space was completely gutted and reworked to become a place for local Black entrepreneurs to develop and grow their companies. The learning lab that is being funded from the Wells Fargo grant is the first piece of the new expansion, according to Bailey, though the $1.5 million is not included in the capital campaign.

A construction fence around part of the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. Photo by Ben Gray ben@bengray.com

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

Since August, RICE has announced at least $3.4 million in gifts from corporations like PayPal, Walmart, Bank of America and now Wells Fargo.

“When we had zero budget four years ago, we did what we could with what we had,” Bailey said. “We are now entering a new phase in the middle of the capital campaign to really ramp up our offering to the entrepreneur.”


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