In the year since Jay Bailey has taken over at the Herman J. Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a business-building incubator that aims to broaden opportunity for minority residents, the native Atlantan entrepreneur has been busy.
RCIE occupies a 50,000 square foot campus in Castleberry Hill, a rapidly-growing downtown neighborhood adjacent to the much-talked-about Gulch and the Atlanta University Consortium of HBCUs.
The vision of RCIE has been driven by the accomplishments of Herman J. Russell, Sr., who built the largest black-owned construction company in the country — along with much of Atlanta’s skyline.
As CEO and President, Bailey’s task was not only to lead a capital campaign and the buildout of the largely unoccupied building, but also to develop structured programming and a sustainable model for RCIE that would ensure it actually caters to entrepreneurs’ needs.
After studying co-working spaces, startup accelerators, incubators and more, Bailey has developed a host of resources that he believes will create a cohesive and inclusive experience fit for what stands to be one of the largest black-focused entrepreneurship hubs in the U.S.
“I’m calling it the HBCU for economic mobility,” says Bailey. He’s referencing statistics that show minority business owners have a net worth of about 12 times higher than non-business owners.
“Think of us as WeWork, but with 100 times more programmatic offerings, and 1000 times more cultural relevancy.”
RCIE will be member-based, and businesses will be divided into structured, level-based categories: Inspire, Develop, Execute, Acquire, Sustain.
Each level will have programming geared towards their needs, ranging from learning about the basics of customer discovery to scaling a team to digital marketing tactics to fundraising. Bailey has engaged professors from universities like Emory, Morehouse, Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State and Georgia State.
Bailey believes the structure will ensure entrepreneurs stay engaged as they grow their companies, as well as provide encouragement and measurable success indicators.
“There’s a lot of curricula out there,” he says. “Very few are transformative.”
Bailey points out that most incubators focus on technology companies. While RCIE will certainly be open for tech startups, they will also be a place for brick-and-mortar, retail, and other businesses. For entrepreneurs working on physical products or content, the Launch Pad Innovation Studio will provide equipment, tools, and education.
“We’re bringing manufacturing back to entrepreneurship,” he says. “We want to put things on shelves.” The build out of this maker space is almost complete.
To address the funding side of things, an often-lacking resource that underrepresented entrepreneurs commonly cite as a roadblock, RCIE will dedicate 4,000 square feet purely to access to capital.
Bailey plans to bring in banks, institutional investors, angels and government entities, facilitating meetings with RCIE members who have been prepared to ask the right questions.
RCIE will work with students as well, recruited from the nearby universities as well as those at an even younger age. A Fellowship and Ambassador program for university students will kick off this spring, and Student Honors in Entrepreneurship (ATL S.H.I.N.E.), targeting high school and middle school students, will be launched next year.
RCIE has been financed by the Russell family and a grant from the EDA/Department of Commerce thus far, but Bailey says the membership model will ensure the center is sustainable beyond philanthropic efforts.
RCIE will offer hot desks, dedicated desks, small and larger offices. Though members will pay a fee — at tiered pricing depending on company size — Bailey emphasizes affordability.
At full capacity, the center can fit about 1250 members.
The first 100 members will begin working at RCIE this spring, with applications continuing to be accepted on a rolling basis over 2019 as the building nears completion. They are still working on many of the common spaces, conference rooms, etc.
Programming for those first members and for members of the larger community will also begin this spring. Already, RCIE has launched Paschal’s Power Lunch, a monthly gathering at a nearby Castleberry Hill restaurant that brings together community leaders and entrepreneurs to hear from speakers.
Additional partners Bailey is working with include universities, the Metro Atlanta Black Chamber of Commerce, Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, digitalundivided, Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs, the Small Business Administration and more.
Renderings by Cubic VR