The questions and suggestions were coming fast and furious from the audience of eager and enthusiastic entrepreneurs at a recent CEO Breakfast at the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs (R.I.C.E.).
The mixed group of female and male business owners from metro Atlanta were offering suggestions to Russell Center President/CEO Jay Bailey who was fielding the questions and comments like an all-star catcher for a professional baseball team.
“How about a rooftop garden?”
“The center needs a cafe.”
“How about profiles of the stakeholders on the display monitors?”
“How about certification classes?”
“What about a workout area?”
Casually dressed in an Atlanta Braves cap, a Russell Center sweatshirt and jeans, Bailey had asked the group of entrepreneurs known as stakeholders for ideas and suggestions to take the Russell Center to the next level.
“I want you all to understand that I want us to build something that can’t be found anywhere else in America,” he said. When brothers come down from New York or anywhere they are going to say, ‘We don’t have anything like this.’”
The Russell Center is located in the old headquarters of the Herman J. Russell Company at the corner of Fair Street and Northside Drive. The Center comprises over 52,000 square feet and Bailey said it is already bursting at the seams. Plans are underway to expand the center, parking and to convert two rooftops into usable space.
The Center is a dream of the late builder who was instrumental in building modern Atlanta.
“Entrepreneurship helped my dreams come true. I want the same for other young people looking to make good lives for themselves, Russell stated. “I’m a lifetime believer that for America to continue being great and provide enough jobs for its people, the only path is fostering a national entrepreneurial spirit.”
As the question-and-answer period drew on, the suggestions became bigger and bolder to which Bailey responded that some of their ideas were already in the works and some of the others will take a bit more time. “Let me remind you that just like you, we are a start-up. We’ve only been at this for 26 months,” he said. “Just be patience with us.”
“But I hear you and know it can’t be programming for programming’s sake. If your companies are not moving, if they are not growing, if they are not making the connections that they need to make, then we need to scrap everything and start over,” Bailey continued. “If we build it and it’s not working then what’s the point?”
When it came to the suggestions of bringing in more established CEOs or high level corporate executives, Bailey stressed over and over that those ideas can be implemented within the “tribes” and that not everything has to flow from top down.
The “tribes” consist of companies who are operating in the same industry. According to Bailey there are currently nine tribes at the Russell Center which include retail, construction, media, product sales, and business services.
“We realize we have 359 entrepreneurs we are supporting, so how do you make a large number feel smaller?” Bailey said in an explanation of the tribe concept. “For example, all of us within the media industry, we have very unique and specific things related to our industry that may not relate to the general information we may have in course work, or with our Catalysis programming. We had to create a forum for all of our stakeholders within a particular industry to share ideas, best practices, etc.”
A tribe would consist of veterans in that industry and those who are just starting out.
“So this is how we build community, it’s how we build this covenant among each other,” Bailey said.
(For more information about the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs go to:www.russellcenter.org)