Nearly ninety days from his appointment as president and CEO of the Russell Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (RCIE), James “Jay” Bailey is starting to feel a greater sense of relief. After all, his vision for the Center for which he has been tasked to helm is now coming into greater focus. And already, roughly a year before the Center’s grand opening, its impact is having global implications.
Just this week, Bailey and Jerome Russell, president of H.J. Russell & Company and Chairman of the RCIE Board, have just returned from a four-day trip at the invitation of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse, where they took part in the grand opening of Alpha Haiti, Haiti’s first incubator and co-working space.
The new incubator there will help build startups and support the creation of jobs and wealth across one of the poorest countries in the world.
“We’re not waiting around and hoping that economic development will come to Haiti and to our region, instead we are creating the context that will make it happen,” Moïse said in a statement about the Incubator. “The next generation of entrepreneurs, big thinkers, and job creators will be given the support they need and deserve.”
That President Moïse and members of his cabinet would welcome the president and board chairman of a Center only in the early stages of construction, is a testament of global excitement about what’s to come from the Russell Center, Bailey said.
“There’s an energy in the air right now that is so positive about our people moving forward,” he explained. “We will become an epicenter for urban entrepreneurship for the diaspora.
“Harvard is an institution. Morehouse is an institution,” he continued. “There is something special that is built in the DNA of an institution. We’re trying to create that magic for the entrepreneurial space here in Atlanta and beyond.”
A native Atlantan and die-hard University of Georgia alumnus, James has a proven track record of accomplishment.
In 2012, Bailey was one of eight Americans honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change: Following in the Footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
A recognized leader in the community, Bailey is a member of the Leadership Georgia Class of 2015, Leadership Atlanta Class of 2014 and the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Regional Leadership Institute.
He has also served on a number of boards, including The Wren’s Nest, Verbalyze Inc., Safe America Foundation, the Metro Atlanta Chamber Board of Advisors and currently serves as Chairman of the Phoenix Leadership Foundation.
Once it opens, the Russell Center will be what Bailey has called the “largest center in the nation dedicated to Black entrepreneurship.”
Currently on track for a second-quarter opening in 2019, RCIE will house a 40,000-square foot world-class small business center located in Atlanta’s historic Castleberry Hill.
In the space, which is housed in the original H.J. Russell & Company building on the corner of Northside Drive, construction workers are nearing the completion of phase one of the renovations, which will include an innovation and production lab that is sure to rival any other space in the region.
Beyond being equipped with the most cutting-edge technology available in the marketplace, the lab will enable members at every level of business development be able to launch, stabilize, grow and scale a business, from ideation to capitalization and more.
“We’re going to make history,” Bailey assures. “There’s nothing like what we’re planning to do with the (Russell Center).
“When we talk with people, and they see the potential and you see the hope in their eyes, it’s inspiring,” he continued. “This is a building that will celebrate the legacy of one of the greatest black entrepreneurs that Atlanta has ever produced.”
But even before all this finished, Bailey is ready to take his message to the people.
As early as late July, he plans to launch aggressive series of programming for the next three months, including the launch of the “Russell Speakers Series,” a series of talks plans to host that will engage global and national thought leaders, bringing them here to Atlanta to discuss their big ideas on entrepreneurship and innovation.
Also, on his agenda is what he’s calling the Opportunity Bus Tour, a transportation service that will leverage Bailey and his board members’ relationships to create opportunities for small business owners and other entrepreneurs, giving people an opportunity to tap into the pipeline of programs and resources available in the Metropolitan Atlanta region.
Finally, Bailey said the Center will be launching entrepreneurship courses, courses he hopes to one day feature as long through the Center’s Russell University program.
But these are just a fraction of Bailey’s big ideas, which center around a mission to inspire, develop, educate and accelerate underrepresented black-owned businesses.
He also plans to launch a young mentoring program called Atlanta Excels and a three-tiered business consultancy called “Business Advantage.”
Bailey is already in the midst of raising funds through an aggressively targeted capital campaign. The funds raised through the campaign will support operating expenses as well as completion of the Center.
Still, Bailey said, these only scratch the surface of his vision for the Center, named for one of Atlanta’s most prolific entrepreneurs and businessmen.
“Growing up in Atlanta, Herman Russell was one of my greatest heroes,” Bailey said. “I am honored to have this opportunity to build on his incredible legacy, paving the way for the next generation of doers, innovators and job creators.
“Much more than another accelerator or incubator, we want RCIE to become the epicenter of economic advancement and entrepreneurship for underrepresented communities across the country, and it’s so fitting that it will evolve in the former H.J. Russell & Company headquarters at 504 Fair Street on Atlanta’s Westside,” he added.
The Russell family, helmed by Jerome Russell, has established the Russell Center to spur the development of a broader innovation space that will benefit the city and serve as a hub for ‘creating without boundaries.’
“We are excited about Jay’s addition to the Russell Family. He brings the experience, passion, and energy we believe necessary to lead the Russell Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship from concept to reality,” Jerome Russell said in support of Bailey’s vision for his family’s legacy project. “The Russell Center will be a game changer for entrepreneurs in the city of Atlanta and beyond, connecting the next generation of revolutionary entrepreneurs to the tools and relationships needed to turn dreams into reality.”