awarded the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs an $800,000 grant to further support rising small business owners in Atlanta negatively impacted by systemic barriers to entrepreneurship. Photo by Janelle Ward/The Atlanta Voice

Representatives from retail giant Walmart’s philanthropic arm,, appeared at the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs in downtown Atlanta Monday morning to present the organization with an $800,000 grant.

The funding marks the beginning of a collaboration between the two groups, intended to support the Russell Center’s efforts to stimulate rising entrepreneurs in Atlanta’s Black community.

Monique Carswell, director at’s Center for Racial Equity and Strategic Initiatives, said that her team strives to fund organizations and projects like RICE’s PayPal Retail Academy, designed to allocate educational and financial resources to small business owners burdened by systemic hurdles in their pursuit of entrepreneurship.

“We support initiatives that aim to reduce the racial wealth gap by advancing equity for Black-owned businesses… here in Atlanta and beyond,” Carswell said. “Through philanthropy, we are investing in organizations that are helping Black businesses in retail industries strengthen and grow their companies by tackling traditional barriers to their success, such as access to capital, social capital (and) marketing.”

Walmart partners with organizations that work closely with small business owners in their respective communities. Mark Espinoza, Walmart’s senior director of public affairs, said Walmart chooses to collaborate with organizations that ignite positive change in the communities surrounding them.

“We’re constantly looking for organizations that are making a difference in the community,” Espinoza said. “And when we met RICE, we saw the impact that they’re having with Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs in the area.”

Espinoza also said that Walmart aims to incite a broader economic impact through its partnership with RICE and other organizations by giving young entrepreneurs the resources needed to develop their businesses and send their products to retailers, inevitably helping funds pour back into local economies. The distribution of funding is part of a larger initiative set in motion by Walmart and the Walmart Foundation in 2020, which pledged to allocate $100 million over the course of five years to address racial disparities across the country.

Russell Innovation Center CEO Jay Bailey said that Walmart’s partnership will accelerate the progress of RICE’s existing work with local entrepreneurs, helping them to expand their businesses and prepare them for future opportunities in retail. Bailey said that the organization will use funding from the grant to create and staff a new comprehensive academy, intended to nurture inexperienced small business owners and teach them the fundamentals of entrepreneurial success.

“Walmart, thank you for the opportunity for Black entrepreneurs to see their value in their own reflection on the shelves that they shop at every day,” Bailey said. “It really means something.”