How the RCIE is ensuring small business success through the pandemic – Burunda Prince & Mark Collier

The global pandemic has adversely affected businesses across all sectors, and small businesses have been particularly hard hit. More than ever, small businesses are seeking credible resource partners on how to best compete in what has become our new normal. On today’s show, guest host Mark Collier, small business consultant at the UGA Small Business Development Center in Dekalb County, is joined by Burunda Prince, COO at the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Prince is at the forefront of delivering impactful solutions to small businesses.

Transcription:

Mark Collier:
Welcome in Brenda.

Burunda Prince:
Thank you, delighted to be here, Mark.

Mark Collier:
All right. The H.J. Russell legacy is well known and a very respected one here in Atlanta, and this latest innovation and entrepreneurship initiative is one that has the potential to be absolutely groundbreaking in a very good way. What RCIE has created is an entire ecosystem for small business success. As the RCIE website reads, “The Russell Center is part incubator, part accelerator, part innovation lab, and even part museum. Changing the narrative by telling the untold and undertold stories of African-American entrepreneurs and business leaders of the past and present while offering access to place, space, resources, networks, mentorship, technical assistance, and education.” That is a mouthful, so please expand on that for me.

Burunda Prince:
Every time I hear that I get inspired but at the same time I get a little bit scared because that is a mouthful and it’s a big mission, a very impactful one as well. So the Henry J. Russell family as you know is a foundational family in the Atlanta Georgia area. Everything from civil rights to business they’re known for. And when Herman J. Russell died some time ago, their family, his children, wanted to continue his legacy and honor it by doing things to support black businesses in Atlanta, specifically in the Castleberry Hill area, revitalize that area where the Russell legacy really began. In fact, the RCIE building is the first building that Henry J. Russell had as their corporate headquarters.

Mark Collier:
Wow.

Burunda Prince:
So it’s been repurposed now and located in Castleberry Hill, we are focused on exclusively helping black and brown entrepreneurs to succeed. And it’s part of the legacy of the Russell family to help build sustainable wealth in our families and in our communities. So it’s very inspirational and aspirational mission, it’s one that I have the pleasure of every day working alongside to make that happen and to benefit our entrepreneurs in our communities.

Mark Collier:
Fantastic. I mean, that is a worthwhile mission that is beyond scope. But you mentioned that the Russell sons have kind of taken over the legacy, tell me a little bit more about their role at the Russell Center.

Burunda Prince:
Actually it’s the Russell sons and daughter. Yes, so there is Jerome Russell who is the Chairman of the Board of Directors for RCIE, and then there’s Donata Russell Ross, who is the daughter, and then also Michael Russell, who are also board members. So they’re very, very active in the ecosystem. In fact, we just had a board meeting with them last week where we were reporting back but also collaborating on how do we make the vision become real and alive? So they are very, very invested and vested in doing this. They put their own money towards this effort as well to get it started and so they fully believe in this mission and the vision and the possibility of the impact that it will have.

Mark Collier:
Fantastic. So you mentioned mission and vision, and I of want to peel back the layers a little bit about that.

Burunda Prince:
Sure.

Mark Collier:
Share with me what the mission and vision is at RCIE, and please make it personal from your vantage point and include some of your relevant background and accomplishments.

Burunda Prince:
Yeah, absolutely. As a native-born Atlantan myself this is very personal for me. The mission is really to support black founders and entrepreneurs so that we can have sustainable wealth building of generations. And with that, my own background, it comes from startups, leadership of business entrepreneurship-

Mark Collier:
Fantastic.

Burunda Prince:
I spent the last three years leading a technology accelerator for a corporation and as part of my own investment as well as commitment to this, I want to take all of those skills and experiences and talents and really use those to apply it to and leverage it for building on the RCIE vision. Because frankly, it’s a black and brown people just like me making a difference in our communities, we’re the ones that will lead the way and demonstrate the way and model the way. And so for me this is a very, very personal mission.

Mark Collier:
Fantastic and I appreciate that. And H.J. Russell family and my buddy over there, Jay Bailey, they are fortunate to have you.

Burunda Prince:
Well, thank you.

Mark Collier:
So as newly-appointed COO, what are some of your goals for what you would like to achieve over at RCIE?

Burunda Prince:
Yes. Well, quite frankly my job is to make sure that the entrepreneurs and founders there have all of the resources that they need to successfully build their companies. So that is everything from learning the fundamentals and foundations of business, to making the kinds of connections that they need to build their businesses, to having the financial support. So to create the environment where they can thrive and grow as business CEOs and owners.

Mark Collier:
That’s fantastic and I view that as vitally important and here’s why. Most entrepreneurs, they’re worried about making the cash registering and making that cash flow happen and they really don’t have a lot of the resources or the wherewithal to go out and procure all of the other resources that they need to make their business successful.

Burunda Prince:
Absolutely.

Mark Collier:
So I can see where RCIE is going to be a great benefit to all those small businesses who desire to come on over. What do you foresee will be some of your greatest challenges in your new leadership role at RCIE, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic?

Burunda Prince:
Absolutely. Well, you just hit the nail on the head. That is one of the greatest challenges, is the fact that we are in the midst of a pandemic. And frankly, I’m roughly a month into this new role and it’s coming on at a very exciting time. And as you know, entrepreneurs are already faced with a myriad of challenges, everything from the financial but also there’s the emotional aspect to it as well. Being an entrepreneur is hard work, you literally have to go and hunt what you eat every single day.

Mark Collier:
Yes, you do.

Burunda Prince:
And that takes an emotional toll on people. So we’re focusing on the whole entrepreneur. So everything from the objective things like the business skills, the access to capital, the access to connections and networking, but also the emotional side of things, the isolation, the anxiety, the stress that’s related to it. During this pandemic, this time of pandemic, we have also been focusing very heavily on addressing the emotional side of being an entrepreneur during this time so that they understand that they are not alone in this, they have people who are in this with them. We’ve been doing everything from wellness workshops to yoga classes-

Mark Collier:
Wow.

Burunda Prince:
To discussing how are you feeling today, really, so that we continue to do the outreach and the support despite the challenges of COVID. Zoom has become a thing and I think that all of us wish that we had the foresight to have actually invested in Zoom before COVID hit, but we are certainly utilizing that now to continue to deliver content, to continue to connect with our founders and entrepreneurs, and to continue to push forward with the vision.

Mark Collier:
Fantastic. I mean, resource partners, trusted resource partners are vitally important for small businesses so I can see very much so how you guys want to play a big role there.

Burunda Prince:
Yeah.

Mark Collier:
So what role do you see RCIE playing in contributing to small business growth and development?

Burunda Prince:
Yes. RCIE, the cornerstone of what we do is to help entrepreneurs be successful. The way that we can do that again is to providing what we have, we call our BIG IDEAS platform. And BIG IDEAS stands from ideation, development, execution, accelerate and then scale.

Mark Collier:
I love it.

Burunda Prince:
So those are all of the phases that an entrepreneur will have to go through. And we have founders or entrepreneurs all along that continuum and we’re providing support for them as they continue to build and grow along that continuum as well.

Mark Collier:
Fantastic. Now, when businesses come in and decide to be a part of the RCIE family, what bundle of benefits can they expect when they decide to partner with RCIE?

Burunda Prince:
Well, aside from the legacy and the name and the panache that comes along with that, the beautiful building if you have not been there-

Mark Collier:
I have.

Burunda Prince:
It’s pretty amazing. Pretty amazing and we’re continuing to build out its 50,000 square feet of space dedicated-

Mark Collier:
Wow.

Burunda Prince:
… To helping entrepreneurs succeed and grow. And we have what I call one-stop shopping there. We’re having everything from the small business association to banks that can be there to support and provide financing to other organizations that are dedicated to supporting small businesses so that they have all of the resources there. And let’s not forget, Mark, that it’s really key to have that network building both externally, but also with other entrepreneurs as well. So the fact that they can benefit from learning from each other and modeling each other and supporting each other is quite empowering as they’re building their own businesses as well.

Mark Collier:
Now, that’s a great point. I mean, I am a strong advocate of collaboration, reaching out and getting other resources and subject matter expertise that you may or may not have.

Burunda Prince:
Absolutely.

Mark Collier:
That is a fantastic benefit. And the old adage is true, it takes a village.

Burunda Prince:
Yes it does, yes it does.

Mark Collier:
So what role are corporate sponsors and other stakeholders playing at RCIE to make that vision happen?

Burunda Prince:
Absolutely. We love allies, first of all, and we see all of our corporate sponsors as allies in building this mission and going towards this vision. Certainly there is the financial component. We are in the midst of our second round of fundraising. Our first round of 10 million was very successfully done.

Mark Collier:
Congratulations.

Burunda Prince:
We’re halfway through to our second one, thank you. So that we can be financially stable and able to support companies as they continue to grow. But the other piece of partnerships is the expertise that they bring, their own networks that they bring. Many need to have the opportunity to simply have customers. We have one of our companies, Symphony Chips, that now has a partnership with Target and that led to a partnership with T.J. Maxx and also-

Mark Collier:
Fantastic.

Burunda Prince:
… With Walmart. And that relationship came from an introduction through RCIE. So that made it happen for that particular business and that story is going to be repeated over and over again by providing the access to the network, the expertise, the connections, the capital, and the resources.

Mark Collier:
Fantastic. I mean, that’s one success story I’m sure the first of many that will come out of RCIE. Burunda Prince, COO, Russell Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship, I want to thank you so much-

Burunda Prince:
Thank you.

Mark Collier:
… For coming in today, sharing with us the mission and vision at RCIE and I think it’s going to be a runaway success, and I wish you the best of luck you.

Burunda Prince:
Thank you so very much, Mark, for this opportunity to just talk about RCIE, but also to support black businesses as well.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely. Have a fantastic day.

Burunda Prince:
You too.


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