Clark Atlanta University president Ronald Johnson and his wife Irene. (Photo Source: Clark Atlanta University)

Clark Atlanta University president Ronald Johnson and his wife Irene. (Photo source: Clark Atlanta University)

In November 2016, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced an award of $432,335 to Clark Atlanta University, part of a $15 million investment by the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) Program. CAU is among only 35 organizations funded out of more than 215 applicants from 19 states, and the program’s first investment in a Southern HBCU.

CAU received the funds to partner in launching a groundbreaking university-community initiative, the Clark Russell Entrepreneurship and Technology Ecosystem (CREATE). Over the next three years, CREATE will develop and launch an innovative platform that will economically transform Southwest Atlanta into a vibrant, inclusive and entrepreneurial innovation ecosystem supporting approximately 50 new entrepreneurs in creating 400 jobs in local food system technology enterprises. Partners in this initiative include the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and two community partners, the Herman J. Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RCIE) and the Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture (TLW).

This historic effort is part of CAU president Ronald Johnson’s bold vision for innovation and entrepreneurship, developing capacity-building activities in areas surrounding CAU and the Atlanta University Center. CREATE connects the research and education capacity of CAU, the 3D printing lab at CAU’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Development, the entrepreneurship and lab-to-market training expertise of RCIE, and the world-class urban farming innovations developed at TLW in an innovative proof-of-concept and commercialization pipeline that will transform local food systems in the region and beyond.

“It is troublesome that the community surrounding a world-renown bastion of scholarship and enlightenment has, in so many ways, been forgotten and is too often considered a ‘food desert’ and a ‘crime zone’,” Johnson says in a statement to the press. “CREATE will directly address those issues by deploying CAU’s intellectual, research and entrepreneurial assets in partnership with two outstanding organizations, RCIE and TLW, that have consistently demonstrated their commitment and expertise in enhancing peoples’ quality of life. This initiative will address the underlying issues of employment, food security and urban development, and it also represents our willingness to lock arms with the very neighborhoods that have lifted up our University community for over 150 years.”

CREATE will support entrepreneurs in using STEM innovations to build healthy local food systems, create jobs for the innovation economy, and develop entrepreneurial opportunities in Southwest Atlanta. UNCF is contributing $364,687 to the project and RCIE and TLW are contributing $114,045. Funds invested in this program to date total $911,067.

Yvette Caslin

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