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Clark Atlanta receives federal grant for community innovation

Ronald Johnson John Wilson Mary Schmidt Campbell Clark Atlanta President Ronald Johnson makes a point as his colleagues - John Wilson of Morehouse and Mary Schmidt Campbell – listen (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta

Clark Atlanta University has been awarded $432,335 from the U.S. Department of Commerce as part of a $15 million investment by the Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation Strategies 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 (Historically Black College and University).

Clark Atlanta 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.

Ronald Johnson John Wilson Mary Schmidt Campbell

Clark Atlanta President Ronald Johnson makes a point as his colleagues – John Wilson of Morehouse and Mary Schmidt Campbell – listen (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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.

This historic effort is part of Clark Atlanta President Ronald Johnson’s 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 Truly Living Well 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 said in a statement. “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,” Johnson continued.

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 Truly Living Well are contributing $114,045.  The total project costs for this program are $911,067.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. LHill0101 November 28, 2016 7:16 pm

    This initiative will have a profound impact on the community and on the AUC students, faculty and staff. Imagine being able to purchase organic fresh vegetables, and beyond that, learn how to be urban gardeners. Individual kitchen gardens will be a natural offshoot of this project. We all know that Mudear’s greens tasted so good because they came from her garden. My challenge to the students “grow where you are planted”.
    Laurene T Hill,CEO
    Rooms Around Campus, LLCReport

  2. Burroughston Broch November 30, 2016 10:47 pm

    LHill0101  The project sounds worthwhile, but I don’t understand what value CAU brings. Purchasing fresh vegetables, being an urban gardener, and having a kitchen garden don’t require a university education or university guidance.
    I suspect this may be a scheme to provide funding to CAU outside the normal path.Report

  3. Laurene Hill December 1, 2016 12:31 pm

    LHill0101 OK.  Well let me put it this way.  Say your a college grad, and move on to grad school or the plum job that you have always dreamed of, right?  Well when after about five years of making the big bucks and being large and in charge, what happens then? Well usually a family, right?  Well wouldn’t it be nice to have some interest in eating right, beyond the Ramen noodles, Starbucks, Fast food diet.  The  biggest threat to our country on the personal and economic level is our horrible health.  Diabetes, heart disease, the whole metabolic syndrome is epidemic and  can be treated with medicine or prevented with a healthy lifestyle which requires good healthy food.  The AUC is in a food desert.  As part of a liberal arts, or even just a rounded education, we all need to learn how to take better care of our health.  The earlier the better.  With all of the vacant, abandoned lots in the AUC the University could have beautiful vegetable and flower gardens planted that would bring beauty and life back to the community.  I would much prefer to see collard greens, tomatoes and sun flowers growing as I walk through the area.  That sure beats, broken bottles, old furniture, shopping carts and used tires. If its a scheme, I’m all for the scheme.  Bring it on.Report

  4. Burroughston Broch December 1, 2016 1:42 pm

    Again, CAU seems to add no value to the program. The money going to CAU could be better elsewhere in the ptogram to provide more value.Report


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