James Lavallee of Comcast and Matt Evans, founder of Code Super Powers, spoke to D.C. Editor Micha Green about the importance and benefits of the Comcast RISE program. (Screenshot)

By Carl Thomas
Special to the AFRO

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Afro-Americans have been met with challenges and disparities that affect almost every facet of life.  Many economists look at Black business as a way to empower the African American community, however many minority-owned establishments found their doors shuttered with required cutbacks and closings to lessen the spread of the virus.  With their RISE program, Comcast Corporation has answered the call to create opportunities that bridge the gap for small businesses owned by Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs. 

Last week, D.C. Editor Micha Green interviewed Vice President of Marketing for Effectv, Comcast’s advertising and sales division James Lavallee and Matt Evans, founder of Code Super Powers, a community based organization providing STEM programming to youth ages 6-16.  They spoke with the AFRO to offer a better understanding of what RISE is and why they have chosen to improve the success of Black owned businesses.

 “Comcast is a massive company spread across the country and we are a part of these communities, not just in name alone,” Lavallee said.  “This is exactly what small businesses need, these communities are our communities… we’re in these communities and we want to make sure that we are supporting these communities, in every way we can. That’s why we think now is the time, that’s why it’s a multi-year deal.” 

“We wanted to make sure that the commitment was strong, it was impactful for small businesses and truthfully impactful for the communities,” Lavallee added.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, between February and April 2020, the number of Black owned businesses declined by 40 percent. The Comcast RISE program was created to invest in the success of minority owned businesses. The Comcast RISE Investment Fund is focused on small businesses that have been in business for three or more years with one to 25 employees.

In addition to the investment fund, Comcast RISE, which stands for “Representation, Investment, Strength and Empowerment,” provides the opportunity for African American-owned, small businesses nationwide to apply for one or more of the program’s focus areas, which include: marketing services, media, creative production, consulting and technology makeovers.  

Each of the recipient businesses receives a $10,000 monetary grant to assist in the continuation of business services. Each eligible applicant will also receive the monthly Comcast RISE newsletter with educational content, and all small business owners can visit the Comcast RISE destination on the X1 platform, which features aggregated small business news, tips, insights and more. The destination is designed to help businesses grow by empowering them through inspiration and entertainment.

Evans explained the importance of early exposure to the creation of technology is a key component to equitable access to STEM education and career paths. 

“There’s underrepresented communities everywhere and those same issues impact communities across the globe. As schools shut down (as a result of COVID-19), so do providers who support schools and support families who basically had nowhere to operate our programs.” Comcast RISE has answered the call for solutions,” Evans told the AFRO.

Comcast RISE is part of a larger $100 million Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative that Comcast launched last summer. In June 2020, Comcast NBCUniversal announced the development of a comprehensive, multi-year plan to allocate $75 million in cash and $25 million in media over the next three years to fight injustice and inequality against any race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation or ability.

The first wave of more than 700 recipients was awarded in November 2020 and this new round of applications, which opened February 8, 2021, will close May 7th. 

Code Super Powers, based in Bowie, Maryland, was one of the Black owned businesses chosen for the first round and is currently offering a litany of STEM related programs and services to young people. Evans credits Comcast RISE with providing the opportunity to assist the community’s most vulnerable residents. 

“To give someone knowledge and access to resources, you then give them sustainability- where they can take care of themselves… take care of their families,” Evans told the AFRO.

Applications for the Comcast RISE Investment Fund will be accepted through March 14 and are available to businesses operating within the cities of Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, and Philadelphia. An additional round of investment fund grants associated with a new set of cities is expected by the fourth quarter of this year.