Disney Experiences hosted nearly 100 Black small business owners from the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs at Walt Disney World in Orlando from Dec. 11-13. Photo by Janelle Ward/The Atlanta Voice

ORLANDO, Fla. — Disney Experiences, formerly Disney Parks, hosted nearly 100 Black small business owners from the Atlanta-based Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida early this week, organizing an experience designed to equip emerging business leaders with the skills needed to generate a positive economic impact within their communities.

Attendants were lodged inside Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts for the duration of the trip, spending a majority of their afternoons and evenings alongside RICE leadership, stakeholders and members of Disney’s supply chain accelerator planning team. Each pupil “graduated” from the program on Wednesday, receiving a certificate of completion and a round of congratulations from Mickey Mouse himself.

As the lead financial sponsor of RICE’s Supply Chain Accelerator Program, Disney presented a slew of educational sessions and workshops for the team, one of which was developed and hosted by the company’s exterior training arm, Disney Institute, giving Black business owners first-hand experience in adopting the mindset needed to operate successful ventures.

Leaders from Disney Institute introduced a service-oriented approach to entrepreneurship through its teachings, emphasizing that great service is necessary to properly run a business, regardless of size or revenue. Cast members at Disney brought this notion of exemplary service to life through their kind and courteous treatment of RICE entrepreneurs and stakeholders over the course of the trip.

Disney Institute also invited the group to tour exclusive parts of Magic Kingdom Park on Tuesday afternoon, where attendees identified real-life examples of the managerial concepts taught during the institute’s training session.

Additionally, RICE-backed business owners heard from local Black vendors contracted with Disney on Wednesday, listening in on a panel about expanding business practices, working with big retailers and embracing authenticity when developing a brand—another popular takeaway from the seminar.

“That’s the power of storytelling,” said Lisa Williams, founder of multi-cultural doll company

World of EPI, about authenticity during the discussion. “Because we get to see who we are…”

While many of this year’s participating entrepreneurs returned from last year’s event, some business owners joined RICE leadership in Florida for the first time this week. 

Chantel Powell, stakeholder at RICE and founder and CEO of natural kids deodorant brand Play Pits, said that RICE’s trip to Orlando marked her first visit to Disney World since she was about 10 years old, giving her a chance to observe the parks from a new and refreshing perspective as both an adult and an entrepreneur.

“I remember nothing (about my last time at Disney),” Powell said. “So, to see it with these experienced, entrepreneurial eyes—oh, my God, it’s incredible. It’s truly magical.”

Powell also said that she’s previously worked jobs in customer service before switching gears to start her own business, so Disney’s lessons on providing excellent service to clients and consumers particularly resonated with her.

“I was an executive assistant. I worked as a wardrobe stylist and assistant costumer in film and TV,” Powell said. “So, I’m used to being of service to people…”

A select few attendees even visited the parks at Walt Disney World for the very first time. 

Chisom Eke, founder and CEO of skin-sensitive skincare company Overlooked Beauty, said she had preconceived notions before traveling to Disney World, but her first experience navigating Magic Kingdom and EPCOT completely exceeded her expectations.

“I thought it was going to be like your typical amusement park,” Eke said. “But (after) coming here and after going through some of the info sessions we went through earlier (today), I’m like, ‘This place is absolutely amazing.’”

Intentionality was a central theme from Tuesday’s session with Disney Institute, with instructors from the institute stating that business owners should lead both intentionally and professionally in order to sustain financial success and encourage loyalty from their consumers.

Eke said that the intentionality behind Disney World’s operations was evident throughout Tuesday’s tour and that she plans to incorporate many of the lessons she’s learned on this trip into running her own small business.

“I think it made the experience so much better, because I know that… (Disney) did everything with care and with the customer in mind,” Eke said. “That helps me with even my business.”

The Russell Center and Disney plan to partner to host the event again next year.