Women to Watch in 2019

Women to Watch in 2019

From the international hemp market to Wall Street, women are charting a path to success in the cannabis industry.

Cannabis professionals from all facets of the industry are set to make big strides

The 22 women selected for Marijuana Business Magazine’s Women to Watch list have crafted companies from the ground up, forged new woman-focused alliances and upended traditional business models as they’ve paved the way in this rapidly evolving cannabis industry.

But these women are alike in another way: In this new year, they are embarking on major undertakings as leaders in a nascent industry that, like the rest of corporate America, is dominated by men in the top jobs.

In 2017, women held 27% of the executive-level roles in the marijuana industry, according to a survey conducted by Marijuana Business Daily. The figure was down from an MJBizDaily survey in 2015, when 36% of firms reported having females in leadership roles.

That leadership disparity makes the goals set by the women spotlighted in the following pages worth watching even more. As these women pursue their ambitions and business plans, they’re finding ways to lift other women as they climb.

From the launch of multimillion-dollar venture capital funds crafted to back women-founded firms to new business accelerators aimed at mentoring women entrepreneurs, these leading ladies of cannabis are blazing new trails in ways that are leaving a lasting mark on the industry.

– Lisa Bernard Kuhn

 

The Selection Process

The editorial staff of Marijuana Business Magazine singled out more than 20 women cannabis professionals who merit attention in the year ahead. We chose them for a variety of reasons—the two on the cover, for example, are leading a newly merged company, while another is offering a potentially groundbreaking technology.

To help our selection process, we sought input from the public through MJBizDaily’s social media platforms. Hundreds of readers nominated women in the cannabis industry from around the globe.

While we no doubt omitted some noteworthy candidates—and this list is not meant to be considered a “ranking”—we look forward to reporting on these women in the year to come. Watch for them in these pages and at mjbizdaily.com. And feel free to let us know your thoughts at [email protected]

– The Editors

 


 

Cultivation & Hemp

Jeanette VanderMarel and Alison Gordon

Co-CEOs, 48North  |  Toronto, Ontario

BACKSTORIES

VanderMarel co-founded Canadian licensed producer The Green Organic Dutchman (TGOD) in 2013, in part to facilitate clinical trials involving medical cannabis and epilepsy. Her daughter died in 2003 after battling Dravet syndrome, an epilepsy disorder that begins in infancy. After leaving TGOD in mid-2018 and briefly flirting with retirement, VanderMarel co-founded Good & Green—now a licensed producer in Ontario—with Daniel Goldberg.

In 2001, Gordon founded the nonprofit group Rethink Breast Cancer, where she spent more than a decade building a national organization recognized for changing the face of breast cancer awareness. Her eyes opened to the medical cannabis industry after she learned a family member diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer used medical cannabis. Gordon took a job in 2013 as chief marketing officer at a licensed producer. Next, she joined the company now called 48North, where she became CEO.

WHY TO WATCH

In November 2018, Good & Green and 48North announced a plan to merge under the corporate banner 48North. Gordon and VanderMarel are co-CEOs. It is the only licensed producer in Canada run by two women.

VanderMarel and Gordon look to do something entirely different from their competitors: run a company focused on profitability and female markets, which they say aren’t really being addressed. Theirs is a different approach in a cannabis industry dominated by men and often insolvent companies.

48North is in the licensing process for what could be the largest outdoor cannabis farm in Canada, with the aim to launch in June.

VanderMarel estimates the outdoor crop could be produced at 25% of the cost of greenhouse-grown cannabis and 15%-20% of an indoor space. Such savings would put 48North in an enviable position compared to competitors who spent hundreds of millions of dollars on greenhouse and indoor technology.

Gordon sees cannabis in a different way. While most companies are divided between medical and recreational, she envisions a more encompassing “health and wellness” category.

“It’s about looking to the larger trends in the health and wellness world, like functional foods, and finding out where cannabis fits into that category,” she said. To that end, after Health Canada allows infused products in the second half of 2019, 48North plans to launch products including edibles, vaporizers and creams. The product line will include supplements to combat menstrual cramps as well as edibles with all-natural ingredients and gluten-free products.

The women say 48North is “focused and contained” and not “bloated” like some other Canadian cannabis companies, which have numerous cultivation centers across the country and incur significant overhead expenses.

48North also has a facility in Kirkland Lake, northern Ontario.

“A lot of cannabis companies are like, ‘We’re going to do everything.’ But for us, we’re going to do what we do well,” Gordon said. “We think there is growth in development that can come with keeping yourself really focused
and contained.”

– Matt Lamers

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

Gordon: “Open your mind to what a business with cannabis can be, because in time it’s not going to be a ‘cannabis business.’ Don’t look at it like this is just cannabis. Open your mind and say, ‘What category can this product go into or be?’”

VanderMarel: “Never deviate from your goal. When Good & Green was looking to lease, nobody would rent to a cannabis company. But vendors didn’t want to sell (property) to a cannabis company either, so we had to get creative in the offers we submitted—so it wasn’t evidently coming from a cannabis company. If people say they won’t lease to you, then you have to buy—and if they won’t sell, you have to change what company is putting an offer in. There is always a way to get through the problem.”

 


 

Diana Roberts Coats

Director of Plant Science, JBE Industries  |  Warwick, Rhode Island

BACKSTORY

Coats is a relative newcomer to the cannabis space, having spent a little more than a year in the industry. But she brings with her a depth of experience involving the science of traditional agriculture cultivation.

WHY TO WATCH

With Coats driving the science division, JBE Industries is shifting its expansion plans into high gear. The medical marijuana company plans to expand into 12 states on the East Coast and in the Midwest by the end of 2019. Coats will be scouting out new science-based technologies for the cannabis industry and helping her team decide whether those new tech companies will be worth investing in.

Coats also serves as a go-between to connect the company and state universities. One of her goals is to involve university researchers and engineering students to help foster one area that’s seriously lacking in the cannabis industry: credible research.

Looking ahead, Coats aims to provide pharmaceutical-grade medical marijuana that’s still cannabis-centric and not Big Pharma.

– Bart Schaneman

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“Have a science person on staff who can evaluate—maybe with your lead cultivator—the techniques that you spend a lot of time and money on. Make sure they have a scientific basis so that you don’t waste time or money.”

 

Brianna Kilcullen

Founder and CEO, We the People  |  Indialantic, Florida

BACKSTORY

Kilcullen made her name in the textile industry. She became the first full-time sustainability consultant for Under Armour sportswear in 2014. She then ran the sustainability program for prAna, an activewear clothing label in the Columbia Sportswear Co.’s family of brands. Last year, Kilcullen struck out on her own to develop a line of towels made entirely of hemp fibers.

WHY TO WATCH

Hemp’s tough fibers once made the crop an essential component of global commerce. These days, synthetics rule the global textile industry, while hemp is most valuable for its CBD-rich flowers. Kilcullen is out to change that, rolling out the first sustainable line of all-hemp towels in 2019.

A longtime veteran of the apparel industry, Kilcullen knows that most hemp fabrics currently on the market are blended with other fibers. Kilcullen is making her towels in Portugal from 100% hemp grown in China, with an eye toward reviving textile manufacturing in the United States.

In a hemp industry plagued by unrealistic expectations about how textiles are made, Kilcullen’s company could be a first step to creating a sustainable industrial hemp textile market.

– Kristen Nichols

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“Real recognizes real. Learn to trust your gut, and it will always guide you in the right direction to the right people—wherever that might be. Embrace the change. You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”

 

Maria Belen Algorta

Agronomist and Uruguay representative, Ecofibre Limited  |  Oversees Uruguay operations for Australia-based Ecofibre

BACKSTORY

Algorta took an interest in hemp while seeking a crop to compete with soybeans in Uruguay. She encountered Ecofibre, an industrial hemp company with diverse genetics, while in pursuit of the best seed for the Uruguayan climate. Today, the agronomist serves as the company’s representative in the South American nation.

WHY TO WATCH

Ecofibre will be listing on the Australian Securities Exchange early this year. Research will continue to be Algorta’s focus in 2019, primarily establishing a seed bank of strains that grow best in Uruguay’s climate and soil.

Expansion will be gradual, as Algorta tries to ensure the crop is profitable for farmers who join the project. Much will depend on how the regulatory framework for hemp evolves in Uruguay and how fast the market for hemp-derived products opens up.

– Alfredo Pascual

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“Education still needs to be done for consumers and public institutions to truly understand what this plant is all about.
It is our responsibility to deliver the message properly and to manage the plant with the most sustainable, eco-friendly practices.”

 

 

Sara Gullickson

CEO, Item 9 Labs Corp.  |  Scottsdale, Arizona

BACKSTORY

Gullickson jumped into the cannabis industry at 26 and ran her own consulting firm from 2010 until 2018. In those eight years, she helped clients secure marijuana business licenses in more than a dozen states. Her business, Dispensary Permits, was acquired in late 2018 by Item 9 Labs, the company she now heads as CEO.

WHY TO WATCH

Last year, Gullickson pivoted to the plant-touching side of the industry, taking the reins at Item 9 Labs. The company operates a 50-acre outdoor medical marijuana grow in Arizona. It’s also focused on the development of technology and products that administer MMJ via an intranasal delivery system.

Under Gullickson, Item 9 Labs will serve as a parent company for multiple brands, including Nevada-based cultivation, processing and distribution firm Strive Wellness.

In addition, Item 9 Labs holds plant-touching licenses in three U.S. states, and Gullickson’s goal for 2019 is to acquire licenses in up to 10 markets: Arizona, California, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington state.

– John Schroyer

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“Slow and steady wins the race. I see so many people trying to get rich quick. If you work hard, remain dedicated to your core values and make savvy business decisions, profits will follow.”

 


 

Finance

Gaynell Rogers, Lori Ferrara and Lindy Snider

Founders, Treehouse Global Ventures  |  California, Illinois and Pennsylvania

BACKSTORY

The roots of Treehouse Global Ventures began more than five years ago, when Rogers, Ferrara and Snider first met during the Arcview Investor Forums in Boston and Denver. Each had a unique story that had drawn her to the cannabis industry.

Rogers, a three-time cancer survivor, used her publicity and media relations acumen to propel a number of cannabis firms into the national spotlight—a feat that included landing cover stories in Fortune magazine for cannabis companies including Dixie Brands and MedMen. She also served as head of media relations for Harborside, California’s largest cannabis retailer, landing that firm exposure on multiple national platforms including the Discovery Channel’s reality TV show “Weed Wars.”

Before turning to the cannabis industry, Snider served in multiple senior-level roles in marketing and sales for top Philadelphia sports organizations, including the Philadelphia Flyers professional hockey team, the Wells Fargo Center and the South Philadelphia Sports Complex.

She first delved into the cannabis space as she began to develop her own skin care line, Lindi Skin, which includes products for cancer patients. She also serves as chair of Athletes for Care, a nonprofit founded by professional athletes who advocate cannabis research.

Ferrara’s background includes nearly 30 years in top management roles for syndicated programs at Mediatech, overseeing shows including “Inside Edition,” “Geraldo” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Ferrara turned to the cannabis industry as her husband battled Stage 4 tongue cancer in 2012, and she endured her own fight with early stage breast cancer in 2014. Ferrara was the first female investor in The Arcview Group and has launched her own boutique cannabis-focused private equity firm, Alexava Holdings.

WHY TO WATCH

Together, Rogers, Snider and Ferrara launched Treehouse Global Ventures, a cannabis industry-focused fund targeting women-owned businesses in the space. The women are aiming for a $20 million raise in early 2019, with plans to begin deploying that capital into a variety of ventures later this year.

“We’re lucky enough to have a waiting list of people in line to invest,” Snider said.

Already, the team has begun scouting potential targets that range from tech to investments in growing firms that are establishing a national footprint or major brand play.

The team is also considering co-investing with other funds in the space, Snider said.

“What I love the most about this industry, which is different than other industries, is that it is so collaborative,” she added. “In the financial sector, there is willingness and energy to invest together, and it accelerates the entire industry.”

The women of Treehouse are quick to point out that their fund won’t “discriminate” against male-founded firms.

“We’ll take a serious look at companies that are viable and meet our criteria,” Snider said. “But our primary focus will be women—because that hasn’t been other people’s focus, and we think they’re missing a great opportunity.”

– Lisa Bernard-Kuhn

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

Snider: “It’s critical to know your own weaknesses and bring in the absolute best resources and people to help you in those areas. You may have identified a major opportunity (and) have a solid business idea but lack the skills or experience for execution. As a founder, you aren’t expected to be the expert in every single aspect of your business. But as a leader, it’s your job to know what you don’t know and build a team around you with the skill sets that you and your business require to move ahead.”

Rogers: “There are many things that make a business or company soar. A few of my favorites that I learned from my own mentors include: Craft a brain trust of professionals that is a dream team outside of your own skill set and use and reward them. Take the emotion out of decisions. Stay true to the facts and stick to your values. And don’t take no for an answer—keep asking!”

Ferrara: “Don’t be underfunded. The road is littered with great ideas from great people who run out of capital. Know how much capital it will take before you become a profitable business. Put some skin in the game. If you are not willing to invest in your business, how can you expect others to?”

 

Jeannette Ward Horton

Executive Director and Co-Founder, NuLeaf Project  |  Portland, Oregon

BACKSTORY

Ward Horton co-founded the NuLeaf Project in July 2018 with her husband, Jesce Horton, to provide grant funding for minority-owned cannabis companies. The impetus to found NuLeaf arose out of the work she did with the Minority Cannabis Business Alliance starting in 2016. In the case of NuLeaf, she brings to the table five-plus years of cannabis industry experience as vice president of global marketing and communications for seed-to-sale tracking provider MJ Freeway.

WHY TO WATCH

Ward Horton hopes to raise significant funding for minority-led cannabis businesses, both for established companies and those looking to enter the market. Her goal is to raise enough capital so these companies have the appropriate financing to compete in the highly competitive cannabis market.

NuLeaf is starting with help from the city of Portland, Oregon, but Ward Horton has plans to grow the diversity-funding program to include the entire state—and, ultimately, the rest of the country.

After more than five years with a prominent cannabis company, Ward Horton has the connections in the industry to succeed at this venture. And the marijuana industry stands to benefit from her efforts and reach new customers.

“When you have more diverse business ownership, you’re going to be able to recruit a more diverse consumer base,” Ward Horton noted.

– Bart Schaneman

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“Businesses of color, which traditionally have less access to capital, need to make fundraising their primary focus. Communities of color are a hotbed of innovation and untapped talent, and it will take capital to surface those great ideas to the top.”

 

Amy Margolis

Attorney and Founder, The Initiative and The Commune  |  Portland, Oregon

BACKSTORY

For the past 17 years, Margolis has been representing clients in the cannabis space—first as a criminal lawyer, then transitioning into the legal cannabis industry. She has served on the Portland Marijuana Task Force and a number of state advisory committees. Margolis is the founder and director of the Oregon Cannabis Association, the largest professional marijuana association in the state, and the Oregon Cannabis Political Action Committee.

WHY TO WATCH

The percentage of women in founder and executive positions in the cannabis industry is declining as the sector becomes a multibillion-dollar global business. Margolis is concerned about that trend and the significant lack of access women have to capital compared to men. She hopes to help reverse that trend as the director of The Initiative, a business accelerator and suite of business services to help women-founded cannabis companies.

The Initiative will kick off its program this year by training and mentoring eight companies selected through a competitive process. The business leaders will receive three months of training on everything from financial basics to fundraising to negotiating and planning for strategic growth—all led by experts from across the country. Participants in The Initiative will have the opportunity to make an investment pitch to a group that is committed to funding women entrepreneurs.

– Jeff Smith

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“This industry expands so rapidly, and the goalposts are always moving. It is extremely important to be nimble and adaptable in order to survive. It is also crucial that a business be well-funded enough to survive these frequent changes and the need for lightning-fast growth.”

 

 

Data & Technology

Jessica Billingsley

CEO, MJ Freeway  |  Denver

BACKSTORY

Billingsley is a cannabis pioneer. She made her first investment in a licensed medical marijuana company in 2009 and co-founded cannabis technology company MJ Freeway in 2010. Her Denver company was one of the cannabis industry’s first seed-to-sale tracking software providers.

WHY TO WATCH

As MJ Freeway’s new CEO, Billingsley is positioned to lead the company into notable new ventures in 2019. The company is merging with MTech Acquisition, a special purpose acquisition firm. The new holding company, Akerna, is set to list on the Nasdaq once the deal is finalized. That’s expected to happen early this year.

When the merger was announced in October, the new company was expected to have more than $60 million of balance-sheet cash “to take advantage of strategic growth opportunities.” MJ Freeway itself raised $10 million last August.

In the new year, Billingsley said, MJ Freeway will focus both on internal growth—including jobs in research and development as well as sales and support—and overseas markets.

“We strongly believe cannabis is entering into a period of global consolidation, and we’re absolutely focused on the international arena and international expansion,” Billingsley said.

– Bart Schaneman

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“Not only do businesses … need to ensure they’re compliant in every market, but it will become increasingly important for them to record their business intelligence data so they can track their ROI. These are things that many businesses are not tracking today.”

 

 

Jess Henson

Director of Data and Insights, Acreage Holdings  |   New York City

BACKSTORY

Henson is using analytics to propel the cannabis industry into the modern age. Previously, Henson led data strategy and market research for dispensary operator Higher Leaf and data-analytics software firm Headset, both in Washington state. She assumed her current post at Acreage—a multistate, vertically integrated marijuana business—in July 2018.

WHY TO WATCH

Acreage uses data to inform and improve almost every aspect of its portfolio of brands and products, a sizable umbrella that includes dispensaries and production facilities in 11 state-legal cannabis markets. They all operate under different names, but Acreage hopes to rebrand all its dispensaries to The Botanist in the coming year.

“I regularly monitor attributes that inspire everything from packaging decisions to pricing,” she said. Among other things, Henson tracks sales performance and consumer trends.

Henson’s top focus for 2019? To find the “signals in the noise” that will further accelerate Acreage’s success.

“We will be even more laser-focused on growing our footprint and brands in 2019,” she said.

In addition to helping Acreage succeed with its current portfolio, Henson is using data analysis to expand the company beyond adult use and medical cannabis and into other wellness and lifestyle sectors.

– Lindsey Bartlett

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“Use data to confirm product-market fit. Identify and predict trends and conceptualize innovative products and form factors.”

 

 

Jill Ellsworth

Founder and CEO, Willow Industries  |  Denver

BACKSTORY

Ellsworth is a food science and nutrition specialist by training and an entrepreneur at heart. In 2015, she was operating a juice company in Santa Barbara, California, and Denver that eschewed heat pasteurization and instead pasteurized products through high pressure. Ellsworth saw a huge need for a technology that could decontaminate marijuana.

She thought the answer was the high-pressure method she used in cold-press juicing, but that process damaged the cannabis flower. Ellsworth instead turned to ozone, a form of oxygen used for disinfecting and deodorizing.

She and a partner developed an ozone-decontamination business, Willow Industries, in 2015.

WHY TO WATCH

Willow Industries now serves more than 60 growers in Colorado and has a small number of clients in California, Hawaii and Nevada. In 2019, Ellsworth wants to expand to more states, including Massachusetts and Michigan.

In addition, she wants to put a greater emphasis on selling the company’s technology than on providing decontamination services. One machine sells for as much as $125,000. If the technology catches on, it could put an end to the days of growers discarding thousands of dollars of cannabis that has failed lab tests.

– Omar Sacirbey

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“Patience is No. 1. I’m not a patient person to begin with, but I’ve really had to work on my patience. … It’s taken a lot of time to get the industry and cultivators to understand the necessity of something like this. When I started this, I was like, ‘Everyone is going to need this. It’s from the food industry, of course.’ And then it was not like that at all. The pushback was pretty severe. So patience has been critical.”

 


 

Investments

Tahira Rehmatullah

Chief Financial Officer, Akerna  |  Denver

BACKSTORY

Rehmatullah has a background in startups and investing in the cannabis industry. She is also managing director at Scottsdale, Arizona-based Hypur Ventures, a cannabis-focused investment firm. Rehmatullah got her start as an investment manager at Privateer Holdings, a Seattle-based private equity firm. In that role, she also served as general manager of Marley Natural.

WHY TO WATCH

At Akerna, Rehmatullah will help chart the future of a new Nasdaq-listed company formed through the merger of seed-to-sale tracking provider MJ Freeway and MTech Acquisition, a special purpose acquisition firm. The deal is slated to close in early 2019. Under Rehmatullah’s financial watch, Akerna is planning to execute an “aggressive growth strategy” as it pursues acquisitions in the year ahead.

– Lisa Bernard-Kuhn

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“No one in a company—be it the CEO or the entry-level analyst—has all the answers or all the skills. The best advice I could ever give anyone is to ask other people for help or advice … and don’t wait until it’s too late. Asking for help, building relationships and working collaboratively have made all the difference in my career.”

 

Vivien Azer

Managing Director and Senior Research Analyst, Cowen and Co.  |  New York City

BACKSTORY

Azer is the first Wall Street analyst to actively cover the cannabis industry, having convinced Cowen to initiate deep analysis of the sector beginning in September 2016.

Azer began with Cowen in 2014, when she was lured away from a successful career with banking giant Citigroup in part with the promise that she would get to cover cannabis “when the time was right.”

WHY TO WATCH

Azer has become a go-to authority on the growth and opportunities unfolding across the global cannabis industry.

As 2019 unfolds, Azer’s coverage is expected to be coveted intel for a growing pool of cannabis investors and publicly traded companies eager for in-depth analysis and insight. Big institutional investors are among those waiting in the wings to participate in cannabis.

In Azer’s view, cannabis is “a key functional ingredient” that has the potential to disrupt a group of consumer product categories collectively worth up to $500 billion—including beverages, beauty and wellness products, over-the-counter pain and sleep aids and an evolving array of pharmaceutical and adult-use applications.

– Lisa Bernard-Kuhn

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“For a rising female founder in the cannabis industry, I would suggest they have a specific and focused business strategy, identify areas where they lack expertise and build a team around them to address those knowledge gaps. And remember that in traditional consumer staples, the consumer is ‘she.’”

 

Debra Borchardt

Co-founder, CEO and editor-in-chief, Green Market Report  |  New York City

BACKSTORY

After more than 15 years of experience in the securities industry as an executive at Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch, among other companies, Borchardt pivoted to financial journalism, writing for TheStreet.com, Seeking Alpha and Forbes. After covering the marijuana industry for six years, she launched the Green Market Report, a financial news site for the cannabis industry, in September 2017.

WHY TO WATCH

Larger securities firms don’t have the bandwidth to cover a lot of the cannabis space, such as smaller, publicly traded companies. Green Market Report this year will be issuing company reports that analyze key financial details to
help investors “cut through the noise” and make more informed decisions.

Borchardt also is co-founder of Industry Power Women, which brings women cannabis executives together two or three times a year. As the cannabis industry grows and consolidates, Borchardt sees the space evolving into a more traditional, white-male-dominated market. Industry Power Women is designed to provide a supportive network for women in cannabis, including a forum for women entrepreneurs to practice financial pitches.

– Jeff Smith

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“You may have what you think is a great idea, but you have to be realistic about it. I sometimes hear pitches from people and I think, ‘Really? You didn’t stop and think this through?’ A good dose of reality (is necessary). Stay true to those numbers; stay focused and keep your feet firmly on the ground.”

 


 

International

Bibiana Rojas

Country Manager Director, Spectrum Cannabis Colombia  |  Headquarters: Bogota, with local production in El Juncal, Huila, Colombia

BACKSTORY

Rojas worked with Boston Consulting Group, Kimberly Clark, Siemens and Morgan Stanley before founding Colombian Cannabis in early 2016. She sold the company to Canopy Growth in July 2018, renaming it Spectrum Cannabis Colombia. Rojas continues to lead Spectrum Cannabis, serving as country manager director.

WHY TO WATCH

2019 will be a decisive year as Rojas expands Spectrum Cannabis Colombia. The company will continue building out production operations in El Juncal.

Rojas expects to start 2019 with about 50 employees, a number she hopes to at least triple by the end of the year.

With an initial investment of $60 million from Canopy Growth, the farm in Colombia will become the Canadian company’s primary production and processing hub for Latin America, creating jobs and contributing to the local and national economy.

Rojas believes the goals of Spectrum Cannabis Colombia are fully aligned with the vision of Colombia’s newly elected government.

As the company advances production operations, Rojas plans to launch research operations in Colombia and throughout the region to further the understanding and potential uses of cannabis-based medicines. Clinical trials are already underway in Chile.

– Alfredo Pascual

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“La perseverancia vence lo que la dicha no alcanza.” This Colombian saying loosely translates as, “Perseverance can achieve what you can’t by just wishing.”

Rojas encourages women in the industry not to give up—“not if they close doors on your face, not if they underestimate you, not if they laugh at your dreams.”

 

Diane Scott

Chairman and CEO, Jamaican Medical Cannabis Collective  |  Headquartered in Toronto, with operations in Jamaica

BACKSTORY

With more than 20 years of executive experience, Scott brings a high level of professionalism to her medically focused cannabis company. Her international business expertise should also serve her well as her company forges global partnerships.

WHY TO WATCH

At the helm of the Jamaican Medical Cannabis Collective, Scott is leading a charge to bring island-grown cannabis to the world. The company is exporting medical marijuana to Australia, Brazil, Canada and Germany. This year, Scott will oversee a massive build-out of the Jamaican cultivation facility. When the facility is completed, her company should be operating nearly 1 million square feet of greenhouse space. Moreover, that cannabis is already contracted to markets in several countries.

Looking ahead, Scott has her eye on the United Kingdom as a new market. She already is working as an adviser to a group helping to shape the MMJ industry in that country. “We have a very ambitious program,” she said.

– Bart Schaneman

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“For people who are building their businesses, there’s a lot of capital that is around today, but there are a lot of people who are giving up equity very, very early in the process. Be very strategic about how you start and grow your company over the long term so that it remains the vision of what you intended it to be. Keep tight to your finances. As you’re expanding your team, you have to look after your people.”

 


 

Ancillary

Naomi Granger

Co-founder and Chief Financial Officer, Dope CFO  |  Bend, Oregon

BACKSTORY

Granger had been making good money as a corporate accountant but hated her job. Good thing she got fired: It gave Granger time to pursue something new. She took an online course about starting one’s own accounting firm. The class emphasized the importance of finding a niche. Granger decided to give cannabis a try. She and Andrew Hunzicker, former CFO at the Oregon grow company HiFi Farms, launched Dope CFO in December 2017.

WHY TO WATCH

Dope CFO has taken off, and now Granger and Hunzicker want to expand their online training while further developing the client services side of the business. Dope CFO is developing new products targeting investors interested in cannabis.

One product, Dispensary in a Box, gives investors the tools and rules they need to know to open a dispensary. Granger believes a few factors will drive dramatic growth for Dope CFO in 2019. For one, industry growth is drawing more scrutiny from the IRS. “The IRS is doing more audits in this space. They want to see that businesses in this space are being compliant,” she said.

– Omar Sacirbey

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“You have to remain fluid and flexible. Accountants want things to be perfect and tied up to the penny. But you’re not going to see that in cannabis. It’s still very new. A lot of these companies still have a hard time getting banking. So, you have that challenge of making sure cash is balanced. Software systems that are out there have bugs and kinks, so doing account reconciliations at the end of the month isn’t going to be perfect.”

 

CORRECTION

After this publication’s deadline in late November, both companies mutually agreed to terminate HollyWeed North’s planned acquisition of Women Grow. In addition, the purchase price cited in the article was incorrect. Terms of the initial agreement detailing the proposed acquisition weren’t disclosed. Also, Renee Gagnon was not the owner of Women Grow.

Renee Gagnon

CEO, HollyWeed North Cannabis; Owner, Women Grow  |  Victoria, British Columbia

BACKSTORY

Gagnon has a background in technology startups. Her consulting firm, HollyWeed North Cannabis, also has multiple
marijuana brands.

WHY TO WATCH

Gagnon knows how to close a deal, and she sees a troubling lack of female ownership in the cannabis space. So, when she saw an opportunity to buy the troubled for-profit networking company Women Grow, she jumped, signing a deal in September 2018 to acquire the company for $64 million in stock (CA$85 million).

Gagnon plans to ramp up Women Grow’s educational offerings, making the company a first stop for aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs. She says Women Grow faltered by giving the impression it was a nonprofit membership organization instead of a for-profit training company. “It’s hard to gather people together in love and then sell them stuff,” she said.

This year, Gagnon plans to reposition Women Grow as a business that teaches entrepreneurship to women (and men) looking for an edge in the fast-changing cannabis space.

– Kristen Nichols

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“Don’t focus on a business plan, fully fleshed out. … What you need to do is have a decent slide deck, a two-page executive summary and be able to explain in under seven minutes what you do. And it’s about your company—not your product. Your products will change over time; they’re investing in your company.”

 

Kara Bradford

Co-founder and CEO, Viridian Staffing  |  Seattle

BACKSTORY

Bradford had a 15-year career in recruiting and HR for mainstream companies such as Microsoft and The Walt Disney Co. before she pivoted to the cannabis industry and founded Viridian Staffing in 2013. Today, she heads the Human Resources Committee for the National Cannabis Industry Association.

WHY TO WATCH

Bradford knows firsthand that a lot of cannabis businesses are having a tough time recruiting the talent they need to compete in the burgeoning marijuana and industrial hemp industries—not to mention the ever-expanding ecosystem of ancillary firms that serve these companies.

In addition to the United States, Viridian Staffing serves clients in Canada, Australia and several Asian and European countries—and Bradford is expecting even more demand for high-quality staff as the cannabis industry continues to expand in South America and beyond.

Viridian also will continue to expand and refine its professional offerings for clients who are becoming increasingly aware of the need to pay close attention to national, state and local employment laws and HR best practices.

– John Schroyer

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE

“Make sure you understand the employment laws for each and every state, county and municipality your company is operating in. Cannabis companies tend to be so focused on ensuring they’re compliant with all the relevant industry-specific regulations, they tend to overlook their jurisdiction’s employment laws until they get slapped with a fine by a regulator or an employment lawsuit.”