As the cannabis market quickly grows into a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide, it is increasingly leaving women behind. This is what Amy Margolis says, program director and founder of The Initiative, a female-focused, newly launched, accelerator for businesses. This one prioritizing women-run businesses, most notably those in the cannabis sector.
Women in Marijuana Industries
Fewer women hold executive jobs in the pot industry. The number of women in these jobs is declining. Through funding, executive training, mentoring, and networking, Oregon-based The Initiative is on a mission to boost roles and opportunities available to women in the rapidly growing world of cannabis. It is a mammoth task to tackle, especially within the existing landscape.
In just two years, between 2015 and 2017, the percentage of women holding executive positions at marijuana companies dropped a whopping nine percentage points. Margolis claims that the increase in pot investments from more transparent funding sources is fueling this decline. The growing interest of “corporate America” is wreaking havoc on these numbers.
Corporate America only employed 23 percent of women in executive roles during 2017. The marijuana industries placed 27 percent. Still, it is not enough. It is a trajectory that Margolis, who is also the co-founder of the Oregon Cannabis Association, “cannot stand” and is excited to change. Margolis has a plan to involve more women in the cannabis industry and employ them in executive positions.
“This industry needs to push hard to make sure that businesses do not get a pass on what their executive team looks like,” Margolis explained. “We have this one short window to make sure that women are getting funded and taking the lead, but that window is closing quickly as more traditional capital and corporate America gets involved.”
Opportunities for Women
The organization has 10 slots to fill in its first three-month program, which begins in January next year. It began accepting applications for them on September 1 already. The initiative is a comprehensive one that works using a multi-pronged approach. All approved applicants will acquire mentorship and training in a variety of fields, including:
- Basics of finances, budgets, and creating financial reports.
- Strategic planning for growth, fundraising, and pitch-deck creation.
- Executive training and team building to prepare women for corporate leadership roles.
- Negotiating deals, corporate structures and the laws of employment.
- The creation and improvement of marketing, branding, website development and social media.
By program’s end, Margolis says applicants will have the opportunity to pitch their businesses to industry investors, those specifically committed to funding female-founded companies. Investors will base decisions on each company’s goals and requirements. Furthermore, those at the top could receive funding by the program’s main sponsor: iAnthus Capital, a multistate marijuana firm based in New York.
Although Miller Nash Graham & Dunn also sponsors the program, the Oregon-based law firm is not offering participants any financial aid. However, according to Margolis, the organization already has the interest of prospective applicants across the world, including in Germany and Brazil. After completion, participants will receive a mentor to provide continued feedback on growth and fundraising ideas.
“I think it is indicative of the real need for a supportive program like this,” Margolis explained. “We want to provide the tools, training and access to funding that women need to ensure their success in the cannabis space. We are doing something really unique with this and integrating the follow-on investors into the program, so the first time a company meets them will not be on pitch day.”
Leaders, both rising and existing, within the cannabis industry are already signing support to The Initiative. For now, the organization has yet to divulge the monies the raised to get it going. Despite this, the program has the approval of the most prominent figures in the industry. Some of its board members include the following:
- Rick Turoczy, general manager of Portland Incubator Experiment
- Amanda Reiman, vice president of community relations at Flow Kana
- April Pride, founder of Van der Pop
- Carlos Perea, chief operating officer at iAnthus Capital
- Emily Paxhia, founding partner of Poseidon Asset Management
- Glynis Olson, founder of Finger Bang Nail Salon
- Janice Knox, co-founder of The American Cannabinoid Clinics
- Katie Kiernan, co-founder of Twyla
- Mowgli Holmes, chief executive officer of Phylos Bioscience
- A.C. Braddock, chief executive officer of Eden Lab
However, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, despite states deciding on their own whether to legalize or not. Paxhia, whose company has over $25 million under management and has invested roughly $20 million in almost 30 pot businesses, believes that programs such as The Initiative are vital to “help support and shine a light on female founders in the industry.”
It will only be able to work in states with liberalized marijuana laws. “The Initiative is about action, about digging in and doing the work rather than just paying lip service to the movement,” Paxhia continued. In states where marijuana industries thrive within regulated marijuana laws, women can play a more prominent role in decision-making.
As she toils to iron out the program, Margolis wishes to find a good balance between providing executive training in preparation for executive leadership positions and offering support to female entrepreneurs. “The sometimes-forgotten piece of female leadership in the cannabis space is the positioning of women on boards and executive teams,” she explained.
Marijuana laws would have to legislate women to positions of high management and find ways of enforcing it. Earlier this year, Privateer Holdings’ Tilray, a cultivation facility based in British Columbia, touted its plan to develop “one of the first majority-women-led boards in the cannabis industry.” Past that, very few women occupy board positions in cannabis firms.
According to the Ontario Securities Commission, almost 40 percent of pot companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2017 had no female executive officers or board members. MJBizDaily analyzed the regulatory filings of 25 of Canada’s top public marijuana firms, finding only seven women among 139 people chosen to service their boards of directors. That is a pitiful figure.
If The Initiative trains women for the industry and mandates their employment to executive positions can increase those numbers, then it may be worth considering. “Encouraging and supporting female founders is crucial,” Margolis said. “We also very much need to see women in positions of leadership in companies that they might not own and sitting on the boards of these publically traded companies.”