Oregon-based accelerator connects female cannabis entrepreneurs with start-up funds

When it comes to venture capital, the cannabis industry is just like any other: There is a gender bias that leans heavily in favor of men. But The Initiative, a new Portland, Oregon-based start-up accelerator for women cannabis entrepreneurs, is working to bring some equity to this quickly growing market.

“We know that in 2017, just 2.2 percent of all venture capital funding went to women. That means that 97.8 went to male founders,” says Amy Margolis, an Oregon attorney who founded The Initiative. “As the cannabis business has become more professionalized and we see more traditional capital come in, there is this land grab for shelf space, and it’s become really clear that it’s pushing women out.”

Recognizing that funding was a common obstacle for women working to compete in the cannabis industry, Margolis, who has 17 years of experience in the criminal and regulatory spaces of cannabis law, developed The Initiative by reaching into her network to create a well-connected group of professionals and investors committed to working with women cannabis entrepreneurs to secure funding. 

“Women have the power, have the knowledge, have the connections, have the money to make these companies grow, but it takes programs like this where it brings all of the resources together to get these companies to the next level.”

The Cohort

The Initiative operates as a three-month class that combines curriculum, independent learning, and an element of co-working. The first cohort to participate in the accelerator included eight female business founders selected from a pool of more than 70 applicants. The group spent three days a week in class working with brand and marketing experts, attorneys, and individuals from the venture capital world. Other days were spent meeting one-on-one with mentors and working independently within a co-working setting. 

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“In the end, the expectation is that cohort members have a comprehensive investment package ready to go and have a strategy to then go out and fundraise,” Margolis says.

(H)urban Society

Raeven Duckett, one of the entrepreneurs in The Initiative’s recent cohort, has been operating a cannabis delivery service in California’s Bay Area for a little over a year. She applied to The Initiative with the intention of launching a line of cannabis-related products in California.

Her start-up, (H)urban Society, creates experience-based “sesh boxes” that contain supplies such as cannabis flower, grinders, and pre-rolled cones—all sourced from groups that are underrepresented in the cannabis industry. Each box includes a booklet detailing the products inside, how to use them, and, importantly, who made them.

“We want to bring brands created by underrepresented minorities and people of color to mass market,” says Duckett. “We focus on black and brown business because we believe that the growth of the legal cannabis industry should directly benefit those who were most affected by criminalization.”

Connecting with like-minded women and building a strong network through The Initiative have been invaluable benefits, Duckett says.

“Creating this family over the weeks has been a highlight for me for sure,” she says. “Women have the power, have the knowledge, have the connections, have the money to make these companies grow, but it takes programs like this where it brings all of the resources together to get these companies to the next level.”

Photography by Sam Gehrke.