This article was written by Dessy Pavlova.
RNMKR, a Toronto-based PR agency that focuses on marijuana and technology PR, recently held a ‘Women Trailblazers’ event that highlighted seven women working in the intersection of cannabis community and business in the Canadian market.
Host Irie Selkirk started off the talks with an explanation of her organization, The Green Tent, and its work in bringing women together across the cannabis industry, supported by companies like RNMKR PR.
Below is a breakdown of who each of these seven women are, their stories, and what advice they have for business in cannabis in the Canadian market:
Abi Roach, founder of HotBox Lounge + Shop
An unconventional start, Abi Roach began her career picking up knowledge from a variety of sources, from forays into art and music schools, to business management, eventually furthering one of her most successful enterprises: trading hemp jewelry for cannabis.
At 19, she opened HotBox Cafe, and now 18 years later has built several additional businesses including HotBox Brands, HotBox Homegrown Hydroponics, Spliff Magazine, Hotbox Jamaica Bud & Breakfast, and now, HotBox Holdings — all powered by the idea of offering ‘cannabis as a lifestyle service.’
On innovation: “Think outside the box. Draw outside the lines.”
Alison Gordon, CEO of 48North
Alison Gordon worked with Rethink Breast Cancer to educate women on their health through humour. With her skillset in marketing and advertising, she was inspired to ‘rethink weed’ in the same way in 2007.
In 2013, it was a perfect storm of marketing and branding that encouraged her to buy a dispensary in Los Angeles and really get to know the cannabis industry and envision what the industry could be like.
She recently took a leadership role under licensed producer 48North, who now has partnered with Leaf Forward to launch a scholarship program to help support other women entrepreneurs in cannabis (the scholarship closes July 7, 2018).
On marketing: “Why don’t we use humour? How can we think differently?”
Barinder Rasode, CEO of NICHE
At 19, Barinder Rasode was married and soon after, she became a mother. As a mother of three, being a mom has had a huge impact on her work and how she builds her teams. At NICHE, she maintains what she calls the ‘wraparound program’ — bringing everyone, her team, colleagues, and partners, forward in comfort.
As a mother, she knows how to both nurture relationships and allow them to evolve naturally. She stressed that working in and getting ahead in the industry is not a race or a competition, but a collaboration based on maintaining high standards. This is what programs like CannabisWise, an industry accreditation course offered through NICHE, were based on, and those same values will support the upcoming Grow Academy.
On progress: “Maintain the space you earned but dont stop yourself from taking a step forward. Take a seat at the table.”
Jamie Shaw, Director of BC Independent Cannabis Association
Jamie Shaw starts off with a unique introduction — ‘I’ve ‘done everything wrong in my life, but somehow it worked out.’
Her story focused on having confidence despite anxiety, being unsure of herself and trying to fit into legitimate industries without the average university degree.
Six years ago, she joined the industry after an assortment of career paths, coming to the conclusion that today’s world doesn’t suit 5 year plans for the individual and that people shouldn’t define themselves by what they ‘are’ but by what they do.
On success: “Don’t be noun, be a verb.”
Jeanette VanderMarel, CEO of Good & Green
Jeanette VanderMarel started with a personal story of a family member with dravet syndrome and her lack of knowledge around how cannabis may have been a treatment option.
Years later, she started The Green Organic Dutchman with her partner, and more recently, Good & Green, a new cannabis licensed producer to provide products that can help others.
Her perseverance to build quality companies in the industry is based on blind faith and trust in herself: “When in doubt, say yes and just do it.” She became passionate about including women in leadership roles, and at her new company has a policy of never including more men than women on their board of directors.
On challenges: “Life is full of obstacles and challenges – if we knew, we wouldn’t take the risk.”
Trina Fraser, Partner at Brazeau Seller Law
Lawyer Trina Fraser started her cannabis story by maintaining that, well, she doesn’t have one from a personal perspective.
Her decision to build a cannabis law practice was because she saw a unique business opportunity, and she’s rightfully unapologetic. She doesn’t use cannabis at the moment, but debates the policy with her child at home as well as in her practice.
With so many opportunities in the industry, she focuses on embracing everyone that has a great business idea and a solid plan to execute it.
On business: “Don’t apologize for being an entrepreneur.”
Robyn Rabinovich, VP of Business Development at TerrAscend
Although Robyn Rabinovich may be the youngest VP in the industry at 26 years old, Robyn’s experience spans working on 7 different license applications touching different parts of the industry. A ‘ganjapreneur’ at heart, her international business degree with a minor in marketing served her well.
She skipped her graduation ceremony to start working for one of the first 20 licensed producers in the industry and saw the market evolve before her eyes. When her former company went public, she realized she was the only woman at the table. This didn’t make her shy away but more determined to ‘put her boots on’ and immerse herself in the industry, which led to her position today.
On inclusion: “As long as you put in the time and effort, people will reward you.”