Panel discussion with several prominent women in the cannabis industry: AC Braddock, CEO of Eden Labs; Autumn Karcey, CEO of Cultivo, Inc.; and Tracy Ryan, CEO and founder of CannaKids and founder of the 501c3 SavingSophie.
Ryan: I have seen such an incredible shift over the last six years since I got into the cannabis industry, it’s almost hard to describe. The type of conferences that we are seeing now and the type of individuals that are coming out to network are top-in-class. Take the Cannabis Science Conference, for example. It’s literally focusing on the leading minds in research, science, technology, and beyond. It’s the greatest key opinion leaders in the field from all over the world that are gathering under one place. In attendance you’re seeing doctors, lawyers, medical professionals of all kinds, governmental employees, politicians, and celebrities. You name it, they are showing up in droves to learn more about this plant and support the legalization of it and the mission of it moving forward as a plant medicine.
It’s incredible to continually also learn about the science and how that is evolving over the years because where we are today is light years beyond what we saw when I originally got into the field. When I first started, no one was even talking about using medical cannabis for serious issues and diseases, much less for children. I’m very excited to see what the coming years are going to show us because with the way the science is moving now, it is only a matter of time before we start to watch medicine as a whole be changed because of the efficacy of this plant in so many different indications.
Are there more sources for funding being made available to women entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry? Are technologies lower cost or more accessible today? What other traditional barriers to success have you seen changing over the past few years?
Braddock: The NY Times has reported that for every $58 million men receive in investment money in any industry, women only get $1 million and because cannabis is a Schedule 1 controlled substance, the industry has severely restricted access to banking. This means the primary source of funding is private equity, which adds another layer of difficulty and expense in acquiring funding for women and people of color. So, sisters are doing it for themselves by creating financial networks to fund other women and work on social equity.
Competition in technology has significantly increased as more companies are created specifically for the cannabis industry, but also because noncannabis related tech companies are moving into the industry. New entrants typically lower pricing to compete with established companies, but good tech in any industry is not cheap. The field will eventually shrink and costs will stabilize as the market stabilizes.
Traditional barriers stem from an attempt to control a market or people and from holding onto knowledge or solutions for self-interest and self-enrichment. This kind of business model is being replaced in the modern business are solving social ills, promoting transparency, educating, and giving back. A modern business breaks down the barriers created by the old “business as usual” mindset.
Karcey: I self-funded Cultivo with $10,000 of my own money. I believe it was a right time, right place scenario. We started five years ago when there were virtually no design build companies in the space. Today, there are hundreds. The down side to that is many are new companies without experience.
Technologies in the cannabis space are typically overpriced unless you have a team that knows how to associate pricing and source products that work. At Cultivo we are what’s known as an “Owner’s Representative”—our business model does not allow us to incentivize third party products because our goal is to provide the best value for our client.
Traditional barriers to success have changed with more states and countries legalizing cannabis. However, with state taxes, city taxes, and cost of operations, it has become very expensive to become a licensed producer and keep costs to where it is affordable for consumers.
Ryan: As far as whether or not there is more money available to women entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry, I don’t really have the stats on that, so I can’t really speak to whether or not more women are being funded. But I know that more women are running companies in this industry. It’s very exciting, as we’ve always been a female owned and operated business and we’ve always had a higher percentage of women that we employee within the CannaKids organization. I also really love that it’s the female cannabis plant that brings forth all the medicinal values and there’s this really cool connection there between this plant and women in general.
In my opinion, cannabis is a very loving and nurturing plant that is bringing forth a lot of healing in the world to patients everywhere. I know about 95% of the calls that we receive into the office are from women as the advocates for the patient. To see so many businesses that are female owned and operated is very inspiring. It’s great to see women finally taking their seats at the board table and using their voices to drive such an important cause forward.
While there were early reports that the cannabis industry was more open to gender and racial equality, there remain many white, male dominated businesses that have not supported diversity. In my opinion, these female-unfriendly environments just encourage women to start their own cannabusinesses and succeed on their own. What are your experiences here and what motivated you to become an industry leader?
Braddock: You are absolutely correct. It is the men that can make a rapid change in diversity and equity, but we can’t wait for this deeply rooted cultural boulder to move uphill. Women are moving ahead on their own or with men who get why it is important and more profitable to have intellectual and cultural diversity sitting at the table. The founder of Eden Labs is this kind of man and because of my long history as an entrepreneur, I was able to recognize that here was an opportunity to not only find a creative, enjoyable, and supportive work environment, but also be in a position where I could lead by example on the two things nearest and dearest to my heart and soul; supporting equality of all kinds and promoting plant medicine.
Karcey: The legalization effort initially started as a grass roots movement out of places like Colorado with a fairly low financial barrier to entry. Many minority and female operators were able to start small businesses. Around five years ago, we had statistics of female leadership in the cannabis space in the 40 percentile. As legalization grew into multiple states and became somewhat normalized so did options for traditional private funding. Many private investors are typically spearheaded by rich white men who hire their buddies. In recent years, we are seeing female and minority leadership decline at a steep rate in a very short amount of time.
I don’t think I was ever motivated to be an industry leader; I just wanted to build buildings and implement certain standards that did not exist yet in cannabis.
- J. Crossney, Cannabis Science and Technology 1(2), 52–54 (2018).
About the Interviewees
AC Braddock is the CEO of Eden Labs, an internationally known and respected 25-year-old technology company that specializes in research and development of products in biofuels, flavorings, environmental remediation, functional foods, natural products, supplements, nutraceuticals, distilling, and more. While Eden Labs serves many industries, in 2009 Braddock envisioned that the purity of supercritical CO2-derived products would be a necessity for the legalization of medical applications for cannabis and cemented Eden’s reputation as the pioneer of extraction for healthy cannabis concentrates.
Autumn Karcey is the CEO and founder of Cultivo, Inc., a firm specializing in cultivation and lab facilities design, located in southern California. Karcey takes a logical, consistent, and scientific approach when she designs cultivation sites. She combines the use of modern clean room technology, industrial agricultural equipment, custom fabricated equipment, high-end security systems, and sensor systems to create world-class facilities of enduring value.
Tracy Ryan is the CEO of CannaKids and the founder of SavingSophie.org. After her infant daughter’s brain tumor diagnosis in 2013, Ryan dedicated her life to helping patients with her line of CannaKids’ medical cannabis oils. Now in full swing with preclinical human trials involving CannaKids’ cancer patients, including an animal model trial on her own daughter, it’s her mission to bring non-toxic drugs to market for patients suffering from cancer and other life altering diseases.
About the Columnist
Joshua Crossney is the columnist and editor of “Cannabis Crossroads” and a contributing editor to Cannabis Science and Technology magazine. Crossney is also the president and CEO of CSC Events. Direct correspondence to: [email protected]
How to Cite This Article
J. Crossney, Cannabis Science and Technology 2(5), 32-37 (2019).
Editor's Note: The print version of this column that appeared in the September/October 2019 issue was edited for length.