Women may occupy a larger chunk of executive positions in the cannabis space than in other industries, but they're still far from leading the majority of marijuana or auxiliary businesses. In an effort to solve the problem of gender equality in the cannabis space, Amy Margolis, a former criminal defense attorney and founder of the Oregon Cannabis Association, has embarked on a multipronged enterprise to support women in weed.
To provide tools, mentoring, training and access to funding that female entrepreneurs need to ensure success in the cannabis space, Margolis founded an accelerator program called the Initiative. And to offer a physical incubator for the cannabis community to convene, network, host events or co-work, she founded the Commune, a 4,000-square-foot event, office and boardroom space in Portland, Oregon, with plans to expand to Los Angeles.
With a handful of boot camps and retreats planned through the Initiative, Margolis hopes female entrepreneurs will get re-engaged in their work and feel inspired to keep up the hustle. “The accelerator itself is for existing businesses who are ready to grow,” she explains, while the boot camp programs can be for veteran cannabis folk or women who are just starting to explore the space.
“It's how to build your businesses out, how you get it funded, how you do branding and marketing at a concept and seed stage,” Margolis details. Women new to entrepreneurship or new to cannabis need to learn everything from the business vocabulary to financial literacy when it comes to helping their businesses thrive.
“The stats around women and funding are totally egregious, so women need to completely arm themselves with as much information as possible,” Margolis says. In fact, as of 2017, only 2 percent of female founders received venture capital dollars — the rest went mainly to men, and to some companies founded jointly by men and women.
“Everyone needs to be capitalized,” Margolis adds. “So how do you put together things like pitch decks and financials and some other basics of corporate understanding, what does your accounting look like, how do you hire an executive team?”
That said, while some of Margolis' programming is geared only toward women, not all her programming is single gender. The idea is simply to give women the head start they're not getting in the business world at large.
As perhaps the majority of women who've ever tried to do business with men can attest to, navigating those relationships, power dynamics and gender balance is tricky. For women, learning how to assert yourself in the face of sexualized or condescending remarks from people who may be integral to your business development is a tough skill to master. “That's the crux of it all,” Margolis says. “But the awareness around this has evolved since we started doing what we do in our 20s. How do you manage those relationships so you're not getting shit on and advocating for yourself, but at the same time you're not exploding the relationship you want or need?”
It's a nuanced dance that women need to learn to be successful in what remains a business world run by men. “This program and what we're building is at its heart subversive,” Margolis says. “I hope that we take women and arm them with so much information, put so many tools in their toolbox and give them enough mentorship, networking opportunities and funding connections that these questions will become irrelevant, because women will feel not just empowered but so powerful that they know they don't have to take that. More importantly, once those women go through programs like this and become wealthy, they'll support other women behind them so we're not reliant on men for funding us.”