Inspiring Inclusion: Elevating BIPOC in Cannabis

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Working with Kween, one of the AHLOT Cannabis Curation Committee members, we reached out to a number of BIPOC cannabis professionals to spotlight their stories, experiences and lessons learned while working in this industry.


For those of you who aren’t familiar with AHLOT, we’re a highly unique and diverse group of individuals who are brought together by a love for the cannabis industry. However, while this industry was built off the backs of activists, the legal market has failed to provide a safe and inclusive space for all who would like to participate. To facilitate diversity and growth in the industry and inspire more BIPOC individuals to make their marks, we sat down with a number of BIPOC industry professionals to spotlight their origins story, share their lived experiences and lessons learned in their cannabis careers. We invite you to read through with us.

 

Heidi Fortes

Founder of Accoutrements 🇨🇦 🇹🇿

1 . How did you first get involved in the cannabis industry?


I just dove right in. My first ever 'show' was actually a Christmas farmers market in Toronto's Bloor/West Village. The organizers were great and really supportive of me being there but, little did I know that it was a kids Christmas market, Santa and all! The amazing thing was that since Accoutrements is so subtle no one knew it was a cannabis brand, and when they inquired the reaction was consistent every time, pleasantly surprised! After that, I had a booth at the Lift show in Vancouver that January and then I was rolling.


2. Have you faced any obstacles within the legal cannabis industry as a BIPOC individual and if so, how have you overcome them?


This is an interesting question because from my perspective I feel like I have, but it's nothing different than what I face as a BIPOC in any other industry. My day job is in tech. I'm a senior sales leader and I run a consulting firm that provides outsourced sales management and sales training to high-growth tech companies. After reflecting on my experience pitching a few notable LP's in 2018 and coming out unsuccessful I have two takeaways. One, I think at the time LP's didn't really have a strong enough business case to invest in brands as the industry was so new and branding really wasn't going to provide a big enough growth in profit to justify the risk. Two, I also think that being a BIPOC in an industry dominated by white men, that I wasn't completely given the benefit of the doubt that I think some of my male counterparts received. In terms of how I've overcome this I don't think I have yet. Accoutrements is my passion and I will bring my full vision to life for the company one day. I'm hoping to look to try and raise a round again next year so hopefully by then I'll have a better answer!


3. What do you hope to change in the industry?


A big change I'd like to see is access to capital for companies like mine that are building brands. This may be an unpopular opinion but in 10 years cannabis will truly be a commodity, I would argue that it already is right now. So, I think that branding and creating communities that consumers can latch onto will be where the industry has to go in order for producers to distinguish themselves from their competitors.


4. Any words of encouragement/tips for BIPOC entrepreneurs looking to get into the legal cannabis space?


Keep at it. Like any 'new' industry the first few years are like the wild west. It's chaotic, it moves fast and often concepts like equity and inclusiveness aren't really the priority. But, if you stay consistent and show up there's a higher probability that you'll actually affect change.


Instagram: @accoutrements.to


Keenan Pascal 🇩🇲🇨🇦

Founder and CEO of Token Naturals


1. How did you first get involved in the cannabis industry?


During my time at Sauder School of Business at UBC, I was in an Entrepreneurship course. One of the student-led projects in the course involved the creation of a line of cannabis beverages. After the class, I ended up teaming up with one of the group members to take it from concept to reality, which was the starting point from which Token evolved. Token Naturals has just about completed construction on the first phase of our manufacturing facility in Edmonton, Alberta. We intend to sell cannabis products for consumers and to offer manufacturing and product development services to businesses, and expect to be licensed for that before the year is out.


2. Have you faced any obstacles within the legal cannabis industry as a BIPOC individual and if so, how have you overcome them?


The biggest obstacle is a lack of representative mentorship and network connections. Without as much or as convenient of access to traditional investment, resources and guidance as perhaps other founders had, we had to find more innovative ways to connect with a more diverse network. There is a huge upfront capital requirement to get into cannabis processing, and due to systemic barriers there are not many large investment opportunities that are readily available within the BIPOC communities. I think being outgoing in terms of connecting and networking was key, as was mentally overcoming the idea that I might be the only person of colour in the room.


3. What do you hope to change in the industry?


I want to take down some of those systemic barriers that I had to climb over by offering more key decision-maker roles to BIPOC applicants. Hopefully this sets a good example and offers more opportunity across the board.


4. Any words of encouragement/tips for BIPOC entrepreneurs looking to get into the legal cannabis space?