These days, the social inequality within the cannabis industry is impossible to ignore. Though the industry is celebrated by so many, we can’t disregard that there are still countless people negatively affected by the War on Drugs. Behind the numerous white American success stories, we see the unequal treatment of refugees, immigrants, and the LGBTQ+ communities within cannabis spaces. Our Academy aims to change that.
Founded in August 2020, Our Academy is a self-described workshop, mentorship, and resource aimed at helping those disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs.
Hilary Yu, one of the founders of Our Academy, explains, It’s clear that diverse management teams hire more diverse employees. By empowering social equity applicants and BIPOC founders, we will be able to create more opportunities for generational wealth in communities of color and begin to repair the harm that the war on drugs has caused.”
The organization works to provide individuals and businesses with the resources they need to create and maintain their own space within the cannabis industry. Our Academy has collaborated with a group of social equity advocates and operators to create a free Social Equity Policy Advocacy Handbook to help people and organizations advocate for equity programs in their jurisdictions. They also hold comprehensive 13-week workshops that feature experts in the cannabis industry. Here, individuals get to learn about the ins and outs of the business before getting paired with a mentor. The pairs then work together for the rest of the program, as the mentors guide the mentees to where they need to be in order to succeed in the industry.
“There is an importance on peer-learning and leaning on this community we’ve created with mentees and mentors to collaborate with one another, which is vital,” Yu tells us.
The ability to share stories and vocalize experiences is empowering, but Yu also stresses the importance of providing financial opportunities and creating new space in the industry for mentees. “We are also creating a syndicate of early-stage investors for our mentees to pitch to, which will help them overcome financing obstacles and enable these incredible founders to scale into successful companies,” Yu explains. “It’s not that BIPOC founders don’t have great ideas — it’s that they don’t have the same access to startup capital as more privileged founders do.”
The organization has utilized the help of inspiring mentors, like Kimberly Dillon, one of the first Black female executives in the cannabis space. In the past, Our Academy has seen its mentees go on to create great things in the cannabis industry. These include Tre Hobbs, former football player turned cannabis creator; and Miko Banks, a social equity license holder who now has plans to build her own cannabis brand and educate her community about the plant.
Left: Kimberly Dillon, Right: Miko Banks
Our Academy’s combination of sterling values and proactive solutions caught the attention of George Jage, CEO and co-founder of the cannabis event company MJ Unpacked. The company has since chosen to partner up with Our Academy, offering the organization’s participants event opportunities to start their cannabis businesses on the right foot.
Both Yu and Jage understand the importance of accessibility in this industry and how few opportunities are available to those affected by the systemic racism rooted in cannabis. By providing educational, financial, and social resources to marginalized individuals or groups, the opportunities for growth in the sphere are undeniable.
“George was really generous and offered donations for our mentees to not only showcase their brands, but also pitch at his investor conferences,” says Yu. Having this partnership allows the mentees who are a part of Our Academy to get their names and brands to big-name partners that can potentially make huge differences for those involved.
MJ Unpacked organized a scholarship fund and invited established companies to sponsor travel and exhibit costs for bringing seven of Our Academy’s cohort brands to MJ Unpacked Vegas, where they will have the opportunity to network, display their brands, attend discussions on cutting edge industry issues, mingle with industry luminaries, and participate in investor pitches. This year’s Our Academy attendees include representatives from Frigg, Saucy, Resziin Farms, SF Roots, Neighborhood Essentials, Queen Mary, and Good Smoke. Sponsors, who donate a minimum of $5,000, include Weedmaps, Wana Brands, Acreage Holdings, Ayr Wellness, and Akerna.
Left: Saucy Founder Tess Taylor, Right: SF Roots Founder Morris Kelly
As Jage points out, “In our partnership with Our Academy, we, in turn, get the benefit of having these companies come into the fold. As they grow, we can also grow with them, so it’s really a win-win situation.”
Through sponsorship and partnership, the opportunity for social equity in the cannabis space is more than promising. Our Academy has already helped its mentees achieve incredible success, and we look forward to seeing what else the organization has to bring to the cannabis industry.