When many people think about working in the cannabis industry, they imagine that most jobs involve being around cannabis: growing it, harvesting it, packaging it, and sending it off to a retailer to be sold to a consumer.
When others think of the idea of entrepreneurship in the industry, two immediate trepidations come to mind: the cost of opening a cannabis business, and the difficulties in becoming licensed to do so.
What if we told you that you can work in the cannabis industry, derive all your income from the industry, yet never come into contact with the plant itself? What if we told you that you don’t even need a license to work in the cannabis industry? It may seem too good to be true, but BIPOCANN itself is proof that you don’t need millions of dollars, or a license, to work in cannabis.
Here we will explore some of the opportunities available for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) entrepreneurs to enter the cannabis industry through what is called ancillary services, or non-plant touching roles.
A Peek into Cannabis Jobs
In 2021, Leafly released their Jobs Report 2021, which revealed that the cannabis industry now supports 321,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs, both plant-touching, and non-plant touching, which are also known as ancillary services. While the exact number of industry jobs that are classified as ancillary has yet to be uncovered, these types of jobs could possibly make up more than a quarter of opportunities available. Despite a pandemic, cannabis in America continued to grow, with the industry seeing more of a hiring surge this year than any year before.
Job, entrepreneurship, and employment experts say that if the cannabis industry continues to grow at this rapid pace, one million jobs may be created within the industry within the decade.
In the Leafly report, the underrepresentation of Black-owned cannabis businesses was made glaringly obvious as something that needs to change. While Black Americans represent 13% of the national population, they represent only 1.2% to 1.7% of all cannabis company owners in the fastest growing industry of the century.
While cannabis companies need to ensure they have vigorous policies for diversity, equity, and inclusion, the lack of BIPOC cannabis business owners – and the acknowledgement that this needs to change – is opening the doors to BIPOC entrepreneurs to enter into the industry that knows it needs more representation.
What Types of Ancillary Opportunities Exist?
The cannabis industry, like any other industry, needs professional support services. These supports include Human Resources, accounting, business development, marketing, social media management, compliance, app and computer systems development, real estate, content development, education, and web design… just to name a few. The industry also needs technical support for lighting and hardware for cultivation, construction, security, accessories design, trade show materials, and just about anything that supports the actual touching of the plant – without touching the plant.
Many entrepreneurs have taken their specializations, interests, and passions, and have tailored them specifically to the cannabis industry, becoming specialists in their field and cannabis at the same time. For (most) of these professions, one doesn’t need a state-issued cannabis license for operation, although field-specific professional licensure is sometimes required.
How Do I Get Started?
It all starts with an idea: a glimmer of inspiration, the rush of passion you feel for something, and the confidence you just may have what it takes to pull something great off.
BIPOCANN member Marc Littlejohn, who creates a line of luxury odor-proof stash bags for the industry at Litteljohn New York, a Black-owned cannabis business, said it perfectly: “What do you want to do? What do you like to do? What do you do well?”
Taking time to focus on what you’re passionate about will help you ensure that you actually take a path that will not only bring you income, but joy as well. As “they” say, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Assess Your Skills
Some people may find it intimidating entering the cannabis industry for the first time. It’s important to know that especially since the legal cannabis industry is relatively new, everyone in cannabis started somewhere, and the skills they received to enter the industry didn’t necessarily come from the industry itself.
This is where transferrable skills come into play. Transferable skills, or “portable skills” are both hard and soft skills that can transfer into various facets of life, including from job to job, or industry to industry. Hard skills are technical skills like computer proficiency or the ability to work with large numbers, while soft skills encompass attributes like problem-solving or teamwork.
Career developers recommend doing what is called a “Skills Inventory”, a literal account of what you can do, and the level at which you can do it. Putting together a Skills Inventory is relatively easy – research some of the skills required to enter or further yourself in a field of interest, and do an assessment of what skills you bring to the table, and your general level of proficiency (i.e. beginner, intermediate, expert). Don’t forget to look at both hard and soft skills, because both are extremely valuable in the cannabis industry.
Define Industry Problems & Opportunities
Entering the cannabis industry requires taking a look at the big picture and understanding industry problems that your product or service may solve. With the cannabis industry encompassing so many different areas, from health, to technology, to cultivation, manufacturing, retail, and beyond, different pain points have emerged for which people in the industry are looking for a solution.
Understand what already exists within the cannabis industry in terms of ancillary services, and consider how your product or service adds to what is already there. What do you offer that is just a bit different? What are others NOT doing that may provide you your opportunity? What problems still don’t have a solution that you may have?
Take Definite Steps Towards Your Goal
Every good business starts with a business plan. Many people think that a Business Plan has to be an extremely long and intricate document, and sometimes that could be required, but there are tools available to help entrepreneurs move from concept to reality. One tool is called the Lean Business Model, which invites the entrepreneur to consider all the hypotheses on how their business can go, with a focus on customer development, or essentially testing out whether your product or service will attract customers.
Harvard Business Review has a great overview and a downloadable template of the Business Model Canvas that can be found here.
Before you begin making revenue, it’s important that you register your business within your state or region. While the process for registering a business is different state-by-state, and may differ depending on the type of business you intend to register, take time to understand the requirements of registering a business, including paying taxes, business insurance, and other important details. The U.S. Government has a general overview of how to start a business on its website.
You’ll then want to begin to take the important steps required to build your business, and most importantly, your brand. Ensure you secure your website domain and social media handles before you build your digital assets. Consider steps that you’ll take to market your business to clients, particularly in the cannabis industry.
Build and Grow
Creating a successful business doesn’t happen overnight. At times you may feel like you take two steps forward and three steps back, which is a shared feeling amongst entrepreneurs.
We invite new and existing cannabis businesses that are owned and operated by BIPOC entrepreneurs to consider becoming a member of the BIPOCANN network. The BIPOCANN network helps BIPOC cannabis business owners reduce barriers to enter, grow, and thrive in the cannabis industry. Members can access a variety of cannabis business resources and ancillary services to support their growth in areas such as licensing, compliance, education, business development, accounting, marketing, web design, staffing, and more.
BIPOCANN will continue to release resources, blogs, and Member Spotlights to help our members take considerable steps towards entrepreneurship in the cannabis industry.
BIPOCANN is a membership organization and consulting firm that works to make the legal cannabis industry more accessible and profitable for BIPOC business owners, entrepreneurs, and professionals.
The company’s mission is to increase visibility to advance BIPOC representation and economic growth in the legal cannabis industry.
For more information, please visit www.bipocann.com.