“It Comes Down to Being Intentional.”
“I was always one of those curious kids getting in trouble for taking things apart,” recalls Anthony Winston III, P.E., P.Eng., of his early years in the South Side of Chicago where he developed an interest in technology and understanding how things work.
His interests in tech would set the foundation for what would later become Winston Engineering, a full-service engineering firm providing HVAC, piping, plumbing, electrical services, and more to cannabis companies across 10 states and in Nova Scotia in Canada.
Early Paths to Engineering & Entrepreneurship
After recognizing that it was the engineering field that would allow him to pursue his natural interests, Winston achieved his degree in Electrical Engineering with Emphasis in Power Transmission and Distribution at Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering at Arizona State University.
Equipped with the skills and knowledge on power generation and how it gets to homes and businesses, Anthony took on roles across a variety of industries, including government radar and missile defense systems, and in the building of health care facilities. During this time, Winston gained vast experience within the construction industry and was licensed as a Professional Engineer based in construction in California.
A developing interest in the idea of being an entrepreneur led to a Google search of “how to start a business”, and Anthony began taking contracts on his own. A large contract in 2015 afforded him the opportunity to walk away from working for other people, to now work for himself as Winston Engineering. He continued to develop his skills and knowledge, integrating HVAC into his engineering services.
How a “Tomato Grow” Led to Servicing a New Industry
Winston Engineering was nothing short of successful, gaining contracts with companies like Costco and Starbucks, but in 2017, a call from Long Beach changed his trajectory.
While initial conversations were under the guise of a “tomato grow”, Anthony soon realized that his services were being contracted for a cannabis cultivation facility. As cannabis had been starting to legalize in some states and was soon to become legal in California, Anthony said his work in the developing industry “snowballed from there”.
Soon his name was being passed around the California cannabis industry, allowing him to provide his engineering services to more cultivation facilities, distribution centers, manufacturing and processing facilities, and retailers. “The cannabis industry is about who you know,” he says, “and also about who you can trust,” he adds.
Soon, Winston Engineering was dedicating up to 40% of its time and expertise to cannabis industry clients, and was able to hire a team of four and obtain licenses in 10 states and one in Canada.
Engineering for a Cause
For Anthony, who had experiences with cannabis in various parts of his life, his work in the industry wasn’t just about contracts and paychecks.
“While I do facilities engineering, I took it a step further to understand the amazing benefits of this plant,” he says. He began going to meetups to learn more about first-hand experiences with cannabis. He met mothers who were advocates for their children to have access to THC because it had helped end or reduce their kids’ seizures.
“I was able to see my own grandma cut her medications in half,” he notes as he saw that more people were able to replace pharmaceuticals with THC or CBD. He says that when he has an ache or pain, he now reaches for cannabis products over what he’ll find in the medicine cabinet, valuing that cannabis is an all-natural alternative to a manufactured pill.
Anthony became a sought-after speaker because of his expertise in facilities engineering for the cannabis industry. He has spoken twice at the Cannabis Business Times Conference on cannabis facilities, and at the Black CannaBusiness Conference, where he was able to celebrate his achievements alongside other Black-owned businesses in cannabis.
An Advocate and Mentor for Black Cannabis Entrepreneurs
As Anthony and Winston Engineering enjoys growing success as a Black-owned company in the cannabis industry, he recognizes his role in helping other Black entrepreneurs find the same success in a complicated and nuanced industry.
“The War on Drugs has decimated the black community and I saw it first-hand as a kid growing up,” he recalls. “I have relatives that have been locked up for it, and it’s terrible how the Black community was used as a pawn by the government. It fractured our communities,” he says.
“When cannabis started becoming legal, I thought this was a great opportunity to level the playing field, especially in regards to wealth disparities. We’re now so many years into legalization [across some states] and the number of Black folks in cannabis is minuscule,” he states. “My mission is to educate as many Black folks on how they can overcome hurdles to entering this industry.”
When asked about advice he could offer emerging Black cannabis entrepreneurs, he said it’s all about making connections. “Black cannabis entrepreneurs don’t typically have the same resources to lean on as their white counterparts,” he says, “You have to break out of your shell and interact with as many different businesses within the cannabis space as possible.” He talks about the importance of ensuring an entrepreneur has all the right support services around them from attorneys to accountants, engineers, and ancillary services. “Do all the right things and don’t cut any corners. This industry can be very strict,” he adds.
Working Towards a More Equitable Cannabis Industry
Like other Black cannabis entrepreneurs and allies, Anthony believes that creating a more equitable industry is everyone’s job. “It comes down to being intentional,” he says about creating equitable spaces, “It’s not okay to just ‘not be racist’, and it needs to be taken the next step further. Be intentional in your hiring. Don’t feed into the narrative that this happened hundreds of years ago. Intentionality is the biggest part.”
Anthony notes that resources like the National Cannabis Equity Report & Toolkit, by the Minority Cannabis Business Association, are steps in the right direction, acknowledging that some cannabis social equity programs set applicants up for failure. “Yes, it’s great that you’re helping Black folks get licenses,” he says, “but the financial contribution for those licenses isn’t recognized; you’re also expecting them to raise capital.”
Anthony says that the states need to contribute financially to their cannabis social equity programs, including by giving people education. He suggests a state-by-state playbook written by experts in the field would be a great start to helping people navigate various systems that have been set up around cannabis licensing.
A Bright Future for Winston Engineering
As for Anthony Winston, he sees only a bright future as Winston Engineering continues to make its mark as a Black-owned ancillary cannabis business. He plans to expand into civil engineering and broadband infrastructure, helping improve connectivity to rural areas, all with a goal of helping other Black-owned cannabis businesses succeed.
“My goal is to be the go-to facilities engineering firm for the industry,” says Anthony.
By the looks of it, Anthony Winston and Winston Engineering are well on their way to being just that.
Learn more about Winston Engineering at http://www.winstoneng.com/cannabis.