By Emily Fata
Lori Ferrara wasn’t deterred when she walked into her first ArcView meeting and found herself the only female investor among 80 men. She recalls being a little intimidated but took them on “one-by-one” and ended up being the organization’s first female investor, after providing a loan to a licensed cultivator in Colorado.
Ferrara first grew curious about medical marijuana in 2012 when her husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer. “He was on tons of medication and obviously had all of the side effects that went along with them. It was very scary to watch.”
After her husband recovered, Ferrara saw a poster for a cannabis symposium in Illinois. She spent a day learning about cannabis elixirs, tinctures and accessories and realized that it might be one of the few industries where she could make a difference, while also making a profit. “Cannabis is very near and dear to my heart. My mother died a very slow horrible death after battling dementia,” said Ferrara. “I’m on the advocacy side—I want to help and inform patients. This medicine can make people feel more comfortable.”
Although Ferrara entered the industry as an advocate and investor, she is finding her way back to entrepreneurship. She is co-founder of Yazbeck Ferrara Partners, a business that co-invests in companies, connects them with their network, and helps them distribute products through strategic collaboration.
“My dream is to go back to what I know,” said Ferrara, referring to her 25 years of experience in television distribution. “It is clear that distribution in the cannabis industry is fragmented and not well established. Capturing this segment of the industry, both nationally and globally, and streamlining it is very exciting to me.”
Since her first investment in a Colorado growhouse, Ferrara has invested in the gamut of cannabis-related businesses—technology, packaging, consulting, digital publications and conferences. She is also a leader among cannabis activists in Illinois. She is a founding board member of the Illinois Cannabis Industry Association, and she applied for a dispensary license last summer, losing by just one point.
“It’s all very been very high risk,” she said. “It’s kind of coming together now but you have to put a lot of time into it. Stay on the pulse. Know who the players are. There is a lot of replication. There used to be one person in packaging, now there are many.”
Ferrara, like many seasoned venture capitalists and investors, believes in investing in the people behind the business, not just the business itself. She joined the team at Panther Media as the Vice President of New Business Development after realizing the dearth of data and information about the economics and finances of the industry. To strengthen these resources, Panther Media recently merged complimentary assets with MJIC Marijuana Index to form MJIC Media.
Ferrara also looks to back entrepreneurs who are willing to put some “skin in the game,” i.e., invest their own capital in the business, and sharpen their chops at an entrepreneurial boot camp. Perhaps more refreshingly, she encourages entrepreneurs to have fun while they’re building their businesses. She takes her own advice and says that one of her fondest memories of the industry was celebrating legal recreational cannabis in Colorado poolside at the Four Seasons with fellow ArcView members
“What surprises me and doesn’t surprise me is the amount of networking that it takes to venture into this new industry,” she said. “It is also very interesting to me that many of these people have never tried cannabis. They know this is an emerging market and they want to be on the forefront.”