Although it has never been easier to start a legal cannabis business, it is still hard to get a business off of the ground. The business world is tough in any industry, but more so in one as competitive as the cannabis industry.
Many budding business owners enter the industry with one skill set or another, but often need help in the form of business services to fill in the gaps. Catherine Zito and Tom Crane want to help these people.
Serving as CEO and president, respectively, Zito and Crane co-founded American Wellness Business Association, a provider of support services for cannabis cultivators, dispensaries, and other businesses in the cannabis industry.
In her former career, Zito was the CEO for the marketing company Image Is It. Zito’s experience in the corporate world is what ultimately helped her make the transition into the cannabis industry.
According to Zito, the idea for AWBA came from a transformative trip to Ohio.
“During my travels to a family gathering in Ohio, we talked about the new frontier of cannabis,” Zito said. “I was so inspired that when I returned to Florida, I met with partner Tom Crane and we began writing a new business model unlike any other … .”
After Zito called several company meetings to discuss possibly transitioning into the cannabis industry, Zito and her team unanimously voted to switch gears; and American Wellness was born. It currently offers nine in-house services to its clients from business development, branding and logos, to web design, mobile apps, SEO, social media marketing and video production.
Although American Wellness Holding Company Inc., AWBA’s parent company, does not directly sell cannabis or edibles to consumers, its subsidiary, Grandma’s Wellness Kitchen, is a B2B distributor that works with 16 national strategic partners to provide dispensary owners products for their patients and customers in legalized states.
Zito credits her company’s success to its adaptable nature.
“We have a flexible business model. We don’t create packages and then try to sell them,” Zito said. “We let our audience tell us what they need and when they need it. All of our services and programs are a la carte.”
Grandma’s Wellness Kitchen also offers ancillary products such as seed-to-sale software and organic potting soil; plus, a collection of consumer products from CBD oil to hemp pain relievers and child-resistant packaging.
AWBA is looking forward to its construction of a medical marijuana facility in the North Las Vegas area, starting on January 1, 2016. The company has already acquired two cultivation and production licenses from the state of Nevada as well as permits for extracts and edibles.
In addition to working on a state of the art medical marijuana facility, AWBA has also been chosen as one of four sponsors for a fundraising event in Miami, Florida, meant to benefit the medical marijuana campaign currently underway in that state.
Despite current successes, Zito explained that federal regulations and the virtue of working in a fledgling market are the biggest challenges facing her company.
“We understand with big risk comes big reward, but in this space it will simply take time,” Zito said. “We’re here for the long-term and [to] join other entrepreneurs in making history.”
As a powerful woman in the marijuana industry, Zito said that while she had little trouble getting into the industry, there is still a gender imbalance.
“From my personal experience at national conferences, I’ve seen the ratio of about 100 women to 900 men,” Zito said. “Hopefully, we will see in the near future more female keynote speakers, educators, investors and inventors on stage.”
For women wanting to get into the industry, Zito recommends that budding entrepreneurs align themselves with like-minded individuals, educate themselves and join a few associations, like her organization AWBA or Women Grow.
Looking forward to the future, Zito and Crane foresee a legal marijuana market where medical marijuana patients can easily get the medicine they desperately need.
“Consistent research will show that cannabis can help those with life threatening diseases, cancer and pain management,” Zito said. “It will be a great day when we see the power taken away from the prescription drug companies and we educate our children about a safer and natural alternative.”