Inaugural SheCann conference calls for inclusive cannabis industry

A panel on the legal challenges of the cannabis industry.

A panel on the legal challenges of the cannabis industry. Photo: Jim Block

More than 200 people packed Spieker Forum last Thursday for the inaugural SheCann Summit, a day-long event aimed at making sure women and minorities don’t get left out of the brand new, fast-growing legal cannabis industry.

SheCann organizers, clockwise from top: Fahed Essa, Steve Varacalli, Roberto Ortegon, Jordan Lee, Celeste Faaiuaso, and Nish Samant. Photo: Jim Block

SheCann organizers, clockwise from top: Fahed Essa, Steve Varacalli, Roberto Ortegon, Jordan Lee, Celeste Faaiuaso, and Nish Samant. Photo: Jim Block

“We decided to put on SheCann because we wanted to highlight the importance of having equitable representation in the industry,” said Fahed Essa, MBA/MPH 19, SheCann co-organizer and co-president of the Berkeley Cannabis Industry Club. Essa welcomed the intergenerational, diverse crowd to the event, which was co-presented by online shop and publication Miss Grass.

Event panels covered the cannabis legal landscape, industry investing and fundraising, marketing challenges, and conscious consumerism.

Essa said that Steve Varacalli, Berkeley Cannabis Industry Club co-founder and co-president, came up with the idea for a cannabis conference that would focus on women and social responsibility.

“We were trying to figure out what would stand out,” Essa said. Varacalli, MBA 19, said he’d been watching the cannabis industry evolve from his native Australia before he arrived at Haas—and was getting increasingly intrigued by the potential.

“It’s not often that you watch an industry get deregulated,” he said. “It’s so exciting.” Varacalli notes the group “is not a consumption club,” but instead aims to destigmatize the cannabis industry, as well as provide career, investment, and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Q&A lines were long during SheCann.

An audience question during a SheCann panel. Photo: Jim Block

An investor conversation covered topics ranging from how a cannabis company is valued to how to decide when it’s time to raise venture capital to how to choose a VC partner. In cannabis, venture funding can still be tricky since cannabis is legal in California but still illegal at the federal level.

Tahira Rehmatullah, managing partner at Hypur Ventures, advised entrepreneurs to do their homework before investor meetings and match the content of their pitches to whom they’re meeting with. “Your pitch won’t be the same for everyone you are talking to,” she said. As early stage companies, you aren’t expected to have to have all the answers, she said, “but we have to know that the check we give you has some sort of a plan behind it.”

On the fundraising side, Erin Gore, founder and president of medical cannabis company Garden Society, discussed her challenges in raising a $2 million Series A round, including walking away from an intense potential investor who reminded her of a bad boyfriend. “I had the courage to tell him no, and I had three weeks of payroll left….and I had to have the confidence that this was going to work,” she said, advising, “If it’s not right in your gut, don’t do it.”

All event ticket proceeds benefited The Hood Incubator, which works to increase the participation of underrepresented minority communities in the legal cannabis industry, and Success Centers, which empowers marginalized community members through education, employment, and art.

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