Director of Social Impact Jennifer Lujan talks about how the accelerator program was designed to support underrepresented founders.
This year, Eaze, a community-based advisory committee, and our partners at Ultranative and Bail Capital invited hundreds of entrepreneurs for an opportunity to earn $50K grants for their cannabis companies. Ten companies were chosen — and now, they embark on a ten week intensive that gives them access to industry experts, vital resources and specialized training. Jennifer Lujan, the Director of Social Impact at Eaze, explains the program and the intent behind it:
INTERVIEWER: What is Momentum?
JENNIFER LUJAN: The Momentum Program is a business accelerator that’s focused on underrepresented founders in the cannabis space and really allowing to give them resources, education, and funding so that we can basically support them on their way and help them become successful entrepreneurs.
And what was the inspiration for the Momentum Program?
As part of my role working in social impact, I was constantly meeting different community organizations. I met founders all the time who all had something similar. What they all had in common were the same industry challenges. Even Eaze has faced so many different hurdles, whether it had to do with regulations, banking, access to capital — so you can imagine all of these smaller entrepreneurs were really struggling.
We saw that there are a lot of people who are interested in the industry, who are starting their business, who are getting licenses — and then two years in they would end up dropping off. simply because they couldn’t afford to do business in this industry anymore. The hurdles were just too many. So, when we would be out there in the community, I would get folks who would ask me these questions like, ‘Hey, do you have anybody that could help me with a legal question or do you have someone who could help me from a marketing standpoint?”
It was really kind of a no-brainer for us because we have a whole suite of business resources. We have an HR team, we have a marketing team, we have a growth and analytics team, we have a legal team. We were already consulting so many businesses on our platform. Why shouldn’t we be helping more folks that went beyond just people on the platform?
So I would send these folks off to our legal team and they would help them. They could be able to answer the questions and at the same time probably save them hundreds of dollars, if not thousands of dollars, had they had to go find an attorney to basically do that same work. We were doing this informally for a while and then through that process I realized, “Why don’t we just formalize this? How can we make this so we’re not just a brand that’s just a technology platform, but we’re also extending our resources and everything that we have in our ecosystem to folks who really need it most.”
Why did Eaze decide to launch this program? Why is it important to Eaze?
Eaze exists because of it’s ecosystem. It’s our investors, it’s our distributors. It’s all of our dispensary partners. It’s our brands. Eaze wouldn’t be able to be where we are if it wasn’t for our industry partners as part of this. And then we realized that this is a more of a movement. We’re still struggling as an industry. We are still struggling with federal status. We’re still struggling with banking and all these different regulations and legislation from a federal standpoint.
If we don’t start this from the beginning and we don’t start this right now, how are we going to, as an industry, be able to defeat and really overcome all of these hurdles? So we’ve collectively made sure that we’re being inclusive of all these businesses to make sure that we’re all supporting each other as one.
And so how did you choose what companies would go through the incubator?
When we started the program, we were already working with different community organizations, finding folks who had these great ideas and maybe were still in the process of applying for their license and needed a first step into the industry. Who are the folks that are licensed? Who are the people that really need this most? And we realize that’s underrepresented founders. So we looked for social equity folks — veterans, people of color, people who’ve been impacted by the war on drugs, people who are interested in sort of moving from the illicit market into the legal market.
And these were already experts and know their craft better than pretty much most people in the industry, in the legal industry, but just needed the business sense and the business help. So we asked those folks to apply to the program and through that we got, you know, over 130 applications. We created an advisory selection committee that consisted of community leaders, people who are offering social equity, technical assistance, media investors, businesses to make up this group. And then they decided on the final 10.
What did the application process look like for those it?
It was very thorough. I mean, we asked everything about their business, we asked them to upload all of their licenses and make sure that they verified.
But we also asked about who they were as people. What’s your background if you’ve been impacted by the war on drugs? What’s your story? Where do you come from? We wanted them to paint a picture of who they are beyond the quantitative metrics. And then through that, you know, we were able to really sort of narrow it down.
What are some of the interesting characteristics?
What ended up happening is that most of all of these businesses are social equity verified, which was interesting. Most of them are people of color. They all have these amazing stories of how hard they really hustled. And so it made me really excited about the class that was chosen because you can tell that hard work pays off and so these folks really deserve to have the funding and to be part of this class.
What is the future of the incubator?
I would love to see that this class continue to be the first class, one of many. I think that being able to see how much of a need there is for this kind of initiative. I really want to make sure that we continue to do this year after year, and also that this builds, that this is inspirational to other businesses who want to do the same thing.
Over the course of the next few months, we’ll be introducing you to our founders and showcasing their exciting businesses. Stay tuned to meet the incredible inaugural class!