A Progressive Future for Cannabis: Why Nitin Khanna Supports Portland-based Accelerator, The Initiative

Despite being one of the most promising emerging sectors of 2019, cannabis is still finding its footing as an industry. For Amy Margolis, founder of The Initiative and Big Tent Ventures, it’s essential that female leaders are at the table when these foundations are set. In an industry in which legal sales alone are expected to reach $22 billion by 2022, Margolis has been outspoken on the dangers of letting cannabis slip into becoming yet another male-dominated industry. The Initiative, an accelerator for female entrepreneurs and executives in cannabis, is her most direct effort to combat this; other movements are in the making. The founding of Big Tent Ventures, in coordination with leaders in the industry such as Nitin Khanna, is yet another example of Margolis’ commitment to her belief that cannabis can become the most progressive industry yet.

Of course, Margolis isn’t alone. Khanna, the former CEO of one of the globe’s largest cannabis oil providers, Cura Cannabis, has been a consistent supporter of her work. From assisting Margolis in securing funding for The Initiative to sitting on the advisory board for Big Tent Ventures, Nitin Khanna has provided ongoing personal advice and guidance throughout the ride. Described by Margolis as “always gracious and helpful,” Khanna’s background in entrepreneurship and extensive network across Oregon and California has made him an invaluable ally in the mission for a more progressive cannabis industry.

The Early Days of Cannabis

From founding the Oregon Cannabis Association to serving for nearly 20 years as an attorney focused on the subject, Amy Margolis knows cannabis inside and out. A lot has changed in two decades, however, and Margolis’ current efforts were largely borne from a need to prevent the industry from slipping too far from its origins.

Before the industry had acquired its celebrity “emerging” status, cannabis was a level playing field. Funding was still minimal, regulations were stricter, and uncertainty about the future of the industry was widespread. Consequently, female entrepreneurs were just as likely to get in on the ground floor as their male counterparts.

As the trend grew from medical exceptions to main street dispensaries, major funding was quick to follow. This flood of funds, however, began to follow a pattern that Margolis found disturbing. Despite the healthy presence of female workers in the industry, with 36 percent of executive positions held by women (over double the national average of 15 percent), funding was becoming a noticeably one-gendered issue. From where she stood, it was clear to Margolis that this pattern wasn’t going to correct itself. To prevent the cannabis industry from becoming a cautionary tale for women, she decided to take a stand.

Khanna and the Cannabis Industry

“He doesn’t do things because he has to or because the optics are good,” Margolis said recently of Khanna, admiring the serial entrepreneur’s rare commitment to “build[ing] an inclusive company.” This focus naturally attracted her to the culture that Khanna had created at Cura Cannabis during his time as CEO. Khanna was the first to insist that Cura Cannabis raise its minimum wage to set an example in the industry. He created a work environment that was repeatedly awarded as an Oregon Best Company to Work For. He also promoted the personal growth and career development of women across the organization.

Khanna’s emphasis on fostering a culture of growth and personal development might seem like a natural counterpart to the free-spirited, green-leafed vibes one might imagine in cannabis spaces. Curiously, while there’s plenty of free-loving spirit about, these environments don’t always make for successful business cases, particularly when it comes to larger corporations who have found success in the execution of operations, rather than the development of a progressive brand or employee culture. This is what makes Khanna’s commitment to excellence in the workplace so impressive. A man who is no stranger to running successful business operations, Khanna’s insistence on building “an inclusive company” is something that he and Margolis have connected on time and time again.

Big Tent Ventures

Most recently, Margolis teamed up with fellow trailblazer Tahira Rehmattulah, named one of the most powerful women in cannabis by Fortune Magazine, to open Big Tent Ventures. A fund with a focus on making cannabis investment opportunities available to women and individuals of color, it aims to raise $25 million. The majority of these funds will go right back into assisting initiatives led by female and minority founders.

Big Tent Ventures also marks the first opportunity for Khanna to hold an official role in a Margolis venture. While Khanna never had an official role with The Initiative, Margolis has commented on his ongoing informal advice and guidance. Unsurprisingly, then, with the announcement of Big Tent Ventures, Khanna was promptly appointed to the advisory board.

Tempering the “Green Rush”

Margolis is on a mission to ensure that cannabis manages its rapid expansion by “doing things the right way.” She, like many others, is aware of the green gold phenomenon that this budding industry has already attracted. The promise of any emerging industry is sure to bring its share of bad-faith actors and otherwise unscrupulous efforts. However, Margolis points out that cannabis is unlike the tech industry in some important ways. “You can’t go back and fix the mistakes,” she remarks. While tech companies have made progress at a remarkable pace due to techniques like “Sprint” and other agile, iteration-heavy strategies, cannabis isn’t quite so flexible; you can’t grow a new product line and bring it to testing in five days.

Across her many points of contact, Margolis’ approach focuses on the importance of setting sustainable foundations for the industry. This goes beyond infrastructure and operations; it touches directly on the culture, messaging, and makeup of a company. While The Initiative may have graduated only eight female entrepreneurs in its first year, don’t be fooled: Margolis has her eyes set on widespread change. With the assistance of major names and mentors such as Khanna, the hope is that ventures such as the Initiative and Big Tent will serve as beacons for the industry to follow in an effort to construct a foundation to sustain a progressive future for the cannabis industry.

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