The top 10 cannabis entrepreneurs of 2018
These people are killing it—for a good cause.
It’s no secret that the cannabis industry is emerging as one of the most vital sectors of the economy.
And when an industry is enjoying a dizzyingly rapid ascent like this one, there are inevitably some business people who stand out from the crowd. It seems some forward-looking individuals have been busily establishing a niche in this nascent field of opportunity. Here, we present 10 of the most outstanding cannabis entrepreneurs in the world.
1. Steve DeAngelo, Harborside
Best known for founding the world’s largest medical marijuana dispensary, Harborside in Oakland, California, Steve DeAngelo is one of the most well-known cannabis entrepreneurs in the world. DeAngelo has become instantly recognizable with his trademark hat and pigtails. With his grounding in the medical side of the cannabis industry, DeAngelo understands the power of the movement. He knows that plenty of patients rely on medicinal cannabis for a quality of life above and beyond what pharmaceuticals offer.
A former member of the Youth International party (the “Yippies”), DeAngelo has deep roots in the community. He’s been a cannabis activist, advocate, and educator throughout his four decade career. But activism isn’t all Steve’s good at. He’s also an ace entrepreneur, having founded many successful, socially responsible ventures besides Harborside. He’s cofounder and president of the Arcview Group, formed to introduce investors to the cannabis industry through the Arcview Angel Investor Network. “Out of the shadows and into the light” is his motto, and he’s certainly shown his willingness to live those words.
2. Sara Gullickson, DispensaryPermits.com
Sara Gullickson, founder of DispensaryPermits.com, is one of few cannabis entrepreneurs who have been actively involved in the industry since its birth. She founded her company in 2010 to offer seed-to-sale services which could support other cannabis entrepreneurs. That makes it one of the longest standing medical marijuana consulting companies in the industry.
As founder and CEO of Scottsdale, Arizona-based DispensaryPermits.com, Gullickson has secured multiple licenses for clients in 10 states. She’s provided operational and dispensary opening consultations from the East Coast to Hawaii. As part of her work connecting and empowering the next generation of cannabis entrepreneurs, she became a founding member of Women Grow, a national group founded to support women looking to get into the industry.
3. Mike Ray, Bloom Farms
Mike Ray’s Bloom Farms, headquartered in Calaveras County, California, used to work as a hedge fund trader in New York City. But he became “disgusted” at the behavior of some financial institutions and decided to change his lifestyle and get back to his roots. Ray reconnected with some childhood friends who were successfully growing medical marijuana, and saw an opportunity he wanted to seize, reports Business News Daily.
“I absorbed as much as I could,” Ray said. “I started cultivating. I examined how the sales channels worked. I found the industry was just a bunch of people who cared about other people.” He launched Bloom Farms to emphasize the health benefits and lifestyle he associated with the plant. Ray is one of the most socially conscious cannabis entrepreneurs around. His company now engages in community initiatives including its “One-For-One” program, providing a meal to a person in need for every product sold. The program provided a quarter-million meals to four California food banks in 2016 alone.
4. Cassandra Farrington, Marijuana Business Daily
Former Citigroup executive Cassandra Farrington helms the Marijuana Business Daily, a.k.a. MJBIZ Daily. The publication hosts a huge trade conference, the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo, which drew more than 14,000 attendees last November in Las Vegas. It’s become the largest B2B gathering in the legal weed business, reports Forbes.
“We’re not a lifestyle publication or a culture magazine or a celebration of the plant-type publication,” Farrington clarifies. “We are truly all about the dollars, cents, actions, partnerships, the business side of the industry. It’s a huge industry, not just in the United States, but globally and getting bigger every day.” Farrington has discovered a healthy demand for news on the cannabiz, including tax policy, licensing and regulation.
5. John Lord, LivWell
John Lord is sole owner of Colorado powerhouse company LivWell Enlightened Health, which holds a reported 14 pot shop licenses, half of them in the Denver area. LivWell Enlightened Health also has operations in Cortez, Trinidad, Garden City, and Mancos. Lord, a native of New Zealand, started out with just one dispensary in 2010. By the time recreational sales began in Colorado, Lord owned the most medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, at seven.
Lord’s entry into the cannabis space was happenstance. He’d been renting a warehouse he owned to a group who grew weed in it, reports Leafbuyer. The group suddenly vacated the premises, leaving him with a warehouse full of plants. Lord took that as a sign to enter the industry. LivWell became the first dispensary to have celebrity-endorsed cannabis products after the company partnered with Snoop Dogg for branded lines of flower, edibles and concentrates, reports Westword. LivWell also has one store in Oregon, and has acquired an ownership stake in an Alberta cannabis producer as Canada readies for recreational legalization this year.
6. Amber E. Senter, Leisure Life
Amber Senter was presented with the “Leadership Award” recently by Industry Power Women, a group created to help recognize and advance female business leaders and entrepreneurs. IPW honored Senter at a brunch and awards show in Las Vegas for her influence on the cannabis community, and her role in the advancement of women in it.
Senter has enjoyed successful careers both in and out of the cannabis industry. A veteran of the Coast Guard, she had a lucrative career providing design and marketing services to Fortune 500 companies. After moving to California to work full-time in the cannabis industry, Amber founded Leisure Life, a “lifestyle” infused edibles company, where she serves as CEO. She’s also CEO and cofounder of the preroll brand California Rolls. Senter somehow finds time to serve as chief operations officer of Magnolia Wellness as well as being COO of Eureka Management Services (she’s a busy lady!). In 2015, she co-founded Supernova Women, a nonprofit committed to helping women of color prosper in the cannabis industry. The group focuses on helping women network and on empowering them through education.
7. Troy Dayton, Arcview Group
Troy Dayton is co-founder (along with Steve DeAngelo) and CEO of the San Francisco-based investor network Arcview Group, founded in 2010. He’s also an elected board member at the Marijuana Policy Project and a founding board member of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). Troy is a co-founder of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which is now on more than 200 college campuses.
Dayton helped launch Renewable Choice Energy, recently named the #1 green power provided by the EPA. Fortune says he’s one of the top 7 most powerful people in the cannabis industry. ArcView’s latest report on the legal cannabis market estimates the industry will reach $6.5 billion in U.S. sales this year, and could hit $21.8 billion by 2020. “Millions of people wake up in California not afraid of their government,” Dayton said after recreational sales began in California this year. “This gives meaning to what we do.”
8. Diane Czarkowski, Canna Advisors
Diane Czarkowski, founding partner (along with her husband, Jay) at Canna Advisors, is one of the industry’s original cannabis entrepreneurs. She’s been influential on the cannabis market since its early stages, and helped it develop into one of America’s fastest growing industries. She brings decades of career success in high-tech and real estate to the table. Czarkowski founded one of the first dispensary and cultivation facilities in Colorado.
Canna Advisors has earned an enviable track record in the cannabis industry. She focuses on her clients’ operational needs, overseeing HR, accounting, marketing, PR, IT and client services.
9. Vic Neufeld, Aphria
Growing up on a peach farm in Ontario, Vic Neufeld made an important decision: He didn’t want to be a farmer, reports CBC News. Instead, he chose a career in accounting, which was followed by 21 years serving as CEO of Jamieson Vitamins. But life takes some unpredictable turns sometimes. Neufeld, rather than retire, decided on one more career move—you guessed it, cannabis farming.
Previously, over two decades, Neufield had taken Jamieson from a small vitamin company to a leading brand commanding 27 percent of the Canadian market, and with sales in more than 40 countries. When the company sold in 2014, his old high school buddy Cole Cacciavillani, who was running his family’s greenhouse, called and explained to him the opportunities in the cannabis business. Aphria, a company with the mission to grow pharmaceutical-grade medical marijuana, is now expanding its production facility and getting a license to export cannabis oil. It already has a deal with Australian biotech Medlab Clinical Ltd. to provide cannabis oil for clinical trials for cancer patients.
10. Amanda Reiman, Flow Kana
Amanda Reiman, Ph.D., MSW, took home the Influence of the Year Award presented by Industry Power Women last November in Las Vegas. That didn’t come out of nowhere. Reiman’s interested in the cannabis industry began when she became aware of the culture of medical marijuana dispensaries in Oakland. She worked as manager of Marijuana Law and Policy for the Drug Policy Alliance, fighting to for legalization and justice for communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
Reiman is now vice president of Community Relations at Flow Kana, a cannabis distribution company that works with small, outdoor farmers. She continues to teach women who are new to the industry. She is also secretary of the International Cannabis Farmer’s Association, a nonprofit advocating research and policies that favor sun-grown cannabis cultivation through traditional farming methods.