"We still have have very challenging times raising money. Because no matter how intelligent I am, I can't change how I look when I walk into a room, and the fact that I'm a woman of color in cultivation." — Rebecca Colett
"You talk about that 2% of cannabis businessses being owned by Black and brown people, but for women of color, it's even less than that. Ownership is less than 1%. So when I walk into a room, yeah, it's very challenging." — Rebecca Collet
"How we've been able to grow continuously is by investing in ourselves, by starting small, making profits and reinvestments into the company. We are proving to people who didn't invest in us in the beginning that we can do this. And we've done it on our own with no investors." — Rebecca Colett
"There are so many hurdles we have to overcome that the other side doesn't even think about. They are starting at step five. We are starting at -15. Just to get to zero, there's so much education—real estate, business acumen, things that we have to learn just to level the playing field." — Rebecca Colett
"One of the reasons that we have this large gap of diversity in ownership and in employment in the cannabis industry is because people that look like us just don't know. They don't know about the opportunity. They don't know how to apply for a license. They don't know how to do a build out. They don't have construction acumen, they don't know what a valuation is. They don't know how to put together projections. So it's this huge educational gap that I think that we can work to solve as a population, no matter the color or creed you subscribe to, is we can help with the education." — Rebecca Colett
"Without the education, you might as well not open the door to the room because you won't be able to successfully fill out a license application, you won't be able to have a pitch deck that's going to be able to attract investors because you don't even know what to put in a pitch deck. You come to me as an investor and ask me, can I invest in you? And I ask you, well, what's the return like? You don't even know what a return is. You don't even know how to start. So it's really this education gap that I feel the community—and specifically the cannabis community—can help fill by educating people color about opportunities [...] because posting about it, tweeting about it, and having these one-off events is not going to solve the problem." — Rebecca Colett
Kwaku Abankroh: [00:00:04] What's going on, everybody? My name is Kwaku. I'm here with my buddy Jalen, representing Dutchie, talking to the fabulous Rebecca Colett of Calyxeum. How are you today?
Rebecca Colett: [00:00:14] Hi. I'm doing great. How are you guys?
Kwaku Abankroh: [00:00:17] We're doing all right. Thank you for taking a little bit of time for our BHM spotlight. I think a great place to start is telling us a little bit more about yourself and how you got into the cannabis game. I think you are an HBCU graduate. Feel free to shout it out.
Rebecca Colett: [00:00:38] Yes, I bleed orange and green! Very passionate about the Rattlers. Thank you guys for this. I really appreciate it. Happy Black History Month. My name is Rebecca Colett. I'm the CEO of Calyxeum. And Calyxeum is a cultivation and processing brand based in Detroit, Michigan. We supply high cost, high quality products to dispensaries around the state of Michigan. I'm very excited to be here. I got into cannabis many years ago as an advocate and as a medical patient myself, using cannabis for a myriad of reasons. It really saved my life and I started being a caregiver for close friends and family around me. And then as I was kind of matriculating through the industry and found out about the business side, I started going to these conferences and realizing that there was really nobody that looked like me. And being a consumer myself, I'm like, this is not the cannabis industry. This is not how it should look. So I just came really passionate about becoming an operator in increase in diversity from that standpoint in the in the industry. So here we are. Fast forward to today, Calyxeum is an adult-use cultivator and processor in the state of Michigan.
Jalen Jones: [00:01:55] So I actually got piqued by your brand via LinkedIn. You're very active on LinkedIn, but from there, I bought one of the dope "support Black growers" hats, right? Didn't really realize I'd be going to have this full circle moment that I'd be able to give your brand and that Dutchie would be able to give your brand a spotlight. But I'm excited to be able to give a Black woman a spotlight in our industry because, as you know, we have less than 2% ownership is by Black and brown folks. And then we have these different movements that are really starting to cement themselves like "buy weed from women". As we understand, you also have a background in tech. So how has that played a role as you start to navigate the operator stance from a cultivator and processor?
Rebecca Colett: [00:02:47] Yeah, so my corporate background is in finance and tech. I was an engineer before I fully transitioned into the cannabis industry. One of the reasons that I feel we have we kind of have competitive advantages in comparison to other cannabis companies is because of my background is using a lot of the supply chain and operations background that I do have in this cannabis industry. In this cannabis industry, you have to do more than just grow fire flower. You have to know how to run a business, you have to be efficient, you have to have SOPs, processes in place to make sure you're compliant and make sure you are monitoring your money and how many taxes you're spending. So I think our background in corporate really kind of helped us transition into the cannabis industry. Being an operator, I do see that it is a gap in the cannabis industry to have operations experience, to be organized, to have processes and procedures, and they really helped us in the long run to have all of that kind of structure around around what we do in cultivation and processing.
Kwaku Abankroh: [00:04:03] Let's talk about the game that you're in. We're in the game of cannabis and we understand a lot of the things that you're doing today. You know, the chips are stacked against you. If we look at some of the statistics, I think it's less than 5% of cannabis business owners are Black people. But we have four times the likelihood of getting arrested. I'd love for you to talk about the difficulties of getting into this game in the first place. Let's start with money funding. I think I saw that you've been doing some crowdfunding as well, but how were you able to get the funding to get this project off the ground?
Rebecca Colett: [00:04:43] Yeah, I was going to say, how much time do I have to talk about the hurdles? Because we're going to need a whole day to talk about that. Funding definitely is one of the largest hurdles, and to be honest with you guys, we no matter how much of a unicorn we are, I have two master's degrees, so does my co-founder—our team is like extremely decorated with accolades and experience and diversity. Even us, we still have have very challenging times raising money because no matter how intelligent I am, I can't change how I look when I walk into a room, which is my skin color and the fact that I'm a woman of color in cultivation. So you talk about that 2%, but for women of color and ownership is less than 1% in all of America. So when I walk into a room, they're like, well, you know, the faces. So, I mean, it's been very challenging for us. How we've been able to grow continuously is by investing in ourselves, by starting small, making profits and reinvestment into the company. We are proving to people who didn't invest in us in the beginning that we can do this. And we've done it on our own with no investors. Me and my co-founder own majority of the company still. And we're continuing to expand now just by ourselves. We, last year, had a small crowdfunding raise because we really are passionate about getting people educated about the cannabis industry, included in the cannabis industry. And there are many people out there that think cannabis is sexy and a hit. And so if they want to put their money where their mouth is, I'd rather them invest in a privately-held Black women-owned company versus a publicly traded company that does nothing to do with diversity. So we had a small crowdfunding raise last year that went well, and we plan on doing another one here shortly here this year. But yeah, funding has been so challenging. I think where we kind of have learned is, you know, once you kind of acquire real estate and licenses, there are other funding avenues that open. But it's still a challenge. There's still a challenge of being newer in the industry and maybe not having the financials or the traction. It's hard to raise money as a startup pre-revenue, and it's been challenging. And instead of just throwing in the towel, we decided to invest in ourself and start small. And then become medium, and then become schmedium. Like we've just been growing, slowly but surely, to where we are today.
Kwaku Abankroh: [00:07:32] I love to hear that. And I know that in this game, we're used to a lot of white dudes in suits, you know, that's what we're used to seeing in that world.
Rebecca Colett: [00:07:43] A lot! They all look like that.
Kwaku Abankroh: [00:07:45] Yeah.
Rebecca Colett: [00:07:46] They aint' ever smoked no weed before, so, yeah.
Kwaku Abankroh: [00:07:49] Yeah.
Rebecca Colett: [00:07:50] Especially in cultivation. You know, many people have doubts that we can even grow weed, that women can even grow weed. Which is so silly. But yeah, that's often times... like y'all can't grow no fire. All right, cool. Instead of me saying what we can do, I'm just going to show you. And so that's what we've been doing is focus on execution and not gossip, but focusing on execution.
Kwaku Abankroh: [00:08:14] I love to hear that. Focusing on execution. I think that's something that Jaylen resonates with. I resonate with is just having to always show up and show and prove, whether it's in our space on the tech side or your space dealing with the actual play. I want to continue on and just let's talk about Michigan itself and let's drill into Detroit. I know I'm not the best versed in Detroit and Detroit's social equity and that whole lane, but I believe there's been some hold up in getting people their licenses and getting people off the ground. How has that affected your business in trying to put your product into people's doors?
Rebecca Colett: [00:08:56] Yeah. Detroit... there should be a documentary on just Detroit cannabis. Detroit, and I'm not talking about, 'cause I'm from here, you know I got all this pride, but Detroit and Michigan is a very mature cannabis market. I mean, we've had a caregiver model since 2008 and we've had a home grow, so there is a lot of very talented cultivators here. And there's a there's a huge cannabis culture here, much like in California and in many parts of the West Coast. I call it really like the L.A. of the Midwest really, that's Detroit. So there's a very high positive response to cannabis in Detroit. From like the residents, but there's a lot of greed, like there is and many other cities and states. So maybe about two years ago, in the middle of the pandemic, there was a ordinance put together by Detroit City Council to enact [recreational]. So a little like backwards is Michigan has been [recreational] since December 2019. However, all the states around Michigan, much like in many other states, have had their choice of whether or not they want to opt in to [recreational]. So Detroit chose not to opt in in December 2019 and instead take some time to revisit cannabis and and put together an ordinance that really put diversity first. Because when you look at the metrics of the medical cannabis market in Michigan and specifically Detroit, there were maybe 2 to 5% of Black ownership seen in the Blackest city in America, in Detroit, there was no Black ownership. So you can see how the math ain't mathin. So the city council was like, no, we not about to opt into [recreational]. We want to put together a program that puts diversity first so we can assure when we go [recreational] in the city that we will have Black ownership. So they put together an ordinance that really put a lot of social equity in there and it got struck down by a lawsuit. Somebody said that the ordinance was unconstitutional because it prioritized social equity applicants. And as you guys know, since you guys are men of color in America, what priority do we have? Like, there are so many hurdles that we have to overcome that the other side doesn't even think about. Like they are starting at step five. We are starting at -15. So even to get to ground zero, there's so much education, you know, real estate, business acumen, things that we have to learn to even level the playing field. So city council tried to, in their words, level the playing field. And the first ordinance got struck down by a federal judge. They said the ordinance was unconstitutional. Then, city council made a second ordinance with some social equity provisions that was, you know, still trying to put diversity first. And that got a lawsuit and went through court for many, many months. And at the end of that, though, the city of Detroit won. And so Detroit is now recreational. We went recreational earlier this year, the retail went recreational earlier this year. And so we're excited in regards to us as we're cultivators and processors. It did put us back quite a bit. I mean, you can imagine how challenging it is to not be able to have your product in the city of Detroit because they are still medical. So it's been challenging to kind of grow our brand a little bit. But like I said in the beginning, a call like no matter what the hurdles are, we're still going to execute. Like at no time have we stopped, no matter what the hurdle is. We've just decided a pivot and we just you know, you don't let us in the front door, we're just going to go through the side. So we've been going through the side doors and getting our products in other cities around the state of Michigan that are recreational. And now that Detroit is [recreational], I'm really excited about that opportunity for our city. Slowly but surely there are rec stores popping up every day. So I'm just really excited for what Detroit is going to really show the world and really show the rest of the state of Michigan on how to prioritize diversity and still win.
Jalen Jones: [00:13:52] Yeah, that's very well said. And through the perseverance that your team has shown and the expertise that you now have to pass forward to the next that follow in your footsteps. What's the best way for people not only of color but of all walks of life to be able to support Black and brown folks that are looking to enter the cannabis industry?
Rebecca Colett: [00:14:22] Just don't talk about it, be about it. That's the main thing. Put your money where your mouth is and put some action behind it. There's a few things there. To me, there are three very large barriers to entry. So you got capital, real estate, and education. And a lot of people maybe can't help people with real estate acquisition or actual money, but they can help with education. One of the reasons that we have this large gap of diversity in ownership and in employment in the cannabis industry is because people that look like us just don't know. They don't know about the opportunity. They don't know how to apply for a license. They don't know where to go, they don't know how to do a license application. They don't know how to do a build out. They don't know construction acumen, they don't know what a valuation is. They don't know how to put together projections. So it's this huge educational gap that I think that we can work to solve as a population, no matter the color or creed you subscribe to, is we can help with the education, I think. So I think that's really the largest yet, because I sincerely believe, like once we have the knowledge, we then have the tools to enter the room. Without the education, you might as well not open the door to the room because you won't be able to successfully fill out a license application, you won't be able to have a pitch deck that's going to be able to attract investors because you don't even know what to put in a pitch deck. You know, you want to open up a grow, and you come to me as an investor and ask me, can I invest in you? And I ask you, well, what's the return like? You don't even know what a return is. You don't even know how to start. So it's really this education gap that I feel the community and specifically the cannabis community to help feel is starts to educate people of color about opportunities of employment in the cannabis industry. Start to educate people of color around incubators or free programs or subsidized programs that may be available. You know, introduce them to webinars they can follow, introduce them to YouTube channels or bloggers or influencers they can follow to start to get information about license types, taxes, 280e, what a budtender is, what sativa is. Education all around is, I think, really kind of like where we can start as a community to to fix this diversity problem because posting about it, tweeting about it, and having these one-off events is not going to solve the problem.
Jalen Jones: [00:17:05] See. Now, listen, initially we plan to ask you a pretty cheesy question about what your favorite strain was, what new hype you got coming out. But now following down this conversation... you said the front door isn't open and we're now going around the side door. But through the Detroit Cannabis Project, it sounds like y'all are now just kicking down the back door altogether. So can we spend some time talking about what the Detroit Cannabis Project is and what your goals are through this incubator?
Rebecca Colett: [00:17:34] Yes, Jaylen, we burnin' the building down. We like, this building is messed up, we finna just renovate the whole thing. So not only—like when I got into the cannabis industry at first, I was a consultant and advocate and then I became an owner/operator in it. In all of those roles I had, diversity was an issue, like always. When I go to a conference, you know, I'm the only Black woman, you know, very few persons of color. And so then I get to this like goal, which is, oh, I'm an operator now. And so now I'm in this operator world and I'm like, don't nobody look like me. Nobody looks like me. How can we solve this? And we can't really invest in people because we need money ourself. We can't get nobody, no real estate because that costs a lot of money. But what can we do? We can put together a educational programing curriculum to help people matriculate into the industry through licensing, through career opportunities. So the Detroit Cannabis Project is a social equity, all-inclusive technical assistance business incubator. We focus on all business operational topics that are included in the cannabis industry. We are the official technical assistance provider for the city of Detroit. So if you are potentially looking at a license in Detroit, they will point you to us and to our program. And we have three different types of programs. We have a Business Plan bootcamp which is a very, very intensive immersive program, teaching you all the sections that should be included in a cannabis business plan. A misnomer out there is that, oh, I know how to create a business plan, I'll be fine. No, you will not, because the cannabis business plan has nuances that has very specific niche information like waste and nuisance mitigation and transportation procedures. Like could you write that? Probably not. But through our Cannabis Business Plan bootcamp, you could probably learn something to submit a compliant business plan. We also have a long-standing webinar series where every week we talk about different operational topics. We break down either certain license types or we invite a CPA in to talk about 280e, we invite a marketing person to come in and talk about why marketing a cannabis brand is different than any other industry. We talk about sloppy accounting operations, the whole gamut, and then we have some other program in this highly immersive where we either pair some advanced people with somebody in the industry. So, you know, if they have specific questions or things like that, they can get a mentor and kind of talk to them about their specific license types that they want to be a retailer. We paired them up with a retailer, so we also have a mentorship program. So it's really... like when I say I just don't walk it, like I talk it, I actually do—it's a lot of people out here who have quotes in tweets about social equity, but they not doing nothing. Okay? So I got into the industry. Me and my team realized it was mad white. Everybody was white, everybody was men. How can we change this? And we put together an educational program about two years ago, and thus far we've educated close to 350 social equity entrepreneurs from around the Midwest on how to get into the cannabis industry. We've had several job fairs, so not only people who are interested in being a licensee, we've also had job fairs where different cannabis brands come and hire people who want to work in the cannabis industry. And this is only the beginning. This year we are expanding our program to the West Coast, so I'm really excited about that. So yeah. I mean, you know, think about Calyxeum as an execution brand like, you know, yeah, we complain, but we really try to think about solutions that could fill a lot of these problems, not just talk about it.
Kwaku Abankroh: [00:21:56] I love to hear it. There are so many times that you end up having these conversations and people, you know, speaking and all these like way above your head, you know, things that just really don't get to the nitty gritty of what actually needs to happen. Getting licenses, learning about the game, learning about the product that you're selling. All these things are things that allow someone entry so they can become a budtender and quickly rise to become a manager. Or they can join one of these brands that make products and they can ask questions that show that they're interested and grow themselves. So one day being more like you. Thank you for that work and thank you for sharing a little bit. And if folks want to learn more about it, Detroit Cannabis Project, go ahead and look that up online. As we wrap up, tell us where we can find your goods and also how folks can support Detroit Cannabis Project.
Rebecca Colett: [00:22:54] Yes. Thank you guys again for today. You can follow, Calyxeum. And we produce a lot of educational program programing and a lot of fire. You can follow us on our website. Calyxeum dot com, IG @Calyxeum_Detroit. You can find our products around the state of Michigan. Our largest retailer right now is High Profukle, which I believe is a Dutchie store, so what up? We are in all of their Michigan stores around the state. And if you want more specifics, follow us on IG. Go to our website to see a more robust list of all the stores we're in. Are all the cities we're in. You can support Detroit Cannabis Project by also following us for IG and visit our website and find out more information about our programs and stuff like that at Detroit Cannabis Project dot com.
Kwaku Abankroh: [00:23:45] Amazing. Rebecca Colette, thank you for your time. Jaylen Jones I'll see you for the next one. My name is Kweku Wear with Dutchy. Thank you again and Happy Black History Month to you and everyone else. Listen to this interview.
Jalen Jones: [00:23:58] Buy weed from women!