Competencies of the Successful Cannabis Entrepreneur


It’s as simple as this: in the growing cannabis industry you can either sink or swim. Everyone wants a piece of the cannabis pie, but the reality is, not everyone has the competencies to survive in this industry.

Competencies are knowledge, skills and attributes you can develop in every aspect of your life. Competencies go beyond just being able to do something; they represent what you bring to work: both your past, your present, and your future, and what value you bring to the table.

Whether you are a start-up business, an entrepreneur looking for investors, or are on your way to developing a multi-million-dollar cannabis business, the development and maintenance of competencies should be a priority within your career.

Here are some core competencies that Growing Talent has identified for the cannabis industry:

Respect for Diversity (Walk the Walk)

There is a problem brewing with diversity in the cannabis industry. MJBizDaily recently reported on women and minorities in cannabis, showing that trends where 75% of leadership roles in companies are held by men. The number of women in executive positions in cannabis has fallen 9% between 2015 and 2017.

Only 1% of America’s dispensaries are black-owned. Only 20% of those with an ownership stake in cannabis companies identify as minorities. Founders and owners of cannabis businesses are 81% white, with only 6.7% identifying as “other”, 5.7% identifying as Hispanic or Latino, 4.3% identifying as African American, and 2.3% identifying as Asian.

We want to tip the scales to a cannabis future where minorities have true representation.

Cannabis entrepreneurs owe the cannabis industry the fresh start it deserves in terms of building equitable cannabis structures. Take a look at your cannabis business and see whether your workforce is truly diverse. Consider strategies that will allow you to increase the diversity of your workforce, or implement a diversity hiring strategy within your cannabis businesses.

Most importantly walk the walk of diversity, rather than just talking the talk. Recent critics of cannabis say that the industry is trying to elevate cannabis from its racist past by “whitewashing” the industry. Make sure the industry you put forth is truly representative of the people of America, not just the white people who are seemingly dominating the industry.


The cannabis industry is ever-changing, especially in terms of compliance. Earlier this year in California, businesses were scrambling to meet the new July 1 requirements that enforced changes to testing, packaging and labeling, and potency limits on cannabis edibles. For many cannabis companies, like Papa & Berkley and Caliva, who are topping the markets in their categories, it was an all-hands-on-deck approach with a bit of trial and error to get things right.

“We started preparing for July 1 regulations in earnest by January 1st. It wasn’t easy,” Dennis O’Malley, CEO of Caliva told Green Market Report “We cycled through a couple different testing labs until we felt confident we found the best.”

The successful cannabis entrepreneur doesn’t only keep up with the market, it stays ahead of the market by looking forward to regulations, and being prepared to make changes early; not just at the last minute.

Corporate Citizenship

“In 2018, the expectation is that companies will continue to expand their activism on, and investment in, the issues that matter to their employees, customers and communities,” says Susan McPherson in Forbes about corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Both large companies and small start-ups are being called to the table to come forth with a commitment to CSR, whether it’s a dedication to expanding diversity, forward-thinking activism, or raising the bar for quality standards across the industry.

Recently rebranded as “corporate citizenship” for the cannabis industry, industry leaders are examining how the cannabis business effects the economy and the environment, putting important CSR programs in place to give back and make their businesses more sustainable.

Commitment to Continuous Learning

There is never enough to learn about cannabis. Thankfully for the industry, now accredited academic institutions and private colleges are offering professional development opportunities for cannabis professionals. Private colleges offer courses that range from a few hours a few days include Green CultureED, Oaksterdam University, Cannabis Training Institute, and The Trichome Institute among many others.

Growing Talent offers an Incubator where black and brown entrepreneurs and startups can grow their business. This program offers courses like “Social Equity 101” and helps businesses with funding to bring their business plans to full fruition.

Cannabis professionals can also benefit from going back to school to get a formal degree from an accredited university, as more big-ticket cannabis jobs are looking for formal, and even graduate-level education. “For cultivation, I look for students with a degree related to agriculture. For extraction, I will look for someone with a chemistry or biology degree and background. For inventory, I look for MBA and supply management degrees and so on,” says Lilach Mazor Power, CEO, and co-founder of The Giving Tree, a cultivation center, to Forbes.

Collaboration Over Competition

As hard as it is to let go of full ownership of a company, sometimes the best businesses make themselves bigger by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Mergers and acquisitions are happening all over cannabis. From MadMen, Constellation Brands, to Canopy, joining forces is seeming to be the way to go to help elevate cannabis brands on the large and small scale.

Cannabis businesses are pooling resources too.

Again, take the July 1 regulations changes in California as an example. Instead of folding under the new pressures of the State of California’s expectations, companies joined forces and pooled resources to make manufacturing and distribution possible under the new guidelines.

The point here is that you can’t expect to corner the market by doing it alone, especially with the increasing cost of real estate, licensing, and operations fees and the ever-changing regulations. For any cannabis business, there are likely hundreds of competitors. There is a quote that says “Competitors know your business best,”; when businesses remain open to collaboration, and a possible merger or acquisition, they double their force, success, and potential for profit. 

Do You Have What It Takes?

The cannabis industry isn’t for the weak of heart. What competencies do you possess that will ensure that you will succeed in this often-difficult industry?

Take a moment to research more competencies and do a Competency Inventory. Keep dedicated to developing your competencies, recognizing every experience gives you something to put into your professional toolbox.