A Portland lawyer has founded Oregon's first cannabis accelerator program and co-working and events space—and she is dedicating it to boosting women entrepreneurs and their weed businesses.
Amy Margolis has opened the Commune, a 4,000-square-foot "gathering space," on the third floor of an Old Town office building. (It quietly launched last week with a fundraising dinner for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.)
Starting next month, she'll use it as headquarters for the Initiative, a cannabis accelerator that aims to help women-owned marijuana businesses obtain venture-capital funding and grow quickly.
"The most important thing we'll do here is teach people how to raise money," Margolis says. "It's the first accelerator in the country dedicated to women-owned cannabis businesses. The hope is that many of these women will receive significant funding."
The Initiative will start with a three-month program for eight businesses, which must each have at least one female founder. It will begin taking applications Sept. 1 from across the country.
Cannabis accelerators are blossoming nationwide—including in Boulder, Colo., Oakland, Calif., and Las Vegas. Accelerators function much like business incubators, but instead of helping startups find their legs, accelerators aid existing companies in rapid growth.
The Initiative's board of directors includes Amanda Reiman of the Drug Policy Alliance, cannabis genome mapper Mowgli Holmes and Rick Turoczy, who founded the Portland tech incubator Pie.
"We've seen so much incubator and accelerator activity purely focused on software pursuits," Turoczy says. "What stands out to me is this takes the accelerator model and applies it to a different industry. Amy's focused on women entrepreneurs and providing a mentoring space for them."
Some cannabis accelerators have shied away from working with businesses that have direct contact with weed, fearing federal crackdowns on legal markets. The Initiative will welcome them.
"This is absolutely businesses that are touching the plant," Margolis says. "We're particularly interested in consumer packaged goods: candy bars and vape pens and other innovative products."
While the Initiative is part of a trend in accelerators, it's also groundbreaking—both for who it chooses to promote and how it presents cannabis.
The Commune, the space Margolis and the Initiative rented from Old Town real-estate developer David Gold, feels like no other room in the Oregon weed business. With brick walls, rough-hewn wooden floors and bright flower arrangements, it's designed to serve as a rented event and office space for companies whose operations are typically conducted in anonymous warehouses and charmless office parks.
Margolis says companies have already started using the central conference room for retreats—and she expects other weed businesses to rent the space for investor meetings.
Margolis is an administrative law attorney who has played a central role in shaping Oregon's recreational weed market since its legalization four years ago. She founded the Oregon Cannabis Association, a leading trade association, and the Oregon Cannabis PAC, which lobbied for out-of-state investment in recreational weed.
She now wants to focus on making sure women CEOs keep a stake in cannabis—a disproportionately white and male industry.
"The driving force was, I found this industry to be highly self-congratulatory about the positioning of women," Margolis says. "I saw fewer and fewer women in leadership positions. If somebody didn't do something, we really were going to become a cautionary tale."