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The Hot Box: bridging the gap between black business owners and financing

The Hot Box: bridging the gap between black business owners and financing

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In the cannabis industry, capital is hard to come by. It’s especially hard to come by for BIPOC  entrepreneurs who own just 4% of the cannabusinesses in the US. 

The Hot Box Pitch Contest is addressing this disparity. 

The Hot Box Pitch Contest is an event at the Black CannaConference that seeks to bridge the gap by making it easier for fledgling business owners to showcase their ideas to high-level financers. 

The Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) has hosted the event since 2016 and for the first time in 2021, Parallel, a multi-state operator, was the sponsor. 

Hot boxing great ideas 

When money is changing hands in rooms you’re not in, how do you fix the problem? 

By creating new rooms. 

The Hot Box Pitch Contest is like Shark Tank for cannabis, giving fledgling cannabusiness owners a platform to pitch their business plan to angel investors, people willing to invest money in brand new ideas. 

“It is patently obvious that minorities have a true lack of access to capital. Even more, they have a lack of access to quality events that put them in the room with individuals with an investing history,” Brandon Wyatt, a member of the MCBA board, told The Cannigma. “We’re working to normalize the market and provide opportunities for people to understand where they fit in cannabis and cannabis ancillary industries.”

Contestants could pitch in person at the conference or via a recorded video, ensuring no one who wanted to be a part of this was left out. In addition to cash prizes, the first, second, and third place winners also received strategic planning meetings with legal, HR, and accounting professionals. 

But even in the midst of such important work, the Hot Box still keeps it light with classic stoner humor. 

“We called it the hot box to put a creative spin on an idea like Cheech and Chong- what would it be like to put a millionaire business in the car with a dedicated, budding canna-prenuer?” Wyatt said.

Encouraging competitive greatness 

The Hot Box Pitch Contest has a simple purpose; to give people the knowledge, network, and capital needed to create, grow, and scale a successful cannabis business. 

But it’s about more than just the money. 

Growing a business in the cannabis industry is fraught with pitfalls, from navigating banking regulations to taxes and managing a profit and loss sheet. The Hot Box Pitch Contest and other MCBA events do more than just connect entrepreneurs with sources of capital; they provide a community and resources to grow the business acumen needed to succeed in this industry. But for Board Chair Todd Hughes, it’s about more than that too.

“An important component of success is competitive greatness,” Hughes told The Cannigma. “When you’ve been oppressed as a people, if your heart, your desire isn’t affected, it will take you to the top. Through the Hot Box Pitch Contest, we’re going to add that competitive greatness to individuals. Many people forget that component- you have to want to be great.”  

Making a difference one business owner at a time 

The Hot Box has been growing since 2016 when Shanel Lindsay won with her business Ardent. In 2021, over 800 people attended the event. Among those people was first-place winner Precious Osagie-Erese. 

Osagie-Erese entered her company, Roll Up Life, a tech and logistics cannabis delivery service based in the emerging market of New Jersey. Capital options for startups are hard to come by, Osagie-Erese explained, so pitch competitions are important. 

“Winning the Hot Box pitch competition was extremely validating,” Osagie-Erese told The Cannigma. “It also opened the door of opportunities; we’ve been able to build relationships and find strategic partners. We’re now in such a strong position with Roll Up Life and it’s great to have the amount of support that we received.” 

The Hot Box Pitch Competition’s location at the Black CannaConference is also important to contestant success. 

“As a contestant, there were nerves there, but the environment at Black CannaBiz Con made it so that you felt comfortable pitching and telling your story,” Osagie-Erese said. “Win or lose, you were given constructive feedback and pointed to other opportunities.” 

An MSO takes a stand 

With support from sponsor and multi-state operator Parallel, the MCBA was able to take the competition to the next level, helping new and aspiring business owners connect with angel investors they would otherwise struggle to meet. 

“Parallel has been one of the few companies that have tangibly shown up to support minority-owned cannabis businesses and help to create an equitable industry,” Hughes said. “To do so means to engage on a grassroots level with minority entrepreneurs looking to find their way in this space. Leading the same goals, we were aligned on what resources were needed to support social equity, so working with Parallel on the Hot Box competition was a no brainer.” 

Growing opportunities for Black cannabusinesses 

The Hot Box Pitch event may be the first event of its kind, but it certainly won’t be the last. This event is a staple of the Black CannaConference, and attendees in years to come can look forward to seeing great minds converge. But to answer the growing call for continued education and resources, Parallel and the MCBA are growing their initiatives. 

Parallel and Black CannaBiz Conference recently announced the launch of the Black Cannabusiness CEO Intensive, a training course for cannabusiness owners. This course includes six weeks of business training as well as a 2-day mini-conference on location in four cities across the US. Attendees will have the chance to win a free spot in the intensive that will connect them with experts in business, legal, human resources, and finances. While the MCBA is not directly involved in this initiative, its board members Todd Hughes and Brandon Wyatt are a part of the project

The Hot Box Pitch Contest and the Black Cannabusiness CEO Intensive are examples of the ways all these organizations are creating equal access for cannabis businesses and economically empowering communities of color. 

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