Looking to help another round of entrepreneurs, Grand Rapids-based cannabis company Fluresh opened the third year of its business incubator, the Cannabis Entrepreneur Program.
Formerly the Fluresh Five Accelerator, Fluresh will accept applications for the program through Dec. 2. Five participants will be chosen and notified by Dec. 9. The program is a nine-month intensive overview of the industry and seeks to help diversify the growing Michigan marijuana industry.
Beyond just cannabis-centric businesses, Fluresh General Counsel and Chief Regulatory Officer Shoran Williams said the program aims to help participants realize there is more to the industry than just owning a dispensary. The program also is part of Fluresh’s commitment to the city of Grand Rapids from when it previously applied for its grow operation and processing licenses.
“What social equity has been defined as and morphed into in cannabis is quite limiting,” Williams said. “Just because we’re talking about a segment of the community that has been incredibly adversely impacted by the War on Drugs does not mean they all want to own a cannabis business. What if they want to be in an ancillary business? Who’s talking about what kind of businesses those can be, or what it takes to run a business?
“One reason I’m so adamant about Fluresh having a different take on social equity is, you set aside dollars or licenses to a community, but those people may or may not have run a business before or have access to capital or other resources it takes to run a business.”
During the program, entrepreneurs will gain professional training, ongoing technical assistance, a workspace and materials necessary to succeed in the industry, whether as an operator or an employee. Regardless of career direction, the incubator program aims to provide participants the foundational knowledge required to move forward in how they engage with the industry.
“We believe that one of the greatest ways we can achieve this goal is by providing educational tools to those seeking them,” Fluresh Community Engagement Manager Tia Ezell said. “The participants can be forces for change, while using our resources to create opportunity in our community and industry.”
The Michigan adult-use cannabis industry reached $1.1 billion in the previous fiscal year. But there still is plenty of industry growth to be had, according to the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association.
“The significant increase in recreational sales across Michigan and resulting tax revenues to support our local communities shows the state’s regulated market is working and benefitting essential services we rely on every day,” MCMA Chair Shelly Edgerton said in a statement earlier this year. “Nearly two-thirds of all cannabis in Michigan is still not tested, licensed, tracked or labeled, posing an immediate health risk to consumers, according to a recent Anderson Economic Group study. The continued growth in adult-use sales makes it critical to pass the Michigan Cannabis Safety Act without delay.”
Programs like Fluresh’s business incubator can help achieve that growth while making the industry more regulated and safer for consumers and the community. Fluresh’s program has created some success already, said Jessica Austins, a participant in 2021 through her Creative Carvings business.
“The key sessions helped me identify how I can thrive in the cannabis industry through networking and educational opportunities,” Austins said. “The connections I’ve made and the things I’ve learned about the cannabis industry started here.”
Williams said a participant (who she declined to expand on because it’s his to share) had an idea that Fluresh also was contemplating. Now, Fluresh is working through the legal process of collaborating with the participant.
“His idea was just that good,” she said. “What a perfect opportunity for two groups to come together and expand what we’re doing in the space. It’s a very beneficial program, not just for our company.”
Because the sale of marijuana is illegal at the federal level, cannabis companies are limited in their financial options. Dispensaries, for instance, cannot use depository companies like Visa and Mastercard.
Banks also are limited because of federal legal hurdles. Those financial institutions might soon have a path forward with state-legal cannabis businesses, however.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently said Congress is “very close” to passing a cannabis banking bill. The bill allows banking access for legal businesses, as well as expungements of past marijuana convictions.
The House has passed standalone cannabis banking measures multiples times, but Schumer suggests there are bipartisan conversations to expand on the banking measure in the Senate.
While there still are likely opportunities in Michigan for cannabis entrepreneurs, Green Market Report recently detailed Michigan regulators’ ask for help regarding some market saturation — largely suggesting more Michigan municipalities would need to open up to retailers to ease a supply glut.