Ebele Ifedigbo and Lanese Martin

Ebele Ifedigbo
Company: The Hood Incubator
Title: Co-founder and executive director
Age: 29

Lanese Martin
Company: The Hood Incubator
Title: Co-founder and executive director
Age: 32

For the past 12 months, the editorial staff at Marijuana Venture has compiled a list of candidates for our third annual 40 Under 40 feature. This year, we narrowed our list down from hundreds of worthy candidates to come up with a cross-section of personalities across the U.S. and Canada, from salt-of-the-earth farmers to tech savants. All of them have unique stories, successes and ambitions and all represent the excitement and promise of the cannabis business. We feel honored to share their stories and look forward to watching them push forward in our ever-evolving industry.

As millions of dollars pour into the emerging cannabis industry, seeking to legitimize what has for years been a fully functioning underground economy, Ebele Ifedigbo and Lanese Martin see the groups who have populated that economy for years being left behind due to the devastation to communities of color the Drug War left in its wake.

“When other industries left our communities — whether that’s manufacturing or other industries — a lot of us turned to the underground marijuana economy,” Ifedigbo says. “Our work is to provide redress and build economic and political power for black communities through the marijuana industry.”

It’s why Ifedigbo and Martin (along with fellow co-founder Biseat Horning) created the nonprofit Hood Incubator and its business accelerator program in Oakland, California.

“It just made sense to me that instead of teaching people a whole new industry, as this industry was becoming legal we should be teaching people how to sell weed better and legally,” Martin says.

“This is the perfect opportunity to support black communities and communities of color to get into this lucrative industry,” echoes Ifedigbo. “There’s our economic opportunity right there.”

Both Ifedigbo and Martin are originally from the East Coast — Ifedigbo is from Buffalo, New York, while Martin is from Brooklyn — but found each other while working in the Bay Area of California. Realizing they had similar goals, they set their sights on Oakland as a place they could make a difference, particularly in the legal marijuana industry.

“Oakland has a strong history and presence of social justice and community organizing around racial and economic equality,” Ifedigbo says.

On top of that, people of color seemed to be left out of the city’s growing cannabis sector.

“The ownership does not reflect the consumer base or the base of folks who are actually in the business,” Martin says. “The permitted market does not represent the market (as a whole).”

Ifedigbo and Martin launched the incubator and accelerator program in January 2017. The four-month accelerator program is designed to teach people who want to get into the business the basics of business in general, including how to create a business plan, pitch their ideas to investors and “fill the gaps” in the networks of potential entrepreneurs.

“A lot of the industry is still who you know,” Ifedigbo says.

To date, the pair count the graduation of the first accelerator patrons as their biggest milestone in the industry. Of the 10 who came out of the program in 2017, six are still operating the businesses they developed through the Hood Incubator, while the other four have moved on from their initial plans, but still work in the industry.

“It’s a good validation knowing we’re on the right path,” Ifedigbo says.

Like the industry itself, Ifedigbo and Martin see a bright future for both the Hood Accelerator and the populations it aims to help, with plans to move into other California cities and then across the nation as the wave of legalization continues. Martin says they are building a statewide coalition of organizations that believe in an “umbrella of equity” and are continuing their advocacy work at the local and state levels to ensure that everyone has a chance to find their fortune in the cannabis industry, at any level.

“Ownership is key and ownership is important, but not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur and not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur,” Ifedigbo says. “So we also want to be working with companies across the supply chain to create pipelines for black and brown communities to be in new jobs that are coming up in the industry.”

 

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