Women Grow CEO Kristina Neoushoff: Professional Standards for the Cannabis Industry

Kristina Neoushoff, CEO of Women Grow, believes a focus on professionalism and compliance with regulation will prepare the cannabis industry for federal legalization.

“Women Grow was created to connect, educate, inspire and empower the next generation of cannabis industry leaders by creating programs, community and events for aspiring and current business executives,” according to its mission statement.

The membership-based organization hosts signature networking events in over 20 cannabis business markets, as well as an annual summit. The Annual Leadership Summit features Ted Talk-style ‘Lightning Talks’ from cannabis industry leaders – this year’s summit will be February 1-2 in Denver.

Women Grow aims to maintain high standards for the cannabis industry, and provide comfortable space for mentors and entrepreneurs. “We want to create an environment where we have adhered to a professional code of conduct,” Kristina said.

Raised in New Jersey, Kristina joined Women Grow in 2015 as Director of Operations. She talked about the current climate for women in the cannabis industry with Cashinbis.

In what parts of the cannabis industry are you seeing more entrepreneurs?

Over the past six months there’s been a push for ancillary businesses – like marketing. If you go online and search for cannabis or marijuana, you get a lot of imagery that isn’t really modern, so marketing companies are starting to address that need for businesses. A lot of that imagery isn’t really appealing to us as women, either. So it’s ‘ Instead of an image of a woman with cannabis strategically placed on her body, let’s come up with something new.’

In what markets are you seeing the most participation and growth among members?

There’s a lot of activity in California, in Boston, New Jersey and in our seaboard states. New York has been active since 2014 and it’s doing remarkably well. Ann Arbor, MI is actually a consistent and active market. Dori and Allison have been running it very well. That’s a great example of our Market Leader program: for strong individuals and strong personal brands, we’ll help you become known as an expert in your market to help your company.

Our leaders are providing education in their communities by bringing thoughtful, knowledgeable speakers to their events. If they hear about an issue that a lot of people are coming across, they’ll appeal to those topics right away.

What are the challenges you and your peers at Women Grow are facing, state to state?

Banking and business loans are still challenges to companies in different stages. People come to us with questions on just opening a bank account. They want to know, ‘What investors should I partner with?’

For regulation and compliance, it’s important that we’re using the right resources. Canadian business owners we work with stress compliance, and it’s important that we do that in the states as well.

We’ll already be operating at such a high standard for federal legalization. When that happens, the companies that didn’t hold to those standards will go awry.

What’s the current climate for women in the cannabis industry?

From the last stats provided by Marijuana Business Daily, 86 percent of executives in the cannabis industry are women. WomenGrow just did a cannabis study and we’ll be pushing out a report in October, seeing where women are today. We had a larger sample [than the Marijuana Business Daily study] over state lines. We’re interested in diversity.

It’s tough being a woman regardless of the industry you’re in. I like to know what’s coming, plan ahead and look at all the angles. Women are natural planners. It’s hard to do that in an industry where a bill could pass and things would be very different for all of us.

I think women need to be comfortable taking leadership roles and get involved. If you never raise your hand or take a step, you miss out. I’d rather get a few years experience in this industry than miss out on what we’re trying to do.

Women are going to make or break this industry, and I’d prefer that we make it.

What have been some standout speakers at your Annual Summit’s Lightning Talks?

When June Sullivan came out dressed as superwoman, that was memorable. Renee Gagnon – the first trans CEO, was such an interesting story to hear, about her evolution from the first year she spoke. She’s coming back in 2018. I’ve really enjoyed the stories of successful failures: to see women so strong and powerful stand up on stage and share really personal stories of mistakes they’ve made. It’s such an inspiring experience.

How does WomenGrow foster professional connections?

We’ve got really strong leaders in our group. They tend to be benevolent, looking for people to mentor and help them learn from their mistakes. Then we have people new to the space, who have a lot of questions. We’re working hard to provide leaders on both levels.

I’m very passionate about life-long learning. We’re focusing on going to cornerstone members and leaning on them to provide in the community. We need leaders in investment, social media, human resources and insurance.

What do you personally want to learn more about?

The regulations, especially between states – it’s so changeable, especially going from one state to another. I can’t cross state lines with my tincture. For me, in New Jersey – I want to know what bills are out there and what’s going to impact me. Professionally and personally, I want to learn more about the political angle.

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