While much of Chicago and the world at large waits things out, Coco Meers has a growing 30-person company to run – and new investors to please.
Equilibria, an online subscription-based service that helps (mostly) women personalize their CBD doses, just raised two million bucks. New hires from the last several weeks have yet to see the office, located at 213 W. Institute in Chicago.
However, a physically-distant, conscious handful of specialists focused on CBD product fulfillment and assembly come in each day to fulfill customer demand.
If Meers, 37, is not on site monitoring operations, a fellow member of her leadership team is. Along with co-founder and technologist Marcy Capron Vermillion, plus new investors Salveo Capital and Hyde Park Angels, the serial entrepreneur and 2014 University of Chicago Booth Business School graduate is on a mission.
“What are startups?” she asked rhetorically, connecting what she is doing now with her experience creating, growing and eventually selling to Groupon her beauty-booking app Pretty Quick in 2015. ”They are people united by a common goal.”
The collective goal as laid out by Meers and her investors is to build a data company around feedback subscribers have to CBD products her company cultivates in Colorado and transports to paying subscribers without restriction across state lines.
“The CBD space is too crowded, and the last thing it needed was another brand,” she explained. “We are not a product company. We are a services company with a great technology team.”
Prior to business school, Meers, a native of Alabama, spent nearly four years as a New York and Paris-based brand manager for L’Oreal. Insights derived from those posts combined with her experience as a senior director at Groupon as well as a personal appreciation in the healing properties of cannabinoids inform and inspire this venture.
For now, Equilibria is focusing on personalizing dosage for the CBD it pulls from the ground, processes and retails. The service could eventually accommodate other brands. In the meantime, there is a lot of non-THC/psychoactive-based weed to ship out to customers.
“We are myopically focused on our users, our plant and our business model,” she said.
Jellyvision and Sittercity pioneers are early investors
“My day job is in human resources technology,” explains Amanda Lannert, an Equilibria board member and early investor who represented Chicago-based Hyde Park Angels in this investment round.
Lannert is the longtime CEO and an early employee of Chicago-based digital pioneer Jellyvision, and serves as a board director of multiple Chicago-based tech startups including SpotHero. In these capacities, she is exposed to a cross-section of aggregate employee wellness data (up to 40 percent of workers may take prescribed pharmaceuticals to manage anxiety, she says), as well great Chicago-based entrepreneurial and executive talent.
“Employers”, she adds, “are saying “wow, how can we help.’ I’m not sure if benzo’s are the right course. The idea of having something less addictive on the body, helping deal with stress, is appealing.”
Lannert, Meers and Genevieve Thiers – who co-founded Chicago-based Sittercity in 2001 and provided the company’s first outside investment – comprise Equilibria’s board of directors. Hyde Park Angels (HPA), a coalition of investors who graduated from our have ties to Booth, is now backing two Chicago-based cannabis-specific technology companies.
Last December, HPA led a $4.5 million venture round raised by LeafTrade, a software platform that provides wholesale transaction services for cannabis brands and dispensaries. HPA member Jeff Kleban sourced that deal for the angel group.
Third local portfolio company for Northbrook-based lead investor Salveo Capital
Equilibria represents the twenty-first and likely final investment from the initial fund managed by Salveo Capital, which focuses exclusively on cannabis companies. Within this category are ancillary software and services company, and more recently entities that also “touch the plant.”
The connective tissue is HPA member Tom Mazarakis, who serves as an advisory board member of Salveo, which was founded in 2016. Salveo’s additional local portfolio companies include cannabis advertising technology platform Fyllo – which raised about $20 million upon launch last year – and cannabis cultivator, processor and retailer Grassroots Cannabis, which is still set to be acquired by CuraLeaf in a deal agreed to be valued at $860 million when it was announced one year ago.
The steady normalization and increased economic potential of cannabis as a sector, says Salveo partner Jeff Howard, is bringing a different degree of business sophistication and perspective than what existed a few short years ago.
“The talent that has come into the space over the last four years is transformational,” said Howard. “It was a mom and pop, lifestyle-oriented business environment in those days. Coco and her team are phenomenal. That is a big selling point for us.”