Capital panel kicks off 1871 and Grown In Cannabis Innovation Lab

So you’re saying there’s a chance of raising money again for mind-altering businesses devoted to financial and perhaps spiritual returns?

This is primarily true, say early-stage venture capitalists who in conversation kicked off the 2023-2024 Cannabis Innovation Lab, if your startup business is focused on technology, hemp-derived THC workarounds, and psychedelics. There is also opportunity to pioneer how consumers receive licensed cannabis through social consumption paradigms among other innovations.  

“Raising capital is one of the easiest things you can do,” said Michael Sachaj of Hyde Park Angels, acknowledging that this axiom remains despite 18-month-old headwinds experienced in both the cannabis and technology venture capital markets. Hyde Park Angels is a generalist investor with positions in Chicago-based digital plant platforms Leaf Trade and Equilibria. 

“More broadly what attracts investors is what you know about how to build a business. As the ecosystem evolves, there will be more opportunities to bring innovative technology to the market.” 

So, while the green shoots in cannabis that investors backed in the late teens and early twenties largely remain underwater, there is breathing room for new businesses that figure out how to create value for emerging markets. Entrepreneurs and others who decide to enter the space, counsels Lisa Evia of SeedFund, should combine their expertise in other domains with advice from those who entered the industry before them. 

“When we look at founders, it’s really about how to bring the acumen to cannabis from another space,” she said. “We are so excited because so much energy is being put against upleveling the whole industry. So when you can bring in advisors, supporters, fractional team members that can round out any capability you have on that front is really helpful when we are looking at a prospective investment.”

Of course there continue to be scalable opportunities for licensed businesses, particularly in states like Illinois where you have a finite number of businesses legally eligible to serve a $2 billion market.

However, explains Ameya Pawar of OKAY Cannabis, market segmentation and an understanding of fast-evolving consumer tastes is necessary to stand out as new dispensaries come online.  

“The next generation of cannabis will include hospitality,” said Pawar. OKAY Cannabis is a joint-venture dispensary and bakery with the Fifty/50 Restaurant Group and is scheduled to open its third Chicago area location in early 2024.   

“We think another revolution is coming and we just need to grind it out,” Pawar said.  

You say you want a reefer revolution? Participate in Grown In’s Social Consumption Event

Our friends at OKAY Cannabis are hosting a Grown In 4th Anniversary social consumption soiree and industry networking event at their tasty Wheeling location north of Chicago.

If you are interested in our movement, we want to achieve a higher elevation with you. 

Limited sponsorship opportunities remain, ping for more details.

Notable Nuggets from the Cannabis Innovation Lab Showcase:

On tying a startup investment strategy to potential regulatory-driven market catalysts:

Michael Sachaj

“We focus on companies that will be successful regardless of the regulatory environment. Once there is a point where it is either legalized on the national scale or regulations are reduced, we always ask how this technology will be impacted by the changes?”

Lisa Evia 

“People go through the emotional roller coaster everytime there’s a blip in the federal landscape. I don’t want to be the person on the panel doing the crystal ball regulatory thing. It does, however, help bring new people in for having an aperture for investing in the space. “

On the impact hemp-derived businesses have on their focus and operations:

Michael Sachaj

“Trying to build a moat around regulation components will be a challenge. As companies are building out their business models on the consumer side, they really need to think through how regulation will give them an edge – everything from branding to the quality of the product.”

Lisa Evia

“We are an investor in a hemp-infused beverage, Happi.”

As to whether cannabis is a gateway industry to psychedelics:

Michael Sachaj

“Although the cannabis community is very well connected, and there is a lot of overlap between investors in dispensaries and those who are in the tech side, from my vantage point, there still seems to be a distinction between psychedelics and cannabis.”

Lisa Evia

“The horizon is very long. The clinical and trial phases you need to go through take extraordinary work. It takes a lot of money and there’s a lot of risk. That is very tricky. There is not a real CPG market yet in psychedelics. There are a whole lot of people who have a guy who sells mushroom chocolates. It’s OK if you have your WhatsApp / Signal dude. It’s not a very good thing in the industry for that market to exist or continue to blossom because it will push back regulation.”

Stay tuned for more Cannabis Innovation program updates between now and April 19th. If you or your organization wish to participate as a sponsor, mentor, or startup business, please contact Brad Spirrison ( for more details. 

One final program note, Grown In will not be published on Thursday, November 23 in honor of Thanksgiving. 

If you are heading to Las Vegas next week for MJBizCon, and wish to be part of our rolling community, ping for more information.  

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.