When Galaxy Labs opens its Chicago area dispensary on February 15, it will be among a small handful of minority-owned and independent vertically-integrated cannabis operators in the state (and country). 

In today’s edition of Careers in Cannabis, partners in business and in life Michelle and Rick Ringold share how they incorporate decades of entrepreneurial, military and social justice experience into their practice of operating a next-generation cannabis corporation.

“There are a number of large cannabis companies now talking about ‘reinvesting in communities’”, explains Michelle. “Galaxy Labs executes where others fall short as part of our mission and vision. We’re leading by example.”

Grown In: What inspired you to get into the cannabis industry? 

Michelle Ringold: We both shared the same goal to be the first independent social equity-licensed craft grower to go live in Illinois. Rick and I both grew up in impacted areas and have overcome many challenges and have a son who was negatively impacted so this is a personal story for us. We have a passion for this industry and are proud that over 96% of Galaxy is owned by Minorities and Women (82.5% Black, 11% Hispanic, 33.25% Women, and 52% Veteran).  

Grown In: How do you incorporate skills derived from running a 40-person CPA firm to your work starting and overseeing a vertically-integrated cannabis company? 

Michelle Ringold: As successful entrepreneurs of both a 40-person CPA firm and a construction company that operates in 12 different states, we’ve used our skills in managing a P&L, leading cross-functional teams, coaching and mentoring, raising capital, and driving sales growth and performance as our entry to pursue a business in the cannabis industry. 

Our passion for the industry in conjunction with learning and being hands-on in the cannabis industry are key drivers to be a successful craft grow and opening a dispensary, making us one of the first vertically integrated independent cannabis companies. We’ve also hired experienced talent, partnered with key consultants, and built a state-of-the-art facility to position us for growth and be a key economic contributor to the community.

Grown In: Share what it’s like running a cannabis startup with your better half? 

Michelle Ringold: We’re a husband-and-wife team and are entrepreneurs at heart. Once we made the decision over three years ago to start this journey, we were committed to see it through. We’re good partners and leverage each other’s strengths. We’ve both run successful businesses and utilize that experience to start-up these cannabis businesses. We both are committed to our community and economic development and see the vision of something great. 

Grown In: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities you see today for social equity operators in Illinois and other states with similar regulatory structures?

Michelle Ringold: The cannabis industry has a more profound burden and responsibility to social equity than other industries because the prohibition of cannabis disproportionately and adversely impacted people of color. Many states including Illinois have implemented social equity programs in connection to the legalization of cannabis. These programs attempt to ensure that people of color, and those with cannabis offenses prior to legalization, be afforded an opportunity to participate meaningfully in this industry. 

Social Equity takes into account systemic inequalities to ensure everyone in a community has access to the same opportunities and outcome. The war on drugs subjected millions to criminalization, incarceration, and lifelong criminal records making it difficult to obtain good jobs and provide for families. People of color, specifically African Americans, are admitted to state prisons at a rate that is 13.4 times greater than whites. Galaxy is committed to providing opportunities to those who have been impacted the most through providing education, training, and resources.

The demand for social equity has been heightened by recent events like the mobilization of Black Lives Matter. There are a number of large cannabis companies now talking about “reinvesting in communities”. Galaxy Labs executes where others fall short as part of our mission and vision. We’re leading by example.

Grown In: What are your goals for 2024 and beyond? 

Michelle Ringold: Launch a successful craft grow and dispensary and identify ways to further grow in the Illinois cannabis market. We want to create an out of this world experience with our premium craft flower products, continue to create new jobs, and participate in community events while sharing our experiences along the way to help others that strive to do the same.

Coco Meers of Equilibria and Quinton Krueger of BudScout on entrepreneurial challenges and opportunities in cannabis AgTech

While it is a herculean task to standardize systems in a cannabis industry that is federally legal yet exists in some form in nearly all fifty states, entrepreneurs in all industries exist to develop solutions for problems of massive scale. 

Cannabis Innovation Lab, a joint-venture between 1871 and Grown In, last week hosted a panel conversation focused on how today’s brightest entrepreneurs are addressing the state of agricultural technology in cannabis. 

Coco Meers of Equilibria, which cultivates the CBD it curates for subscribers to its women’s wellness platform, says there is a lot of work to do nationally in this area. 

“The variance and quality that I have seen in cannabinoid products is literally mind-blowing,” she said.” “We need to make sure that the quality of what we are farming and creating is just as standardized and as measurable (as other crops) with a common definition of what good looks like.” 

Quinton Krueger of BudScout, which develops AI technology to detect plant stress in cannabis plants, believes standardization will come from the intersection of pioneering operators and specialists who come into cannabis from other industries. 

“Looking at cannabis as a blue ocean field,” explains Krueger,” there are so many mistakes to be made by new entrepreneurs coming into the field that having folks with experience coming in with them allows us to make this new industry as a standard of how all industries should be operating is a wonderful opportunity.”

View the full video here.

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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.