Carrying the assumption that they get to keep their licenses, last month’s Illinois cannabis license lottery winners are now busy figuring out how to get their businesses started. Stepping into the gap, three organizations are rushing in to host matchmaking events to provide free education and networking opportunities for Illinois’ expectant license-holders. The events hope to serve those who want to keep and build out their licenses, and others who are looking to sell as soon as possible.

“You have to get in where you fit in in capitalism,” says Anton Seals, who advocated for social equity interests during the passage of Illinois’ recreational-use law. “Not all Black people are a monolith. Some people who were part of the application process saw this as a quick lick, where they didn’t have to put up real money to get $100,000 out. It’s not a negative but more examples of contradictions you see in a very early industry where there are set asides for a particular group.”

On September 30, a Chicago-based startup called CannaMatch is planning an event in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood designed to convene license-holders with financiers and service providers who pay a fee and are deemed qualified to present their offerings to the group. CannaMatch founders include an African American license-holder, two former Illinois cannabis executives (both women), and a longtime cannabis industry attorney. 

“This is an opportunity to mine each of these networks and connect people in a streamlined sort of way,” says CannaMatch co-founder Ali Jubilier, who previously served as General Counsel of Chicago-based multistate operator Revolution Global. The private event, free to license holders, is “a chance for them to mingle, celebrate their wins and meet a curated list of options to get their business going.”

Seals’ organization OURS, which hopes to eventually win a craft grow license in Illinois, also sees an opportunity for black and brown owned suppliers to benefit from the fast-growing and predominately white-owned industry. On October 12 OURS will be partnering with the Chicago Urban League on a supplier diversity event that will draw multiple incumbent cannabis operators and be open to new license-holders. 

“Several of the largest MSO’s will be at the table to connect with BIPOC-owned suppliers,” he said. 

In November, Olive-Harvey College plans to host a public event where cannabis license awardees can get more education about standing up their businesses and connect with an array of prospective service providers. 

“Those who did receive provisional licenses are scrambling and our goal is to foster connections within the insider ecosystem,” said organizer Shawnee Williams, of minority and women-owned service provider Illinois Equity Staffing that works with multiple incumbent and newly licensed cannabis operators. 

“I believe the original intention of the bill was to force and encourage people that come from different backgrounds to come together and figure out everything from licensing, to fundraising to growing retail and grow operations. I don’t think the ecosystem in Illinois will be successful without collaboration.”

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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.