With a mission of “nurturing entrepreneurial zeal through the burgeoning cannabis sector”, Mateo Marchan, 20, earlier this year started the Michigan State University Cannabis Industry Association.

In this Grown In interview, Marchan details how he formed the club, the companies he recruited for mentorship and support, and what it’s like entering a young industry with a signature product he is too young to consume.  

Grown In: Please walk us through the steps you took to start the Michigan State University Cannabis Industry Association.

Mateo Marchan: I hosted our first event in February 2020 to serve as an MVP (minimally viable product). [I was] testing the waters to assess student interest and industry demand. The results were overwhelming, and the need for a cannabis-centered collegiate community was evident.

In the subsequent weeks, I conducted extensive outreach within Michigan State University to form a founding team of four students and two faculty advisors. We conceptualized the community that we wanted to develop and aligned on the vision of “nurturing entrepreneurial zeal through the burgeoning cannabis sector.”

To reach our goal, I founded the MSUCIA Canna-Business Lecture Series; an event series centered on connecting students with accomplished cannabis entrepreneurs and investors. Since launching in September 2020, we’ve hosted seven guests who have cumulatively raised $560MM+ in venture capital and oversee $300MM in assets under management. Students from more than 15 universities in the U.S. have participated, and over 1,000 have joined our community. 

Grown In: What is your association’s value proposition to college students who are interested in working in the cannabis industry?

Marchan: We’ve developed an extensive network of companies that we hope to mobilize through our soon-to-launch recruitment platform. Some of our current partners include Cresco Labs, Canndescent, Dutchie, and The ArcView Group.

We’re actively identifying ways to connect our student community to employment opportunities in the cannabis space. Due to the industry’s nascency, many traditional recruitment avenues are missing. Establishing this infrastructure is a big focus of ours, and we look forward to connecting more ambitious students with high-impact opportunities in the space.

Grown In: Share with us opportunities you see in Michigan-based cannabis companies for students just entering the workforce.

Marchan: There are many part-time and internship positions available, but undoubtedly, a lack of entry-level full-time roles. We’re working to address this challenge via our recruitment platform by forging strategic relationships with industry partners that enable a higher placement rate for our highly ambitious community of students.

We’re incredibly thankful for receiving support from many Michigan companies as we navigate this process, including but not limited to the MI Cannabis Industry Association, PG Group, Ooze, Emerald Growth Partners, Sarah Jane, Redemption Cannabis, and Red Arrow Farm.

Grown In: Are there concerns from family members that you are working in an industry once seen as illicit and that’s primary product is something you are not yet able to consume legally?

Marchan: I’m thankful that this has never been a challenge. I wish I could say the same about our relationship with Michigan State University, but we’ve certainly faced friction. We keep this top of mind and actively pursue de-stigmatization within our community.

Grown In: What do you think the industry will look like by the time you graduate college?

Marchan: There’s much progress to be excited about. More narrowly, I’m looking forward to technological advancement in the industry. The work I’ve conducted while leading business development at PhenoLogic, an early-stage AgTech company, has exposed me to a myriad of solutions that will shape the future of cannabis cultivation. Broadly, the ancillary space is ripe with opportunities to work on challenging problems with high-impact solutions.

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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.