“It’s about providing opportunities that don’t exist in any other industry,” Gromentum executive director Amy Nathan explained to Canna Curious college students. [Photo: Brad Spirrison]

There are ten days left to apply for licences to grow, infuse or transport cannabis in Illinois in 2020. 

If you’ve been thinking about throwing your hat in the ring but haven’t made much progress on your application, save your efforts for next year when additional licenses will become available. 

I’m not trying to be a buzzkill, but when a state issues dozens of licenses, estimated by some industry insiders to be worth nearly $2 million before the first seed is planted, a cottage industry filled with opportunists, lawyers, investors and others quickly forms. It’s not uncommon for applicant groups to invest six-figures in legal and consulting fees just for a puncher’s chance of winning one.  

Further, if your application doesn’t have majority representation from what the state defines as a “Social Equity Applicant” – an individual who was arrested or harmed as a result of previous drug laws – you have essentially no chance of winning a license. That is according to a cross section of lawyers, entrepreneurs and investors queried by Grown In who add that recruiting a social equity applicant is an an accepted and required element of admission. 

Coalitions of social equity applicants, subject matter experts and investors that have won the lucrative licenses, interestingly enough, may or may not know the first thing about actually running a business.

Enter Gromentum Lab, an upstart Chicago-based business accelerator that plans to offer 16-week “mini-MBA” training courses and mentorship cohorts for cannabis entrepreneurs. Individuals who hold plant-touching licenses, as well as those seeking to create “ancillary” companies that provide technology, financial and other services specific to the cannabis industry are encouraged to apply.

Gromentum shares many attributes of accelerator programs like Techstars Chicagoand the dozens of other local incubator-type entities that typically serve technology and life sciences-based industries. Advisor Tom Churchwell practically invented the concept in Chicago having spent years sharpening investor pitches to entrepreneurs who dared to present at his “Monday Morning Meetings.” 

What makes Gromentum unique is how it addresses Illinois social equity provisions while aspiring for profits and optimal shareholder value. 

“Ultimately it’s about transforming communities and providing opportunities that don’t exist in any other industry,” said founder and executive director Amy Nathan. A veteran executive for companies in regulated industries, including forming and running an anti-money laundering program for BMO Harris Bank 2014 to 2018, Nathan left the private sector a year ago to pursue an opportunity to provide access for local residents who don’t have many of the advantages she had – specifically, staying out of jail after being caught with possession as a teenager. 

Responding to a question from the audience March 3 at the International Business Conference at Northeastern Illinois University about the ethics of working in the cannabis industry, Nathan shared her own story about getting busted smoking pot while in high school. While she was ultimately suspended from school, Nathan believes that if she were from a less privileged area and had darker skin, her life would be forever changed for the worse. 

She was quick to acquire a skill-set that is now being incorporated into her new post. 

Nathan started her career abroad in the early 90s as an associate for The Center for Arab-Jewish Economic Development, where she helped set up joint ventures in Israel between Jewish and Arab entrepreneurs. 

“The common theme is economic liberation,” she said. “The premise of the work I was doing right after college is similar to the work I’m doing now. It just took me a couple decades to get back to it.”

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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.