Up Close with Our Academy
Here at Old Pal, we're firmly dedicated to creating a more equitable space for everyone, especially those impacted by the War on Drugs. In order to further our "weed for the people" mission, we started working with the amazing crew at Our Academy as a way to uplift the budding entrepreneurs who have big dreams for doing radical things in the cannabis space.
Co-founded by our pals Timeka Drew and Hilary Yu, Our Academy is breaking boundaries and helping to open doors for cannabis entrepreneurs around the country. After recognizing the lack of BIPOC businesses in cannabis, Timeka and Hilary created this special mentorship program as an open education resource for equity applicants, operators, and others impacted by the War on Drugs. As mentors, we'e proud to be part of the movement tha's empowering young individuals to do great things in the world of cannabis.
We recently caught up with Hilary to chat more about Our Academy and the good work they're doing to help make cannabis more equitable for everyone.
Our Academy co-founder, Hilary Yu
What inspired you to start Our Academy?
While the equity applicant is very different for different businesses, the main difficulty and pain point is definitely that if you don't have the financial resources to scale quickly and you don't have the financial literacy to grow your business, you are on an uneven playing field. So Timeka and I came up with Our Academy as a way to help prevent predatory deals happening in the first place. It's a 13-week mentorship and workshop program where we pair mentees with mentors from larger cannabis organizations like Old Pal and Sweet Flower.
How have you been working to make the program as nationally inclusive as possible?
Initially, when we started Our Academy, it was for people based in California. And then we thought we'd eventually open it up to places like Illinois and Michigan when they come online with their equity programs. But when we opened up our application, we were getting submissions from across the country. So we reached out to our mentors and said if you're willing to work with people from other states, we'd love to include them. At the end of it all, if you can learn from someone who has a legal business and transitioned already from the legacy markets, you can learn from their mistakes.
Can you tell us about some of the biggest lessons you've learned along the way?
I really think that more people are open to collaborating than people in the industry think. That's been our approach for all our mentees - collaboration over competition. There's also been many people who've unexpectedly come out of the woodwork, giving their time and resources.
What have you learned about mentorship in the cannabis space?
We knew the importance of mentorship from the beginning - especially in cannabis, where many people are insecure about their stories. It was really impactful to be able to see and hear where everybody was coming from, but to also have mentors that have done it before and to tell the mentees that their story is their biggest selling point. I really didn't fully understand and appreciate how unsure a few of our mentees were of the fact that they were coming from a legacy market, and they were almost unwilling to share that part of them because they've been chastised for it for so long.
Our Academy's first cohort of mentees
What are your goals for the future of inclusivity in cannabis?
We're planning on scaling Our Academy and the biggest thing I personally learned is from this quote: "You don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate." So if we're able to disseminate as much of this information as possible to prevent any nefarious deals, all the better. By scaling Our Academy, we'll create these modular courses and have them available on our site so more people have access to these workshops. Our whole thing has been, we're not the experts, so let's lay this up to the experts who have the skill sets.
What individuals or organizations are your biggest inspirations?
Timeka (Drew) is a huge influence and inspiration. As an entrepreneur, mom of 4, equity applicant, co-founder on this project, and recent cannabis executive, Timeka's story and experience has made a huge impact on why we created this program the way it is. Also Morris Kelly from SF Roots. He is an insane hustler and I've never seen that level of drive in anyone. He's doing everything in his business and that's incredibly impressive.
You use the term "Decolonize Cannabis" on your site. Can you tell us more about what that means?
We have an entire industry that was built off of people who were primarily incarcerated and affected by the War on Drugs. And this industry right now has been rewarding people who just had the most amount of money, and that includes a lot of privileged people who are white. And I think we need to unpack that as a community and industry. Our approach is a bit different, as we're open to having people with those privileges to help one another, not in a "white savior" type of way, but as a way to acknowledge what has happened and what we can do to change the narrative.
Old Pal was lucky enough to be a mentor for the first cohort of mentees. How was Old Pal able to help further the mission of Our Academy and the goals of the mentees?
I gotta say, Old Pal really showed up. The whole team all really contributed, with both the amount of mentors and hours. For example, the relationships Rusty formed with Cannabis on Fire helped open up some doors that are definitely going to support Charles's business. He really opened up his rolodex for things like supply chain solutions, and those types of things were more than we could've asked for.
What are you most hopeful for in 2021?
I'm really excited about being able to do this with more people, and hopefully a more flywheel approach where mentees will come back as mentors. Also, when we're talking about "decolonizing cannabis" that people can consistently usher in a new generation of leaders in cannabis, and this can be a point where people have the opportunity to launch their businesses and change the trajectory of their careers.
One Final Toke
Equity in cannabis is more important than ever. If you'd like help further the mission of Our Academy, you can sign up to be a mentor or mentee. Or you can make a donation that will go directly to grants for mentees. Together we can all make a brighter future for cannabis and everyone sparking change in our budding industry.