The nonprofit accelerator Our Academy is an accelerator that offers mentorship, workshops, and technical assistance services to BIPOC and justice-impacted cannabis entrepreneurs and social equity applicants.
Hilary L. Yu, Co-founder & Executive Director of the 501(c)(3) Our Academy is based in LA. Since 2020, they have serviced New York and other states and have launched two cohorts with more than 300 mentees across the US in partnership with notable mentors, including:
- Kimberly Dillon – First Black CMO in cannabis, previously at Papa and Barkley, working with licensees on fundraising and marketing strategy
- Sean Kelley – Previous COO at SPARC and previously and operations consultant for Lululemon
- Vince Ning – Founder and Co-CEO of Nabis
- Tim Dodd – Co-founder and CEO of Sweet Flower
- Morris Kelly – Founder and CEO of SF Roots
Through Our Academy, Hilary has built an ecosystem of evergreen courses, technical resources and industry allies — forming a tight-knit community where BIPOC and just impacted founders can flourish and support one another.
One example of a business that benefited from the Our Academy program is Stash Queens.
Its Co-founder, Jahmila “JJ” Edwards was a mentee in one of the cohorts and it is a collective of 5 Black women launching their first product line, CLIPSE, in New York and Massachusetts in Summer of 2023.
JJ, a dynamic leader working at the intersection of government, policy and politics in New York City. Their offerings to the market are intentional as they reflect their love of the plant and the belief in sharing that love with others. They are committed to building our brand in partnership with others leading the way in quality, integrity, and true social equity.
After several years working as a registered lobbyist, JJ left the private sector to serve as Deputy Chief of Staff to former Mayor Bill de Blasio and later as Executive Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs for the NYC Department of Education. JJ is both a pension and welfare fund trustee where as a fiduciary she manages fund assets in excess of $2 billion.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, JJ and four of her colleagues launched Stash Queens, Inc. to pursue a venture in New York’s emerging cannabis industry. In 2022 she was selected to participate in Our Academy, a workshop and mentorship program for cannabis equity applicants, legacy operators, and others impacted by the War on Drugs.
Boosting social equity
With a focus on collaboration over competition, many large cannabis companies are starting to take notice and support the cause.
Since cannabis is still illicit under federal law, state-by-state regulations provide silos of information. Our Academy was created initially to ensure social equity applicants and BIPOC cannabis founders had a platform and community they could reach out to if they received a predatory agreement and empower them to spot red flags ahead of time.
Having this digitally native self-paced online community makes it easier for people to tap into the online courses and evergreen content on their own time.
Our Academy has recently been contracted by NY State’s Office of Cannabis Management to support all 300 CAURD (Cannabis Adult-use Retail Dispensary) licensees with 41 live and recorded courses led by subject matter experts with operational and entrepreneurial expertise, technical fundraising assistance such as pro formas, and C-suite executive mentors.
Prior to partnering with NYS Office of Cannabis Management, Our Academy has offered cannabis and state agnostic programming to founders across the US.
Our Academy is working hard to ensure that licensees do have a say in shaping the industry and that governments are listening.
They are working to protect social equity applicants and protect them from future M & As and to help to maintain small business opportunity and growth in NY.
Hilary says they have been contracted by the state Office of Cannabis Management to create the support network and educational framework during this difficult landscape since the cannabis industry is overly regulated and taxed and license holders really need to understand their cash flow and not overestimate revenues as they did on the West Coast which has led to many licensees’ demise.
“We want to do a great job to make sure that these new license holders don’t end up wishing they knew more about how to ensure their business is successful,” says Hilary.
To donate or for more information about becoming a mentor, visit thisisourdream.com.