Vertical Brands' New President Cynthia Cleveland Discusses The Role Of Women In Cannabis
Vertically-integrated seed-to-sale cannabis company Vertical Brands recently announced the appointment of Cynthia Cleveland as its new president.
Benzinga had a conversation with Cleveland, in which she discussed the past, present and future for women of high-ranking positions in the cannabis industry.
The company is based in California and also has operations in Ohio, which include cultivation, extraction, manufacturing, product development, marketing, distribution and legal compliance services.
“As a five-time CEO and President, leading Fortune 500 companies, private for-profit companies, and start-ups, Cynthia is a dream fit to lead our branding operations,” said Todd Kaplan, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Vertical.
A Head Start But A Slow Race For Women In Cannabis
Cleveland mentioned how women took a larger percentage of high-ranking positions when the industry was in its early years.
“We saw a number of female founders in the infancy of this industry as female entrepreneurs creating products for loved ones who were struggling with various health issues, and early legislation in California favored people who were doing care-based nonprofit businesses (usually women)," she said.
According to a report by cannabis media firm AxisWire, the number of women holding executive charges in the cannabis industry dropped from 36 percent in 2015 to 17 percent in 2019.
Cleveland said female participation in the industry was held back by the introduction of larger capital and big investment firms, who are usually male-dominated. This opinion is consistent with AxisWire’s view on the same subject.
“As big money entered the scene, the businesses began to look a lot more like any other large scale business with the majority of leadership male. Funding for female entrepreneurs has always been a bigger challenge, and unfortunately this industry is no different,” Cleveland said.
Building A Career As A Female Leader In The Cannabis Industry
“I was first brought into the business as a consultant to help develop a female-focused brand by a female cannabis entrepreneur, Courtney Dorne, who is a managing partner at Vertical Companies," Cleveland said, who led a successful career in high executive charges related to licensing, new business development, and brand development at companies like Universal Studios and Mattel Toys, before entering cannabis.
“As the business grew and the company was looking to scale, my consumer products leadership became relevant. After investing over $50 million in its cultivation, extraction, manufacturing, and distribution platform, Vertical Brands is now poised to launch and build our brands successfully,” she said, in reference to the closing of a Series A Financing Round of $58 million earlier this year.
Advice For Women In The Industry
The executive shared a few words for fellow female cannabis workers looking to land high-ranking positions in the industry.
“Network and become known for your industry expertise. There are a few female-led initiatives that are specifically set up to fund female entrepreneurs. One is 'The Initiative,' a business accelerator program for female cannabis entrepreneurs. Another organization is 'Women Grow,' which provides local networking events for women in the industry.”
Cleveland is, obviously, still bullish on the industry's future.
“I love that products in this category can do well financially and can truly help others. The potential of cannabis is just beginning to be realized. I’m excited to focus on this potential and will always turn around and lend a hand to the next generation of female business leaders."