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An Eco-Conscious Solution for Destigmatizing CBD

Q&A with Solvi Barber, CEO of Identity International

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The stigma of the hemp plant is preventing it from playing a key role in creating a circular economy, "blinding world leaders in sustainability from recognizing one of the most powerful, scalable, assets in their toolbox,” according to climate literacy expert, Hebah Saddique with Green Takeover.

But challenging this stigma requires a group effort. Thankfully, several sustainably driven cannabis industry leaders are moving the needle. Solvi Barber, CEO of Identity International is one such individual. Together with founder, Rune Sydengen, Barber launched the company in 2018, sourcing CBD grown on family farms in Oregon and Colorado and using organic and sustainable methods. Identity adheres to strict policies ensuring ecological and ethical means of producing products in a circular method.

The company partnered with Norwegian company Norilia to develop a series of hydrolyzed protein products, leveraging Norwegian circular farming methods to minimize carbon footprint and protect the environment.

This is Barber's story. 

What brought you into the cannabis/hemp industry?

I was intrigued by the positive health benefits of high-quality CBD and cannabis that close friends and family experienced, so I tried to understand the plant and how it could affect the future of food and wellness products.  When presented with the opportunity to be a part of building a green and innovative company like Identity, I saw it as a privilege and an exciting challenge. Together with the founder, Rune Andre Sydengen, we spent months searching for the right team. The key was tto make clean, healthy products for the future. Products that take care of people and the planet at the same time. 

What obstacles and challenges have you experienced in operating within this industry?

With a planned launch of the brand and the company in the summer of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic was a serious challenge for us, as for so many others. Given the type of industry we were in, our initial sales and marketing strategy was based on face-to-face meetings and presentations with a strong, broad, and spectacular food and trade show presence. In addition, we faced delays and cancellations in the supply chain, and closures of many of our largest customers. At one point, I felt like we were astronauts floating in space trying to avoid a massive amount of space debris coming towards us at all times.

Related: Women and Cannabis: What Nobody Is Talking About

How did you overcome these obstacles?
We spent the months in lock-down, developing new products, securing important agreements, and showing true agility with both production supply chain and sales. Facing the unexpected and unimaginable, years of creative thinking in a competitive business environment and introducing new, innovative solutions into a global market helped us.

As a woman in cannabis, what advantages or disadvantages do you face?
As a woman, and mother of teenagers, I feel the importance of education and ensuring that how we speak about the industry and the products are fact-based and nuanced. There are many stigmas around the industry, the products, and the people in it, that need to be constantly addressed. The industry itself is still young and male-dominated, both on the investment, production, and marketing and sales side. As a woman who has lived her professional life on the bleeding edge of innovation and business in male-dominated industries, it is my experience that you must always carve out your own space and place. Respect must be earned again and again and the ability to learn and move on is crucial. The advantage of being a woman in this industry is that you can offer new perspectives, new avenues, and new solutions. Women often offer a holistic approach with a keen eye for detail.  As I see it, the giant steps that need to be taken in this industry in the years to come cannot be taken without hardworking, brilliant women in key positions thought-out the industry.

What is an accomplishment you have achieved in this industry that you are most proud of?
We have been able to create high-quality, sustainable, circular economy products combining cutting-edge science and organic, family farming for the global marketplace. The Identity products smell and taste great, have no aftertaste and they truly take care of both people and the planet. The company has several new products coming that I believe will move the future of food and wellness even further forward. These products are based on Norwegian food science and produced in a new state-of-the-art factory. 

What was your greatest lesson learned?
Staying humble and confident at the same time, and never folding in the adversity of new challenges. That is the key and why it’s worth getting up and going to work every day — to make things better.

What trait do you rely on most when making business decisions and why is this useful for you? 

I come from a heavy plan-based industry where feasibility studies are the key to all business decisions, so for me, the ability to do thorough research, analyzing numbers, facts, and trends is a given. That said, I have lived long enough to have seen some serious consequences and shortcomings of a business that relies on analysis and excel sheets alone. I think the decisions must sit well with both your intuition and gut as well as facts and experience.