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Women in Pot Tech, a Focus on Seniors and Yoga Spenders

"It's even a female plant. Did you guys ever think about that?"


The scene at the Runway Incubator last night, where some startup workers were still coding late and the Wi-Fi password was “codehappy,” was confusing to one young programmer, who popped out from behind a desk.

“Do you know what this is? Does it smell like pot?” he said, gesturing to the crowd.

It did smell like pot and for good reason. Last night at Runway Incubator in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood, the cannabis advocacy group Women Grow (10,000 entrepreneurs strong) hosted a sold out potpreneurship for women night, where more than 200 people came to learn about startups in the booming legal pot industry. Speakers talked about the huge potential for women to enter into a new industry that didn’t yet have a glass ceiling and for which women could end up being the primary consumers. The legal pot market around women, who are already the main consumers of health foods and yoga, could be enormous.

 A dome lounge at potpreneur night
A dome lounge at potpreneur night
Nellie Bowles

“It’s even a female plant. Did you guys ever think about that?” event organizer Jazmin Hupp said (only female plants grow buds). “We know that women are going to be the primary buyers of this product. One in five face depression. One in eight face breast cancer. And they’re already the leading purchasers of yoga and health and wellness goods.”

The legal pot industry grew 73 percent between 2013 and 2014, from $1.5 billion to 2.7 billion, according to Troy Dayton, the CEO of ArcView, a cannabis startup investor network. He said this growth comes just from converting illegal consumers to legal consumers where marijuana has become legal (Colorado and Washington) and where medical marijuana has been approved (twenty states so far, including California). High-profile investors like a member of the Pritzker family and Founders Fund have added an air of legitimacy to the potpreneur field.

“We’re not talking about new users, we’re talking about the criminal market or the illicit coming into the legal realm,” Dayton said. “Most entrepreneurs and investors are in this phase of betting on federal legalization. That’s when the big exits happen — and we legalize marijuana in the process.”

Nellie Bowles

Set up on folding tables down the hallway, there were: pot social networks, Uber for pot, a cannabis CO2 extraction hardware startup, pot for pets and a VC for pot.

The audience of mostly women but a few men milled around a snack table with mini tofu skewers and spinach fritters. There was less interest in the open bar, which served wine. They hung out on couches inside an indoor dome. Eventually, the networkers quieted for the speakers and panel to begin.

Dale Sky Jones, the executive chancellor at cannabis training center Oaksterdam University, began with a rousing call to ensure women take seats at the pot industry table.

“It’s the first industry that’s actually being built by women, that we don’t have to break into a good old boy’s network,” Jones said. “It’s the good old girls that are building this one.”

A panel of four women in the pot field took the stage to talk about some of the challenges. Pot has been marketed to men in the past and women are less open about buying it, said Sabrina Fendrick, who works with Berkeley Patients Group.

Aundre Speciale, co-founder of the Cannabis Buyers Club of Berkeley, said that a lot of the gender issues in early pot had to do with marketing and weed names. Pot with a name like Cinderella 99 does well with women.

“Anything that’s called ‘sweet island skunk’ or ‘pineapple’ or ‘island delight,’ the girls are on it,” Speciale said. “It comes from being not so savvy with the strains and looking for something that feels comfortable.”

Sue Taylor, who works on the Advisory Commission on Aging, said part of the problem was that products themselves aren’t made with women in mind — for example, there needs to be more sugar-free edibles.

Nellie Bowles

The incubator space wasn’t pot-smoking friendly despite the psychedelic dome they seem to keep permanently, but there was an afterparty at a nearby bar that would be, so the networkers decamped.

“We’re starting a multi-billion dollar industry. All the tech entrepreneurs who are struggling to find a rabid customer base should get in it,” said the night’s organizer Hupp, adding with a laugh: “As long as they can accept cash.”

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