Brendon Robinson and Stanley Okoro are friends from childhood developing cannabis enterprise training courses and cannabis industry events.
Brendon Robinson is the CEO, and Okoro is Vice President of Minority Cannabis Academy (MCA), a company designed to educate people on the nuances of the cannabis industry. Okoro is the CEO of 420NJEvents, where Robinson is the Vice President
“We’re really able to tackle these things together,” Okoro said.
Robinson and Okoro grew up together in Chesilhurst in Camden County. While they went to different high schools, they remained close friends.
Robinson has a background in business and retail management, business banking, marketing director. Robinson managed 70 bank branches and was responsible for a portfolio of $750 million.
Okoro has a background in logistics working for Security Alliance Management as the Director of Operations. He is a longtime consumer of cannabis and has always advocated for the plant, citing its medicinal and social aspects.
“I love the opportunities it brings,” Okoro said. “I knew I wanted to be in cannabis in some fashion.”
Earlier in life, Robinson was against cannabis. When he was 13, his father was sentenced to 10 years in jail for it. In addition, Robinson was an athlete protective of his lungs. When he was 20 years old in college, Robinson was introduced to the plant.
Initially, their goal was to get a dispensary license. But when they saw the difficulties involved, they pivoted and created the cannabis enterprise MCA to help minorities enter the cannabis industry.
They started 420NJEvents in 2017. Okoro wanted to create a platform geared toward events and blogs geared toward minorities. However, they put it on the backburner. After the legalization referendum passed last fall, they began building their business.
Launching MCA for Cannabis Enterprise Training
Both are concerned that Black ownership in cannabis is less than five percent ownership in the industry.
“We’re very strong advocates for minorities entering this space in any kind of fashion,” Okoro said.
They both saw individuals spending money and courses they did not think were effective, or they were overpriced.
Thus, MCA was created to educate black and brown individuals on the nuances of working at a dispensary and how to launch cannabis enterprises.
“This is hard for anybody, let alone Black and Brown folks,” Okoro said, noting the many economic and social barriers they often have to face.
MCA will teach budtending, cultivation, horticulture, extracting, processing, an introduction to cannabis law, and cannabis enterprise training.
They held virtual educational seminars in March featuring Nick D’Amelio of TerrAscend; Sarah Trent of Valley Wellness; Jade Green of CannaMLS, a real estate-centered firm; and Peggy Burg of Ecquinabis, a diversity, and compliance consulting firm.
“We know a good amount about this stuff, but we’re not going to be the experts,” Robinson said.
To start a cannabis company and comply with the many regulations requires significant capital, which is a barrier to most people seeking a license. However, Robinson is familiar with complying with many regulations from his experience in the banking industry.
“Cannabis is so regulated, and that oftentimes gets in the way of people,” Robinson said.
Many experts note that expertise in other highly regulated industries will come in handy in the cannabis industry. However, predatory lending, whereby somebody has to pay high-interest payments and similar deals, is also a problem.
“Folks don’t know or have the resources,” Robinson said.
420NJEvents is their digital media platform dedicating to hosting cannabis events and a podcast. Their immediate goals include hosting virtual events and post-COVID events.
“Education is one of the hugest things we want to provide to our subscribers,” Okoro said.
“We want to hit the reset button. Outside is just starting to open up,” Okoro said.
Okoro said an expungement drive to erase cannabis-crime-related records will be their first in-person event. They are currently working on partnerships to host it this summer. They would also like to host meet and greet sessions and virtual game nights.
“They want to do in-person events, however, “COVID stymied us,” Okoro said.
Robinson said it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at the end of prohibition.
They are still contemplating securing a license in the future.