From the Dog Track to the Mega Show to Post-COVID Reunions

Lisa
December 15, 2021

Returning to Cannabis Industry Events in a More Connected Way

The isolation of COVID was painful in many ways — including the sudden halt to trade shows and business travel. Engaging with industry colleagues across the country and around the world has always been a highlight of working in the cannabis industry from the early days. 

When our team landed in Las Vegas in October this year — after an almost 2-year hiatus — it was a welcome reminder that there is just no substitute for face-to-face interaction with like-minded individuals working together to build the cannabis industry. This time of reconnection was also a time of reflection on the evolution of cannabis industry events.

MJBizCon Early Days:

Some may remember the 2013 MJBizCon at a dog track outside of Seattle. Or, the first one in Vegas — in 2014 at the Rio. What people may not remember is that the very first MJBizCon was actually held in 2012 at the Masonic Lodge in Denver with a few hundred people — and we were there. Promotional materials for the 2015 conference boasted 5,000 attendees! Now, rebounding from a COVID break, the show now boasts 35,000 attendees, which is a testament to the conference itself and to the growth of the industry.

Through the years, we’ve spoken at and exhibited at what has been known as the “must-attend” show in Vegas along with offshoots like MJBizCon Next in New Orleans. 

While this show has certainly stood as a cornerstone for our company in it’s time, as the show grew from the dog track to the mega show, it was time for us to reconsider the best fit for our current position in the industry.

When thinking about the best elements of some of the early conferences, our Founding Partner Diane Czarkowski was reminded of the MJBizCon roadshow in Ohio and Pennsylvania where she spoke and participated — even before there were official markets in those states.

It was a very intimate, personal setting where we met with moms of sick kids in Pennsylvania who were leading the charge and influential in getting legalization passed. These moms have been forgotten some as events and the industry have grown. We owe a lot to them. They humanized the effort and drove early awareness of cannabis for medical use.

These moms took a stand and said “This is what is helping my kid. Make it legal. Allow access to this medicine.” Getting back to this personal, human connection made us rethink the mega shows and consider how we can forge new relationships and rekindle current relationships as the world opens back up.

Arcview Group:

As Lifetime Members and recipients of the Outstanding Member Award, we have been an integral part of Arcview Group events and funding efforts. Highlights include serving as selection committee members and judges in Arcview’s numerous “Shark Tank” competitions and other programs where we provided seed money for businesses that are now recognized leading brands in the industry. It’s tough to measure the impact, but looking around you can see the lasting, collective impact of resources all focused on building this industry.

One of the best Arcview events was Aspen High, a small, curated event of industry insiders held in Aspen, Colorado in 2018.  

Aspen High was epic — the epitome of a creative setting with snowmobiling and connecting on a personal level. We still had panels, but they were “bite-sized sessions” where we could talk about what we just heard vs just being stuck in a seat like the massive conferences. The content and conversations were much more nuanced and advanced. It brought regulators and business owners together to make a meaningful difference. One example is Diane having the opportunity to sit down for a one-on-one fireside session with Dominique Mendiola, who was Colorado’s Director of Marijuana Coordination at the time.

Other Notable Shows:

From National Cannabis Industry Association regional caucuses and national-level summits to Women Grow and Arcview events that are too many to count, our stance has always been rooted in mutual benefit of participating in these events as entrepreneurs, investors, and advocates.

We’ve spoken at Cannabis World Conference and Business Expo (CWCBE) and IC3 events in numerous years from Los Angeles, to Boston, to New York. Diane shared the stage in Austin, Texas, at SXSW with the launch of Ashley Piciilo’s women-focused book Breaking the Grass Ceiling. Internationally, Jay spoke at the Cannabis Investor Forum in London just before the world shut down for COVID.

One element is consistent in the favorites: One on one connections. From sharing the stage or just by going down to the bar at the event, you never know who you might run into — both long-time colleagues and clients and those new to the industry who you’ll work side by side with for years to come.

New Approach Post-COVID:

With the impact of personal connections in mind, we carefully considered how to approach re-entry to industry events as COVID restrictions loosened. And, we kept returning to the theme of “smaller event, higher level of connection.” That’s when we became aware of a new event being planned by long-time industry colleague George Gage who had left his previous role where he helped build MJBizCon to start Jage Media and the inaugural MJ Unpacked.

We supported MJ Unpacked because we had recognized that the mass-style approach of MJBizCon was no longer a fit for our business model and wanted more substantive interactions. And, we supported MJ Unpaced because we believe in George. That support included an investment through our Trailhead cannabis investment fund and holding court in our investor suite at the event with our Canna Advisors team and our affiliated executive recruiting company H2Talent.

Highlights over the several days in Vegas included seeing long-time industry colleagues and friends after a long separation due to COVID-19, getting to meet some of our newer clients from across the US in person for the first time, a swanky cocktail party hosted by Joe Rossi and his partners at Park Strategies and attended by a long list of who’s who, and the fundraiser/benefit for Last Prisoner Project and after-party at the House of Blues. And, getting to ring the gong!

The energy was palpable. You could see the smiles even behind the masks. We appreciated the highly-curated environment and comfortable suites to have substantive conversations.

More Connection in 2022:

With this right-sized return to in-person events, we will use this more connected model as we move into 2022.

For the first half of the year, we will participate in and host our own small-scale, curated events mainly in New York and New Jersey. We will host our own roadshow in late March or early April, and participate in MJ Unpacked in NYC in May, and CWCBE at the Javits Center in June. And, we’re opening an office in Manhattan, so we look forward to having one-on-one conversations there.

 

Stay tuned for more details. See you soon in New York or New Jersey!

Diane and Jay Czarkowski

Founding Partners, Canna Advisors

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