Maryland-based vertically integrated cannabis operator Curio Wellness has announced a new funding program that will provide $30 million in startup capital to up to 50 minority business owners to allow them to open a Curio franchise in one of multiple states.
“At its root, it was born of an interest in making a statement about diversity,” Jerel Registre, managing director of the Curio WMBE Fund, told Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary.
Curio CEO Michael Bronfein started thinking about ways to support diversity in the industry back in 2018, Registre said, and worked with one of the company’s key investors to move beyond Curio’s focus on a diverse employee base to create business ownership opportunities for women, minorities and disabled veterans.
Access to capital is a key challenge for many prospective business owners, Registre said, due to the cannabis industry’s limited access to banking, as well as diverse communities historically having a more difficult time accessing capital to build businesses.
“That is where the idea for a fund was born,” Registre said. “Then, as we looked at how to make sure that both the fund and the entrepreneurs were successful over time, we wanted to be able to provide operational support that went beyond advice, really. … We settled on franchising because that really enabled us to partner with the franchisees or the entrepreneurs to drive both the performance and the brand of the store in a way that created sustainable business and business models.”
How to best address diversity remains an important challenge as the cannabis industry matures and faces the prospect of federal legalization, Registre said, and in taking a stab at solving this issue, the Curio team hopes to bring industry stakeholders together on what a