Natasha Perkins is the Chief Marketing Officer of Jimmy’s Cannabis shops as well as the Director of Business Development at the Prairie Cann Growth Corporation. A veteran of the cannabis industry, Natasha also teaches at Loyalist College as a Professor of Cannabis Regulations where she helps students engage with materials and concepts that prepare them for the regulatory requirements of operating a business, or working, within the legal cannabis sector in Canada.
Alpha Woman’s CEO Leslie Andrachuk sat down with Natasha to talk about her roots as an entrepreneur, and the cannabis industry.
LA: You’ve clearly got entrepreneurialism in your blood! Very intrigued by your experience founding a not-for-profit baking business in Botswana. What led you to Africa and why did you launch this business?
NP: During my time working as a management consultant with MNP (Business Consultancy), we were engaged by the Government of Botswana to assist with a large-scale e-Governance project. After being selected to join the team I signed on for a six-week assignment, which organically turned into two years spent overseas. I fell in love with Botswana and still feel a tremendous amount of gratitude for the time I was able to spend there.
Starting a not-for-profit baking business in Botswana was not part of my life plan. Blu Confectionary literally started out of the corner of my kitchen and then the demand for the products and services we produced was insane. It became clear there was a real opportunity to do something I love while imparting business and baking skills to local women.
LA: What was it like working as a female entrepreneur in Botswana?
NP: I was in a position of incredible privilege and that was not lost on me. What I can say is I observed a number of hard-working local female entrepreneurs who paved their own way. There are cultural differences between Botswana and Canada but perhaps more surprising are the similarities. The greatest barrier for female entrepreneurs being the inherently patriarchal systems.
LA: What happened to Blu Confectionary after you left?
NP: A series of events beyond my control, not dissimilar to four weddings and a funeral, led to my swift departure from Botswana. Over the space of two weeks I donated my assets to a local charity and headed back to Canada. I have kept the rights to my intellectual property (e.g. recipes) and brand assets; I still wear my Blu apron with pride.
LA: What did you learn from building a business in Botswana?
NP: I found my voice and strength while building a business in Botswana. I learned how to coach others, delegate appropriately and create recipes for success (pun intended). When it no longer became viable to achieve my vision on my own, I enlisted the skills and time of others. I learned how to create ecosystems and mechanisms that could live on without me so I could focus on finding the right path for the business.
LA: What is life like for women in general in Botswana?
NP: My observations of life as a female in Botswana is there are high expectations to adhere to gender roles at home and in the work place. Gender based violence is apparent and there are limited supports for the LGBTQ community. Not to say there aren’t happy, prospering women in Botswana, but life can be challenging for many.
In Botswana, 20.8% of women are unemployed compared to 13.9% of men*. Women hold only 15.8% of Ministerial positions*. Only 34% of women from low-income families complete secondary education whereas 80% and 94% of women from middle income and high income respectively will complete their secondary school education*. Only 44% of women have access to contraception and 31.7% of women ages 15-19 will give birth*. On average women in Botswana have 2.7 children in their lifetime*.
I’ll share an anecdote that illustrates the power of societal norms and cultural influences. I remember sitting in a Toronto restaurant shortly after my return to Canada and experiencing cognitive dissonance when observing married women socialize with men who were not their husbands. My friend, who had returned from Botswana a year or two earlier than me, reminded me that this is Canada and culturally this interaction is viewed differently.
LA: You’ve been working in the cannabis in industry a long time. What compelled you to commit to cannabis, is there a personal story there?
NP: Yes, it’s been a quick four years working in the cannabis industry. When I started out I was with MNP and like a lot of business professionals, I recognized the opportunity this new industry brings with it. Given my Vancouver Island roots and a family member who personally benefits from medical cannabis daily I was motivated to learn as much as possible when the partners at MNP tasked me with the file. I could recognize fear towards cannabis in the business community, so I was only too happy to dispel misnomers with evidence-based research. We can always combat fear with information and education.
LA: You’ve recently launched PrairieCann Growth Corporation. What does this company do?
NP: PrairieCann Growth Corporation is a management company dedicated to growing and investing in Industrial Hemp and Cannabis opportunities in Western Canada.
LA: What’s the long-term vision and mission for PrairieCann?
NP: PrairieCann is actively contributing to the maturity of the Industrial Hemp and Cannabis sector in Western Canada.
PrairieCann will create economic opportunities for Western Canada through its Cannabis and Industrial Hemp partnerships, business ventures, products and services.
LA: You’ve also launched Jimmy Cannabis Shops, congratulations. Which provinces will we be seeing Jimmy’s in?
NP: Thank you! We are proud to have opened three of our four stores in Saskatchewan. We will also be launching our online store in February (knock on wood); we are excited to service the entire province. Next up, British Columbia!
LA: What have your biggest challenges been in launching your retail outlets?
NP: Lottery systems that are not merit based. It can feel incredibly frustrating to be a prepared business when a numbered company with no intention of operating is gifted a retail license.
LA: How do you see the future of Saskatchewan’s cannabis industry evolving: what impact do you think the legalization of hemp cultivation down in the US will have on the hemp industry in Saskatchewan?
NP: Saskatchewan is an agricultural giant and will remain a significant player in the cultivation of Industrial Hemp. I suspect we will learn from our neighbors down south as they begin to problem solve the many challenges which stem from harvesting Industrial Hemp for CBD purposes at commercial scale. Friendly importation and exportation will be key to our shared development. Unlike any other country, Canada is renowned for the quality and safety standards of its food industry.
LA: What do you love about Saskatchewan?
NP: I love the Saskatchewan people. They are kind, down to earth, hardworking and have their priorities straight –people/friends/family first. Having moved here from Vancouver Island at 15 years old to play hockey I like to think I am an honorary Saskatchewanian at this point.
LA: What kind of cannabis products do you envision women specifically gravitating to?
NP: Wellness products. Products that define new wellness categories are going to be here to stay.
LA: Having been deeply involved with the industry for so long. What do you feel are the biggest challenges to rolling out a new, federally regulated industry such as Canada is attempting to do?
NP: Taking inventory of the varying needs and requirements of stakeholders. You simply cannot please everyone, and you need to keep the public safe. I think that’s a delicate balance when trying to make rules to support any new industry where unknowns come with the territory.
LA: Women are under-represented as founders and leaders in the cannabis industry. What do you feel is blocking them from attaining leadership positions, and being asked to sit on boards?
NP: This statement holds true in business in general, so I am not surprised to see it in cannabis. I recently read an article where the author claimed there is no glass ceiling in the cannabis industry for women and I hope that becomes true. I am of the opinion that as a society we need to place a higher value on diversity in general. Women can be different from men and that is a good thing, a profitable thing even.
LA: Do you have any advice for women entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry?
NP: Work hard, stay humble and do your research before signing on the dotted line. You’re going to be right sometimes and wrong a lot of the time; I believe that comes with being human not just female. Also, I just want to say to all the women out there in case you haven’t heard it in a while –you are doing f@$*!ing incredible, keep up the great work!
*See here for data source.