“I think a general consensus you’ll hear from many industry veterans is that the majority of the maturing markets will continue to see consolidation with flower prices stabilizing. . . I’m very interested in what happens with the new Gen Z talent that will inevitably be brought into the space this year. I can’t wait to see what kind of unique ideas they bring to the table, whether that be in relation to business strategy, content creation, new products, or innovation.”
The legal cannabis industry in the US employs about half a million people, the figure will most likely increase as more states move to legalize. For many, finding meaningful employment in the industry is an arduous task. Universities are not offering courses that are directly tailored for the industry so it's up to you to figure it out. Those who've managed to find their way around have cause to celebrate, ask Spencer Hemmingway.
Spencer’s career allows him to combine his athletic talent with his love for the cannabis plant, and that gives him great fulfillment. As he says, “I just want to be outside, immersed in nature, doing the things I love.”
Spencer is a partnerships manager at Bespoke Financial, the first and leading fintech lender in the cannabis space. In this brief interview, Spencer takes us through his journey into the cannabis industry as he also shares key experiences in the last year and lessons learnt along the way.
As a brief introduction, how did your career path lead you to the cannabis industry?
About 2-3 years ago, I was a student-athlete at Brown University studying economics. I worked internships every summer at financial institutions like CIBC and JP Morgan, but then the pandemic hit, and everything kind of shifted. I was forced off my school’s campus and back home to Atlanta. When I finally finished school, there were few job opportunities in finance and consulting because most companies were freezing hiring. Contemplating my next move, I sought a job with transferable skills rather than focusing on industry and eventually landed at Oracle in Los Angeles, selling enterprise software. Although the job wasn’t for me, I was able to gain valuable business development experience, as well as a basic understanding of how software systems work to promote growth. However, I eventually found myself less enthusiastic about the work of selling to general businesses. By immersing myself in the Southern California cannabis culture and triggered by my own interest in learning, I found myself playing docuseries on the War on Drugs while doing CRM data entries or multitasking by scrolling cannabis industry articles while sending emails in my apartment in Venice. I knew the work I was doing wasn’t sustainable, so I listened to myself and knew it was time for a change and found a way to make my personal interest my everyday life.
While at Brown, I was in this group called SMART which educated students on the cannabis industry. I had an inkling that could be a route for me, but I wasn’t too sure at the time how to even approach entering the industry for myself. But while in LA, I did a lot of networking with people by just inviting them to smoke a joint and did my own research on the industry and its history. The more I understood that the history of the industry was marred by racism and the war on drugs, the more I wanted to find a way to participate myself and also open up the door for more people who looked like me. So, I started cold-emailing people. I wanted a job where I could combine my finance knowledge with my cannabis knowledge and before I knew it, I had a job as an analyst at a cannabis consulting group called Point 7 based in Aspen, Colorado.
I spent time learning the ropes of writing cannabis licensing applications, mainly creating financial models and technical writing application drafts. After I got some experience in the cannabis industry under my belt, I reconnected with a friend I had made networking in LA, and by leveraging my background in finance, technology, and project management, I was able to join the team Bespoke Financial as a Partnership Manager. So, I think, building up a diverse skill set plus being open to talking to different people helped me get to where I am now.
Briefly introduce Bespoke Financial and your unique role in the company?
Bespoke Financial is the first exclusive fintech lender in the cannabis space. At Bespoke, we provide non-dilutive financing to dispensaries, manufacturers, and cultivators so that they can expand, grow, and do their day-to-day operations.
As a debt lender in the space, we want to help people execute their businesses efficiently and generate growth without owners having to give up an equity stake in their businesses. Working with the team at Bespoke has been amazing as we are actively solving challenging problems in the industry.
As far as my position goes, I’m a partnership manager. I build relationships with cannabis and ancillary cannabis companies so that both parties can find ways to grow. This could be a dispensary, software company, law firm, packaging company, etc. Partnerships can be as simple as referring business to one another or sometimes involve fun projects like hosting collaborated events. My day-to-day work schedule can involve business development, project management, data analysis, digital marketing, and more.
What has been the highlight of your company/career in 2022?
This year we launched an integrated partnership with Point-of-Sale (POS) provider BLAZE. BLAZE dispensary POS users can now access Bespoke Financial financing through their POS software. This is industry leading technology as we are leveraging data to provide fast access to non-dilutive capital for cannabis operators.
Seeing as it is my first year at Bespoke, I thought it was a great highlight to kick off my time there with such a fulfilling partnership. What’s even better is that BLAZE has been a great partner run by amazing people. They have some great ideas, fueled by the goal of trying to modernize the current state of cannabis, which is something Bespoke is trying to do, as well. So, they’re a wonderful partner, and I’m excited to see how it evolves this year.
2022 definitely reinforced the sentiment that I’m in the right industry and working with the right people. Traveling to industry events has been one of my favorite things to do, and I can’t wait to continue that next year. The fact that I am enjoying the work I’m doing and the people I’m doing it with just solidifies for me that the cannabis industry is the only field I could really ever be in.
Any predictions for the cannabis industry in 2023?
I think a general consensus you’ll hear from many industry veterans is that the majority of the maturing markets will continue to see consolidation with flower prices stabilizing. From what we’ve seen in the past couple quarters plus conversations with our operators, I can agree with that sentiment. I don’t have any strong convictions about what will happen in 2023, but there are a few things I am excited to see play out. The first is how New Jersey and New York states react to a first year of adult-use sales. New York has always had such a robust cannabis culture and is one of my favorite places I’ve lived, so I’m interested in seeing how 2023 plays out there.
Lastly, I’m very interested in what happens with the new Gen Z talent that will inevitably be brought into the space this year. I can’t wait to see what kind of unique ideas they bring to the table, whether that be in relation to business strategy, content creation, new products, or innovation. I’m just excited to see the influx of new talent and young people coming onto the scene. That’ll be really interesting.
What’s next for Spencer?
At Bespoke, I’m looking forward to meeting more high-quality partners and creating more partnerships. I want to partner with people who are like-minded and trying to do good work in the space. I also want to find, work with, and/or help develop more up-and-coming Black people who are interested in working in this space, as well. I want to help them out as much as I can, even if it’s just talking to them about my story or giving them recommendations.
The other thing I’m excited about is moving back to California and re-engaging with the cannabis culture out there. I’m looking forward to doing more events tailored to the plant and I’m hoping some of those events can also combine my athletic skills. I have an athletic background, and I recently started trail running. I’m actually running my first marathon in ten days. So, I also want to connect with people who enjoy complimenting physical wellness and the plant. I’m looking forward to creating a community around that, as I think the essence of cannabis is community. I just want to be outside, immersed in nature, doing the things I love.
It was a great pleasure to have this conversation with Spencer Hemmingway. Readers who wish to keep up with how Bespoke Financial is transforming the industry are welcome to visit their website.