Conventional market wisdom has it that risk can reap a large reward – but the nascent legal cannabis market is one of the more audacious. However it has not stopped Greg Black, founder of healthcare consultancy Sheep Guru, and MBA, from blazing a trail in medical marijuana marketing.
He is one of a gaggle of MBAs moving into the blossoming consumer market for reactional cannabis. Entrepreneurs are gaining a high in the emerging industry thanks to the legalization of production and sales in some US states and in European countries such as Uruguay.
About 20 US states and the District of Columbia allow for some form of legal medical marijuana – although not all of them permit sales – but the drug remains illegal under US federal law.
According to ArcView Group, a cannabis investor network, the US legal cannabis market could expand to $10 billion by 2018, and was forecast to grow by two-thirds in 2014 to $2.3 billion.
By developing digital marketing strategies for healthcare groups, Greg believes he can help them to increase sales and profits in the medical marijuana market.
He describes the current economy as a “perfect storm” for the sector’s inception.
“Any way you look at it, rather devil's advocate or a supporter, cannabis makes economical sense,” he said, in a widely read blog post – The Year of the Cannabis Entrepreneur.
“This is an important time in history for entrepreneurs, as new opportunities emerge and ventures take place,” said Greg, an MBA graduate of the University of Phoenix in Arizona.
Sheep Guru, founded in 2010, provides a range of services to businesses including SEO – search engine optimization – content marketing and web design.
Cannabis marketing makes but a part of the company's offering, but the recent liberalization of US marijuana laws has seen a rush of businesses and investors move into the market.
Privateer Holdings is one of the most prominent. The US private equity firm focuses investments in the marijuana industry.
It runs businesses including Tilray, a Canadian medical marijuana producer that has about 100 employees, and cannabis ratings website Leafly. Co-founded by Brendan Kennedy, an MBA graduate of Yale School of Management, Privateer has raised $22 million in funding and loans so far.
In 2014 it struck a deal with the estate of legendary reggae artist Bob Marley to launch its cannabis brand on a global scale.
It has a number of other MBA students on its executive team, including Michael Blue, CFO who also graduated from Yale, and Christian Groh, COO who has an MBA from San Francisco State University.
Its employee ranks are awash with big-name US business schools: Privateer employs gradates of the Tuck School of Business and the University of Washington, among other academic institutions.
Public support for cannabis has strengthened following adult legalization in Washington in 2012 and Colorado, which hosted the US’ first legal sale of cannabis for recreational use in 2014.
Europe too has embraced the herb and it has been decriminalized in countries such as the Netherlands and more recently Uruguay.
In a sign of things to come, ArcView forecasts that a further 14 US states may legalise adult use within the next three years.
For Greg at Sheep Guru, it may continue to provide the firm with clients who have a penchant for investing at the edge of legality.
“It is a wonder why the rest of the country has not legalized the industrial plant to help boost the economy, job market and GDP,” he added.