“We think of diversity as a keystone issue for the cannabis industry,” said Curio WMBE Fund managing director Jerel Registre in a conversation with TechCrunch. Registre’s conviction around this program is obvious as he explains the problem the fund is addressing.
The new fund, started by the Maryland-based medical cannabis company Curio Wellness, aims to help underserved entrepreneurs entering the cannabis market. With $30 million to invest, the Curio WMBE Fund is looking to invest in up to 50 women, minority and disabled veterans seeking to open and operate a Curio Wellness franchise with a path to 100% ownership in three years.
Registre tells TechCrunch the goal is to create more diverse ownership through a proven business model. Participants of this program gain access to capital and operational resources.
Curio made a name for itself in Maryland, where it’s the largest cannabis cultivator by market share. Founded in 2014, the family-owned business operates dispensaries rooted in a patient-centric approach. While a legally separate but affiliated entity from Curio Wellness, the Curio WMBE Fund aims to give franchisees access to Curio’s secret sauce.
“In looking at the systemic barriers that women, minorities and disabled veterans face in accessing capital, we decided to develop a solution that directly addresses this massive economic disparity,” said Michael Bronfein, CEO of Curio Wellness. “The Fund provides qualifying entrepreneurs with the investment capital they need to become a Curio Wellness Center franchisee while ensuring their success through our best in class business operations.”
“Let’s bottle the success we have,” Registre added. He likens the franchise model to McDonald’s, where the national corporation gives operators a proven standard operating procedure and ongoing support.
“Our fund is unlike any other in the industry,” Registre said, “as eligible entrepreneurs will have a clear path to 100% ownership in as little as three years. Many other funds rely on a model that utilizes minority entrepreneurs as a vehicle to achieve licenses: The Curio approach flips this model by empowering diverse entrepreneurs and supporting them along the way. If something happens and an investment-funded franchisee defaults, they must be replaced by another minority or woman owner. This ensures these licensees can get the financial support they need to launch while ensuring that the fund’s ultimate mission of supporting diverse entrepreneurs is achieved.”
Registre explained that diversity is central to Curio Wellness, too. Of the company’s 200 employees, 40% are female, and more than half are minorities. At the leadership level, 38% of management is female, and 44% identify as a member of a minority community.
“Diversity is a core asset that we recognize as integral to our success and our future, and that is why we decided to create this investment fund,” Registre said.
The fund provides two phases of support. The first provides capital to franchisees to open their Curio Wellness Center and assist them in obtaining licenses, selecting a location and hiring and training employees. Once the location is operational, the fund intends to provide ongoing support around managing, sales and marketing, store operations, and ensuring employees stay updated on product information.
Curio sees its locations as more than cannabis dispensaries. The company calls them Wellness Centers.
“Curio locations go beyond the traditional experience people have at a medical cannabis dispensary — they are total wellness destinations, under the leadership of a licensed pharmacist,” Registre explains. “Patient wellness is at the center of everything we do and is exemplified by a diverse array of holistic health products, services and educational programming we offer. While additive to the medical cannabis patient experience, these features open the store up to the entire community, not limiting the healthcare experience to only those with a medical cannabis card. This practice, of a patient-first mindset through a pharmacist-led model, allows us to truly lead the pursuit of wellness for everyone who walks in the front door.”
As of writing, the fund has raised half of its $30 million target. The company says the fund intentionally targeted, pitched and secured an investment pool that includes women and minorities. The fund expects to close by the end of 2020, and applications are expected to open in early 2021.