Interview with Amber E. Senter, Founder and CEO of MAKR House and Co-Founder, Chairman and Executive Director of Supernova Women
Amber Senter has always had a soft spot for marijuana. Her background in branding and marketing led her to her first foray into the cannabis business in 2013. She moved to Oakland from Chicago to take a sales and marketing position at a small food company.
Today, Center is a cannabis entrepreneur and social justice advocate. She is the founder and CEO of MAKR House, the home of cannabis brands in California, and the co-founder, chairperson and executive director of Supernova Women, a nonprofit focused on empowering people of color in the cannabis industry. She sat down with New Cannabis Ventures to share her insights as a cannabis business leader in California, as well as her thoughts on the work still to be done in terms of success and social equity.
Listen to the entire interview or read the excerpt below:
MAKR House manufactures and sells cannabis products to licensed retailers in California. The company also sells coffee. It owns cannabis and coffee products under the Landrace Origins brand and has a cannabis-infused pre-roll brand. The company’s products are available at dispensaries in the Bay Area, and in January it will expand its reach to Southern California.
While fundraising has been challenging in the current climate, the company has been able to attract private equity investment. According to Senter, it found people who believed in the brand and the team.
marijuana in california
Illegal markets persist in the California market. Senter said the state’s regulations set high barriers to entry without any incentives for unregulated operators to operate in the legal market. She believes that deregulation will create greater incentives to do business in legal areas, although taxation will remain a major challenge.
Supernova Women was founded in 2015. The 501(c)(3) organization partnered with the City of Oakland to create the country’s first social equity program. It then partnered with San Francisco to create a social equity program. The organization is focused on giving the community a voice in building these programs. Senter and her team spend a lot of time reaching out to city residents and speaking with city staff.
In 2018, Supernova Women worked with California Senator Steven Bradford on the state’s first social equity bill, SB 1294. That legislation led to the formation of the Social Equity Program, which funds statewide initiatives today.
social justice progress
Today, Oakland has the strongest social equity program in the country, according to the centre. She believes the program was successful because it assessed results and focused on improvement. Initially, the program required general applicants to incubate a social equity operator. This approach has not proven successful. Instead, the program now has cannabis co-ops, spaces that allow social equity operators to share costs such as rent, insurance, utilities and security. Currently, these co-ops are limited to manufacturing, but there are plans to bring more types of businesses into the model.
Other cities across the country can learn from this model, Senter said. The shared space and cost lower the barrier to entry for those trying to get their small business off the ground.
Senter and her colleagues are continuing their work on social justice. Now, they’re pushing for a state-level definition of social equity in California. According to Senter, most other states with social equity laws have an agreed-upon definition, but California does not.
The cannabis industry’s recognition of how people of color have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs is a big step forward, but social justice is an ongoing effort. Senter sees funding and accountability as the two biggest keys to ensuring the success of social equity programs. When federal legalization is finally achieved, she hopes social equity operators will have access to grant and loan programs at the federal level.
Highlight Cannabis Industry Talent
Senter talked about some of the talent working behind the scenes to make cannabis more equitable and open up space for small businesses. She highlights Supernova Women board member Nina Parks who does a lot of work in San Francisco. According to Senter, she hosted various events and was the first to include a marijuana element in the city’s street festival.
She also pointed to the work of Chaney Turner, chair of the Auckland Cannabis Regulatory Commission. Center also talked about talent on the East Coast. Caroline Phillips, another Supernova Women board member, organized the National Cannabis Festival in Washington, D.C., which drew more than 20,000 people.
the coming year
The marijuana industry is in throes, and Senter expects that to continue into 2023. Consolidation will remain a trend and some businesses will have to close. But Senter looks forward to the work being done by advocates to push for regulatory reform to get more people involved in the industry. She’s also eager to see small businesses band together to carve out space for craft cannabis in the industry.
To learn more, visit Amber Senter’s website. Listen to the full interview: