Talk isn’t cheap for the founders of Ellementa. It’s the foundation of their business, a new digital platform and community that highlights how cannabis can be used to improve wellness for women. Partners Aliza Sherman, Melissa Pierce and Ashley Kingsley are building their audience one city at a time by hosting candid, in-person conversations about a topic that has long been taboo in the U.S.
‘There is a great deal of curiosity but…then that fear hits [attendees] like, ‘What if somebody I know knew I was here?” explains Sherman, a tech pioneer and author, of the fears expressed by women who grew up in the “Just Say No” era.
But rather than talking about getting high, the events focus soberly on the problems many women know well: chronic pain, anxiety, depression and insomnia. The launch of the New York City chapter in October at a hip downtown herbalist shop featured a discussion about cannabis and pain, including the differences between THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana and CBD, the part of the cannabis plant that offers analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety remedies. A recent Anchorage gathering tackled the differences between “smoking, vaping and dabbing.” And in Denver, last month, women got together to learn about the relationship between yoga and cannabis. So far, 600 women have attended in nine cities and later this month, the company will start chapters in Los Angeles and San Francisco. They pay a small fee to listen but they are on their own if they want to consume, especially if they live in a state where marijuana remains illegal.
“Having a national network of women either to tell us exactly what they need [0r] how they’re using something is very powerful,” says Ellementa’s COO Pierce, who explains the startup’s value proposition capitalizes on an environment where American cannabis companies face unique restrictions on how they advertise since marijuana is still criminalized by the federal government. The business is betting that as more states legalize marijuana, the bridge Ellementa can build between female consumers and cannabis brands will position them with exclusive market insights.
“Our sweet spot is actually [women] 40-plus: women who are in life transitions, extremely motivated to improve their health and wellness. They’re in the sandwich generation, caregiving for kids, caregiving for parents. They’re even care giving for friends. There is cancer in the family or in the community. There is chronic pain. There’s the opioid epidemic. Women are at the forefront of helping to heal others. We’re trying to put good information in their hands and lead them to the products and services out there who can help them on that personal journey of healing,” says Sherman, Ellementa’s CEO. The mom of two suffered from headaches, pain and side effects from early menopause herself before trying cannabis several years ago and finding relief.
Sherman and her business partners, who also have deep roots in consumer tech, believe women will dominate the medicinal and recreational markets as more states approve legalization in the coming years. Public opinion on ending federal prohibition is at an all-time high according to an October Gallup poll which found 64% of those surveyed favored legalization.
And so far, women entrepreneurs are making strong inroads. A new survey of cannabis workers by New Frontier Data and the networking organization Women Grow found that 30 percent are employed by wholly women-owned companies.
Given the current legal climate, U.S. businesses that support and supplement the nascent pot industry like Ellementa are especially ripe for growth. The new industry is spawning startups including ventures that offer business and software technology, accounting, legal, human resources, training, marketing, PR and security.
“The ancillary space is the right space to be because you minimize risk and you have a lot more gain, not from the plant itself but from everything else around it,” explains Sherman of pioneering a business that’s removed from growing or selling marijuana. Her passion is for education.
“Women are hungry for this information. They don’t know where to turn and who to trust. I want women to know about this and I want them to have the credible information and the stories of women who are just gaining so many benefits,” she says.