The title of serial entrepreneur fits JM Balbuena perfectly. She is the author of the Amazon best-seller, The Successful Cannapreneur, and has started numerous businesses in her journey thus far. After investing in several businesses, she entered the cannabis space as she suffered a traumatic brain injury. Her experience using cannabis to help with her health issues steered her toward starting several companies involving cannabis.
Balbuena is utilizing her experience to help others, especially other women of color, find a path toward successful entrepreneurship in this fickle yet still growing field. BLACK ENTERPRISE was able to speak to her regarding the reasons for becoming an entrepreneur, how she arrived at the cannabis space, and what she would suggest to those who want a successful career as a business owner.
As a person of color in the cannabis industry, what led you to become an entrepreneur in this space?
I started my journey as a medical patient in California, post-military service. During my time in the US Navy, I suffered a traumatic brain injury. The TBI (traumatic brain injury) disrupted a lot in my life, from my sleeping pattern and eating habits to chronic headaches. This took a toll on my overall mental health. Cannabis helped me to manage all of the above. Regardless of the healing, I was still scared to come out to my family and friends, given our preconceived notions about the plant and what it does. The relationship people of color have with cannabis is one of criminalization and discrimination, and it is heavily driven by propaganda. As an entrepreneur in other industries, I swiftly saw the opportunity this novel industry set forth. But that opportunity was not being pursued by people that looked like me.
People label you as a serial entrepreneur. What other businesses have you created, and what drives you to start companies? What keeps you going in terms of being a business owner?
I’ve started (or invested in) a lot of businesses (Copywriting, Teeth whitening, Shoe eCommerce, Phone case retail, and many more). But my first success came from co-founding my family’s owned-and-operated business, Palenque Provisions. We are a Latin American food producer headquartered in New Jersey, selling our products throughout the East Coast. Within the cannabis industry, I started my consulting firm, Balbuena Consulting, after three years of working in the regulated space. We morphed into Synergy as we transitioned into focusing on finding solutions for the marketing hurdles cannabis companies face. Boycott Shitty Weed is my cannabis advocacy lifestyle brand. We focus on building community and awareness of the diversity within the cannabis consumer population, the perils of prohibition, and the sustainability benefits and opportunities that stem from cannabis. I am most excited about Jaxx Cannabis, our cannabis dispensary in San Diego. This year we have a lot of initiatives for growth with the communities we serve as we plan to shake things up within the cannabis investment realm by making it accessible to all.
What keeps me going is my passion for solving problems, finding ways to circumvent challenges, and using creativity to address them. I also love the people I work with.
You’ve also written a book, The Successful Cannapreneur. Why did you decide to write a book? What tips and advice do you give those who purchase it?
I wrote The Successful Cannapreneur to motivate current cannapreneurs, plant the seed of curiosity for future cannapreneurs, and paint a realistic picture of entrepreneurship in this space for the world outside of cannabis. I have a deep desire to create a sustainable cannabis industry comprised of resourceful leaders who focus on creativity, community, and the pursuit of financial freedom through following their passion for cannabis. Personally, I think prohibition can be seen as an opportunity in many ways. Number one, prohibition serves as a barrier to entry as it will keep people from entering the space. Hence, your competition pool will not be as vast as it could be if federal prohibition was not a thing. Number two, it serves as an opportunity for social justice reform and advocacy. By investing in the industry and spending your energy on seeing it through, you contribute to the bigger picture, which is sharing the message that the cannabis plant is good and beneficial.
As a woman of color, the path to starting a business can be difficult, especially in the cannabis space. How have you been able to navigate through this industry and be able to sustain being an entrepreneur?
There’s no way around it; women of color are overlooked and underpaid as business owners. It is a very tough journey given that most of us are highly educated, extremely qualified, and in many instances, have solid experience in our respective fields. Yet we don’t get funded by banks and VCs at the same rate as other groups; we aren’t afforded the same opportunities either. I have worked full time to fund my businesses, I have used my personal credit, and I have raised capital from family. In many ways, it is a great feeling getting creative to find ways to keep growing a brand, a business, or whatever I set my mind to. But ultimately, my goal is to, like many women of color, pave a way for those behind me and also to invest in us (women of color).
What would you suggest to anyone who wants to start their own business?
Alignment is a big deal to me. Therefore, making sure beliefs, goals, and resources are all in alignment with action is key to a successful entrepreneurship journey in the cannabis space and in all industries. Throughout my journey, I have witnessed many businesses come and go. I have seen many entrepreneurs win and lose, and I have seen legislation that helps and legislation that makes things tougher. But the one thing that remains consistent besides change is the resiliency of the cannapreneurs that are in it for the long run. This level of creative business acumen is not talked about enough in the media, as mainstream media mostly focuses on controversial headlines about the industry’s billion sales numbers, consumption rates, DEA involvement, fraud, or medical-related stories. They barely focus on the backbone of the industry: the people pushing the industry forward. Follow your passion and never give up.