Jeanne M Sullivan: Weed and women are a great big gold mine

20 Oct 2016

Jeanne M Sullivan, founder of StarVest Partners, at Inspirefest 2016. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

In an eye-opening talk at Inspirefest 2016, StarVest Partners founder Jeanne M Sullivan discussed how smart investors know that products catering to women and ‘weed’ are a potential gold mine.

As the first day of Inspirefest 2016 was winding down, the last person to have her say was Jeanne M Sullivan. With over 25 years’ experience as a VC, she was certainly one of the more outspoken investors at the event.

The focus of her talk was on what is being described as the ‘experienced economy’. This relates to the market that caters to the ‘baby boomer’ generation, rather than the current millennial generation aged typically between 18 and 34.

Future Human

Rewiring, not retiring

With over 35 years of experience “working their tails off”, Sullivan said baby boomers are not looking to hand over the reins to millennials just yet, resulting in the experienced economy.

This isn’t about creating a divide between baby boomers and millennials however, rather, the two generations need to work together for mutual benefit.

She said that this isn’t an easy solution but requires a complete update in mindset across both generations, with boomers needing to think in terms of ‘refire’ and ‘rewire’, but certainly not retire.

Based on what Sullivan was saying on stage, this rewiring and refiring is a total change of mind required for baby boomers, who might think at the later points in their lives that they are too old to do something new.

“Are you kidding me?” Sullivan said. “I’ve had that said by men who are CEOs of companies, so understanding how to leverage your incredible superpowers is so important.”

Sullivan herself is certainly an example of someone not willing to let the next generation pass her by. She admitted that she spent one whole weekend trying to get to grips with Snapchat because she didn’t want to be left out.

Sullivan also described how she rewired her career, having started to invest in one particularly stigmatised sector: cannabis, or ‘weed’, as it is more commonly called.

Cannabis as a business opportunity

“The word of the day is cannabis,” she said, before going on to explain that women are dominating this particular taboo sector.

“I realised that the war on drugs was a war on people… It’s a cheap, terrible excuse to put young, black and Latino men in jail. It’s a civil rights issue.”

She went on to cite that the legal cannabis industry in the US is now worth around $5.4bn and is a $60bn black market that she believes offers a great chance to grow taxable revenues in her home country.

This is on top of the fact that a recent Pew Research Center survey has found that support for the legalisation of cannabis in the US has reached an all-time high.

Finally, her send-off brought cheers from the Inspirefest 2016 crowd with her prop-filled depiction of why the classic comic book character Wonder Woman is someone’s lead to follow.

Using your own fictional lasso and tiara, Sullivan said to use them to “take down the walls of stigma for ageing in the workplace, for cannabis, and go build your fabulous businesses.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to get half-price Super Early Bird tickets before prices go up on 15 December.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic