NFL Great Co-Founds New Cannabis Investment Firm With Social Justice At Its Core

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With a majority of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis, an industry once viewed as an outpost for pariahs and stoners is rapidly gaining momentum as a viable and potentially lucrative sector within the business community. In the past year, a slew of cannabis-focused investment firms, many headed by former Wall Street suits, have popped up on the canvas. Yet there’s one newly launched firm, Grove Group Management, co-founded by an ex-NFL player, which has another mission, aside from raking in the profits. And that is correcting the wrongs that have befallen members of minorities by promoting diversity in hiring practices, especially among those who have had a difficult time landing jobs due to past minor marijuana convictions, the growing public acceptance of cannabis notwithstanding.

“A disproportionate number of minority communities are affected by misdemeanor marijuana offenses,” said Tiki Barber, the ex-Giants running back turned sportscaster/entrepreneur who teamed up with Kevin Shin, a financial services veteran, to form Grove. “So there’s an altruistic bent to some of these things that we’re doing. It’s very important to minority communities that we’re all focused on it. So while we will make investments and help grow businesses and take advantage of this space, we’re also keeping in mind that there’s this huge opportunity to change the criminality of marijuana not to a criminal justice system but to a health reform system.”

Shin, Grove’s CEO, first broached the idea of forming the company to Barber after meeting the latter at an event for Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). Barber was interested and the idea soon crystallized into reality. “Cannabis was chosen due to the market opportunity and for social justice,” said Shin, a former executive at NewOak Capital. “Cannabis is a growth market with good margins. We are both minorities and we can appreciate how a sector of the industry is underserviced by minorities and we intend to fix this with proven solutions to take us to the next level.”

This solutions include recruiting minorities, which include women, to the team. “Grove Group is acutely aware of the social progress that can be made as the legal cannabis business continues to expand,” added Shin. “Specifically these benefits include cannabis industry-wide job growth and economic expansion in minority communities; and legislation specifying the expungement of minor infractions so offenses, which are disproportionate among minority youth, will not affect future job prospects.”

Putting talk into action, Shin noted that the firm “is the first cannabis company that has received sponsorship from the National Minority Business Council. The fact we can incorporate this into our corporation and receive benefits from some states is an added benefit.”  NMBC is a non-profit focused on providing business assistance, seminars and other opportunities to small, minority and women business owners in the U.S.

Another element that differentiates Grove from rival firms is the talent that has been assembled for the inaugural team. They include Dean Mazboudi, a financial services veteran technologist who recently co-founded Deutsche Bank Labs, which connects startups with the banking giant; and Thomas Masters, a government relations expert who served as a senior manager in federal law enforcement, having worked for agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation. The latter hire, which might seem counterintuitive to cynics, beggars the question: Why did Grove hire a fed to work at a firm devoted to investing in a still federally illegal substance?

“Everything that we’re doing in the cannabis space is knowledge,” said Shin. “Knowledge is the name of the game. The only way you can intelligently argue a position is if you know all the positions. Meeting someone like Tom is making sure we’re keeping as many people happy as possible so we do not run into trouble in the future. It’s all about representing our investors and just being as sophisticated and smart as possible.”

Headquartered in New York City, Grove plans on investing in businesses in North America. This, of course, includes Canada, which just legalized marijuana on October 17. Opportunities in other countries will also be explored. According to Shin, Grove is seeking to make transactions in the $5 million to $15 million range; however, smaller and/or larger deals, will also be considered.

“We will invest in seed to sale,” said Barber, Grove’s chief business development officer. “So whether it’s from the cultivation to the dispensary side or the technologies that will develop to service this space, we will look to invest in growth companies that have good management. We’re looking for companies seeking either managerial assistance, financing or other types of services that our group, which we think is unique, can provide.”

Ultimately, it all boils down to the vast potential of a market that is starting to attract top  firms to the space, as evidenced by Corona beer maker Constellation Brands’ recent groundbreaking $4 billion investment in Canadian cannabis firm Canopy Growth. And yet, both Barber and Shin do readily acknowledge the obstacles that continue to plague entrepreneurs in the emerging sector, such as not being able to secure a banking partner and paying exceedingly high taxes due to the federal illegality.

“One thing that we’ve been focused on in presenting and talking about is legitimizing this emerging asset class because so much of it feels like it’s underground and in an illegal marketplace,” said Barber, a graduate of the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce. “But the opportunity is legitimizing it and we’re seeing state after state and municipality after municipality come to our side of this or I guess, the growing majority of the population side of this. Thirty-one states [and Washington, D.C.] are now legal medicinally and nine [and D.C.] recreationally. It’s a windfall that keeps on rolling and rolling and we want to be there to capture it.”

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