JESSICA BILLINGSLEY, CEO OF AKERNA - INTERVIEW WITH WBM TOP 100 INNOVATION CEO
JESSICA BILLINGSLEY, CEO OF AKERNA HAS BEEN SELECTED BY THE JUDGES OF WORLD BIZ MAGAZINE'S ANNUAL AWARDS TO BE A RECIPIENT OF THE TOP 100 CEOS IN INNOVATION AWARD 2021. THIS SELECTION FOLLOWS A STRINGENT PROCESS THAT EVALUATED OVER 40,000 NOMINEES TO SELECT THE EXCLUSIVE LIST OF 100 WINNERS.
Jessica Billingsley serves as Akerna’s Chief Executive Officer and Board Chair. She is an accomplished innovator, executive, and board member in public and private international technology with over 20 years of experience. She co-founded MJ Freeway in 2010, where she served as President until April 2018, and later as the CEO until MJ Freeway was acquired by MTech to form Akerna. Shortly after, as CEO, Jessica led Akerna to become the first cannabis technology company listed on Nasdaq. Akerna provides the most comprehensive technology ecosystem for cannabis operators, governments, and brands, from seed-to-sale, providing transparency along virtually every piece of the supply chain.
Jessica has received multiple prestigious awards and recognitions for her leadership in technology, cannabis, and female entrepreneurship. She is an expert in new markets, growth sectors, advanced technologies, M&A, integration, complex transactions, private and public capital markets, P&L ownership and board governance, cyber security, data privacy, media, and public relations.
Jessica Billingsley serves as the Chair of the US Cannabis Council, the broadest and most diverse collection of organizations, businesses, and individuals ever to assemble to legalize cannabis in the United States. The USCC seeks to build a future of legal access to cannabis delivered through an equitable and values-driven industry by advancing cannabis legalization at the federal and state level, and promoting restorative justice for communities harmed by cannabis prohibition.
Jessica Billingsley has long prioritized bringing more diversity into the cannabis and technology industries. There is a smaller percentage of women in technology careers today than there was 25 years ago – and of those remaining, 56% drop out within the first 10 years. Unsurprisingly, most of these dropouts are due to feeling undervalued, receiving lower pay than men, not having a seat at the leadership table, and balancing their personal lives. Studies show that most of these women leaving the tech workforce don't want to walk away from their passion, but the male-dominated industry hasn't presented the most favorable climate for them. Recognizing the need for help on the micro-level and how that can transition to changes on the macro-level, Billingsley launched her One Woman Challenge. Through the challenge, Billingsley asks people working in technology and cannabis to find ways to support women daily, weekly and monthly, by setting up mentoring relationships, networking opportunities, and more, so they can feel more comfortable, appreciated, and valuable in their careers. Billingsley herself dedicates her time to mentoring female entrepreneurs and future movers and shakers.
"Consumers are increasingly caring about the products they put in and on their bodies, and it's pertinent that businesses are transparent about the lifecycle of their products, from where they are sourcing their ingredients to how the products are made and kept. This need for accountability is precisely why we do what we do at Akerna – to innovate the cannabis supply chain. The connected data and information that Akerna provides is modernizing the cannabis industry."
Tell us about the technology from Akerna and what it means for the Cannabis industry.
Akerna offers the most comprehensive ecosystem of cannabis technology solutions. We have prioritized creating an ecosystem of products and integrations that will grow with cannabis businesses, from the day they apply for a cannabis business license, to when they open the door for their first customer, to becoming an MSO (multi-state operator), and, eventually, becoming a global brand. As our customers scale, they rely on our different tools and integrations to propel that growth.
Over the past decade, there has been much change in the political and social environments surrounding cannabis. As the cannabis industry grows, Akerna has prioritized building a one-stack solution to help cannabis businesses optimize their company. Akerna provides its customers with the most comprehensive portfolio of cannabis solutions of best-in-class tax, financial, compliance, consulting, training, data analytics, product development, and more.
The services we provide our clients with are crucial to the cannabis industry – we are the technology backbone upon which the cannabis industry is built.
Share with us the importance of innovation at Akerna.
Innovation is one of Akerna's core principles; we are always thinking forward to develop the products and services our clients and industry need for the problems of today and tomorrow. We were the first cannabis technology company to list on the Nasdaq, and have been innovating since the beginning.
Consumers are increasingly caring about the products they put in and on their bodies, and it's pertinent that businesses are transparent about the lifecycle of their products, from where they are sourcing their ingredients to how the products are made and kept. This need for accountability is precisely why we do what we do at Akerna – to innovate the cannabis supply chain. The connected data and information that Akerna provides is modernizing the cannabis industry.
Although cannabis was deemed essential at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was work to be done to ensure safety guidelines were met in farms, productions, and dispensaries. From curbside pickup to automated training and launching new offerings MJ Retail, MJ Analytics, Akerna Connect, we developed innovative software that supported our clients through much-needed transitions amid the unprecedented year.
What are some of the key recent developments at Akerna and what next?
We closed the strategic acquisition of Viridian Sciences, a cannabis business management software built on SAP Business One, and announced the acquisition of 365 Cannabis, a cannabis software system built on Microsoft's Dynamics 365 Business Central. Through these acquisitions, Akerna now offers a complete portfolio of mainstream tax and financials, with a solution for businesses of any size.
In addition, we launched a new offering called Akerna Connect, an eCommerce platform enabling cannabis dispensaries to offer online ordering, loyalty programs, and text messaging, which has already garnered so much interest in its first month.
These acquisitions and launches further our strategy of consolidating cannabis technology companies to create the most transparent and accountable consumer packaged goods supply chain while solidifying Akerna as the most comprehensive technology ecosystem. Through this connected data, Akerna ensures complete transparency and safety of products to businesses, governments, and consumers.
"The first and most important priority for the cannabis industry is criminal justice reform and ensuring social equity for those who have been affected by the war on drugs. Thousands of Americans are still serving jail sentences for nonviolent cannabis offenses, and millions have criminal records resulting from the War on Drugs. This creates fundamental injustices, especially for Black men and women, who are arrested and incarcerated at much higher rates than Caucasians."
What do you believe are the priorities for the Cannabis industry needs to address?
The first and most important priority for the cannabis industry is criminal justice reform and ensuring social equity for those who have been affected by the war on drugs. Thousands of Americans are still serving jail sentences for nonviolent cannabis offenses, and millions have criminal records resulting from the War on Drugs. This creates fundamental injustices, especially for Black men and women, who are arrested and incarcerated at much higher rates than Caucasians. As more markets legalize cannabis, it is critical to address these harms incurred by those who have served criminal convictions and prison sentences due to nonviolent marijuana offenses. Our work with the USCC is helping to address these issues with politicians as they work on cannabis policy.
After that, it’s all about catering to the cannabis consumers, who power our industry and are becoming increasingly more conscious about what they put in and on their bodies. Consumers deserve complete transparency and accountability along the supply chain from seed to sale to self, so they can be confident the cannabis products they are using are safe, regulated, and labeled correctly. Our technology does precisely that – ensures safety to consumers, patients, governments, and businesses.
Some examples of diversity programs by Akerna?
The Last Prisoner Project Donation: We've added a donation functionality into our MJ Platform as a meaningful way that our technology can give consumers the ability to contribute to The Last Prisoner Project, and soon a charity of their choice. Last Prisoner Project focuses on three critical criminal justice reform initiatives: prisoner release, record clearing through clemency and expungement, and reentry programs to ensure that every last victimless cannabis prisoner walks free.
Cannabis Trade Federation (CTF) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force Membership: Comprised of a diverse collection of prominent national minority and cannabis industry leaders, the DEI Task Force is developing an industry-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion policy to be adopted by the full CTF board, which includes Akerna, that will effectively require all CTF member companies to meet specific diversity requirements. The DEI Task Force will also be developing benchmarks and goals to measure our industry's progress and craft policy proposals to incorporate into future legislation.
"It's essential to have an entrepreneurial mindset, business fundamentals and not be scared to fail. There are many ups and downs in any leadership role, and without those characteristics, you will likely struggle."
What are your keys to entrepreneurial success and leadership?
It's essential to have an entrepreneurial mindset, business fundamentals and not be scared to fail. There are many ups and downs in any leadership role, and without those characteristics, you will likely struggle. You need to anticipate the future of every scenario, from the best to the worst cases. It's also important to leverage your connections – networking is invaluable and crucial to success, especially for women. If you don't have relationships, reach out and make them. You have to try.
Established in 2019, Akerna (Nasdaq: KERN) is the first cannabis software company to be listed on a major U.S. exchange. Since that time, Akerna has continued to grow and evolve, focusing on key acquisitions of technology companies specifically designed to support the cannabis industry. Through its growing family of brands, Akerna connects data points across the global cannabis supply chain to create one of the world’s most transparent and accountable consumer packaged goods supply chains on a global scale. Akerna believes connected data and information will modernize and propel the cannabis industry forward by increasing the power of businesses, governments, patients, and consumers to make smart decisions.
The cornerstone service offering of the Akerna family is MJ Freeway, the world’s largest, global cannabis software company. Established in 2010, MJ Freeway invented seed–to–sale technology and developed the industry’s first cannabis enterprise software solution, MJ Platform. To date, MJ Freeway has tracked more than $20 billion in legal cannabis sales.
Built on the MJ Platform infrastructure, Akerna’s regulatory compliance arm, Leaf Data Systems is a software solution that enables governments to track cannabis plants from seed-to-sale and ensure patient, public, and product safety.
Over the past 18 months, the Akerna family of brands has continued to grow, with the acquisition of solo sciences, Trellis, Ample Organics, Last Call Analytics, and most recently, Viridian Sciences.
Find out more: www.akerna.com