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Q&A: Heritage Club Founder Nike John Reflects on Being a Black Business Owner

Nike John opened The Heritage Club, Boston's first Black woman-owned dispensary, in September 2022

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Nike John is the founder and CEO of the Heritage Club. John is not only the youngest cannabis dispensary owner in Boston, but the first Black woman to own a dispensary in a major city on the East Coast.

Monica Madeja: Nike, thanks so much for joining us today. First off, we were there when you opened. That was back in September. It's been about six months now. How's the business been going?

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Nike John: Yeah. Thanks for having me. So far, it's been a really warm welcome from the community, which was a nice surprise after going through the community process and the business is growing, we're seeing new customers, some local, some from out of town, and it's been a lot of fun getting it started.

MM: So, Nike, back in 2019, the city of Boston passed the Equitable Regulation of Cannabis Ordinance that created the Cannabis Equity Program, for people out there who don't know. The goal was to give a more diverse group of people the opportunity to start a business like this. Your application, we know, was approved through that program. I have a question for you. Do you feel marijuana reforms and social equity programs are doing enough to reverse the impact the war on drugs has had on specifically Black communities?

NJ: So it's a tricky question because I think being one of the first states to have a mandated program or have a program at all in the city of Boston as well, making an initiative was really important. But I do think that there's more work to do. And one of the main things that is missing that will be coming to Massachusetts this year is funding. The city of Boston has a grant. We participated in that grant program. And I think the funding is so important because this isn't federally legal yet. So access to funding is one of the most difficult parts for entrepreneurs. I would say that's one of the biggest barriers to entry to this industry in general. And if I could change one thing, it would just make it a lot easier for people to enter. In terms of funding. The application process is also really long, and there's a lot of it where it would be best if you had an attorney, but you can do it on your own. It's just better if you do. Which, again, is another cost.

MM: I have to ask, too. So I think you may have said before you felt called to reinvent what it meant to be a Black business owner in this industry, the cannabis industry. What do you mean by that?  

NJ: So for me, a lot of times when people think of a Black-owned business, they can look at it and say, that's a Black-owned business, and I wanted it to be a business, first and foremost. I wanted people to look at it and say, oh, she's running a business. It's not the thing that's special about it is that this is diversely owned. The thing that's special about it is our mission-driven aspect. And I think as a diversely owned business, you get an opportunity, but it also comes with a responsibility to pay it forward. I think that's the difference when it comes to being a Black-owned business. But I want everything else to be looked at the same as what they would teach in a textbook in school. So I actually went to Northeastern's Business School...and I feel like a lot of the principles that I was taught there, I've applied to my business and it doesn't have to be that part, doesn't have to be the racial part, but paying it forward and understanding what my presence in this industry can do for other people behind me in line trying to get open or to push some of the already open operators to do more for equity applicants. I think that's really what's important to me is to keep raising the bar.  

MM: And Nike, if you could just give us some give viewers out there some advice. You did it. You put the work in to start a business, which probably just having the idea and going forward is like the most daunting task. I think you mentioned it before. Raising money is a huge hurdle in starting your own business, and I know that for entrepreneurs, paying it forward is important. Is there any advice you can impart to people out there who are thinking of starting their own business?

NJ: Yeah. So I would say the idea of the old school business plan, that's not what's going to be what gets you through it. Understanding your why, what is going to drive you when you have those bad days, that's going to be what gets you through it. So get really clear. And what are you providing that someone else can that's going to help you with investors as well? So just understanding who you are in the marketplace, but then who you are internally, what's going to keep you driven? I would say that's my best piece of advice. Those two things adding up to why are key.

MM: Nike, thank you so much. And if you want, let us know where we get more information about your business.

NJ: Yes, please. So check us out at HeritageClubTHC.com or follow us on Instagram at Heritage Club THC. Thank you so much.  

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