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Ask the Cannabis Expert – Eric Krohn: How can an Accelerator Program help cannabis entrepreneurs?

Bridge West Consulting had an opportunity to speak with Eric Krohn, Director of Business Incubation Programming Entrepreneurship and Innovation Partnerships for the Koffman Incubator Program. Started in 2017, the Koffman Incubator is a state-of-the-art facility in Binghamton, NY. The Koffman offers world class resources to grow startup companies, offering office and lab space, business mentoring by subject matter experts and strategic programs (now offered virtually).

How did the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator Program start?

About six years ago, when New York opened its doors to hemp research and growing around the state, that’s when Binghamton got its foot in the door to participate in a research partnership. At the time, Eric and the professor who oversaw the program, Sean McGrady, were friends. Sean’s background started when he worked in Canada, separating oil from sand. 

Eric Krohn Director of Business Incubation Programming Koffman Incubator

He got the idea to participate in this research because he wanted to take it further and he figured out how to separate terpenes and cannabinoids from hemp. Unfortunately, Sean later passed that same year, but their friend Wayne wanted to continue this program and research, which led to them creating their area’s first CBD company.

During this time, Eric learned a lot about the legal cannabis market, including all of the ins and outs of the business from a startup perspective. When Eric began mentoring at the Koffman Incubator, he was contacted by more and more cannabis and hemp-related companies that wanted to join their network and become members, as well as seek mentorship from Eric. At this time, the MRTA ended up getting passed, and now that Eric had all of these connections to cannabis and hemp companies, he realized that they needed to make more of a difference in the space.

Eric said, “The role of a business is not to make a business and find people that want it. That was the old way of thinking, and this is just now how it is done. We need to listen to what people are asking for and provide that. So that’s exactly what I did. I heard people’s calls to want more mentorship and learn how to get into the cannabis world and bring their legacy operations into the current markets.”

So, Eric got the idea to create an accelerator program to serve this market of people wanting to be mentored. Eric reached out to Bridge West Consulting’s CEO Ari Hoffnung about collaborating to start this program, and that is how the Koffman Incubator program got its start. Eric said, “This accelerator program is different from others because it combines what we do as business incubators with someone as experienced as Ari in the cannabis market and created this great program that we call the OG Accelerator now.”

How does the OG Accelerator Program help cannabis entrepreneurs in New York?

In general, the department at Binghamton University has given a lot of effort in the last couple of years to (ourselves) learn to be better at finding, working with, and helping people who don’t come from traditional CEO backgrounds, which is what New York state is defining as social equity applicants. Eric said, “The difficulty that the social equity applicants are going to have in New York state is that they will be competing against people with MBA level education and background. There are ways we can help create an equal playing field, and I believe that’s through education. Teaching people about business modeling, free community resources, and giving them an opportunity to network with others that might become potential partners or customers. To me, that is really a great equalizer of the playing field.” Once everyone has the same tools and foundation, all it really comes down to is hard work and innovation.

How will the Second OG Accelerator differ from the First?

The first OG Accelerator program had over 300 registrants, and over 50% of the people who registered identified themselves as social equity applicants, which was really important for the program. Eric said, “It was an amazing mash-up experiment of combining business canvas, which is used worldwide by students and startups and large companies. Then pairing that with industry leaders and letting people absorb it all in and hopefully be able to understand this tool and find ways to learn about using it more.” One of the big things that they wanted to do with the feedback that they received from the first one is learn from their audience about what they wanted, what went well, look at what New York State is doing, and how they can help people as much as possible as they prepare for applying for licenses. So, they took a lot of advice from people, and for the 2nd OG Accelerator, they want to make it as interactive as possible.

In terms of what is next for the OG Accelerator, they will have live polls and live questions being asked, and they want to really empower people to complete a business model canvas on their own. Suppose people can achieve this and give it back to the Koffman for review. In that case, they can then receive an additional certificate, which they consider extremely important because they can put it on their LinkedIn profiles or their website and show people that they have done their homework and are really trying to prepare themselves to be successful company. But also, to show New York state itself, when applying for a license, that they have done the work, made the efforts, and taken steps to learn from industry professionals about how to be a successful startup.

Eric explained, “We are always changing as we go, and I think that is always the lesson. We must listen to our customers and what do they need and desire? We will do whatever it takes. It takes that feedback and does everything we can to help them.” What they are really hoping to do in the future is offer an accelerator program for retail businesses for those trying to get into the retail space. Then, think about all the companies, technologies, and services that go along with it and then possibly an accelerator program involving cultivation and legacy growers. They want to offer these types of programs in the future because retail and cultivation require such a financial demand to get going. If they can help people to ensure that they are successful in it, it will allow further innovation in the market.

What is the relationship between Binghamton University, Southern Tier Incubator, and OG Accelerator?

At Binghamton University, they brought in the current President Harvey Stinger about eight years ago. Harvey came from Buffalo, and as he was first touring the campus, he had asked where the incubator was, and when he found out that the school didn’t have one, he knew he needed to make a change and add an incubator to the campus. It took about seven years for the finances and work to create the space to come together finally. They opened in April of 2017, which began the start of the Koffman incubator, a non-profit on its own. The main reason for this is that is allows the most protection amongst entrepreneurs and protects their inventions inside the building. The staff is half Binghamton University, and the other half is under the Binghamton University research foundation, an entity created by the SUNY system to help with entrepreneurship and inventions that come out of the university and is a way to protect the staff as well.

Do you have any interests or hobbies?

Many people do not know that Eric graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and later became a clinical dietician. His really enjoys cooking for family and friends in his beautiful chef’s kitchen at home. 

Additional Information about the Opportunity Grows Accelerator Program

The Opportunity Grows Cannabis Accelerator is a free four-week remote learning series that will provide entrepreneurs with introductory training on key business issues as a first step toward entering New York’s adult-use cannabis market.

Participants will hear from leaders in the industry and learn how to utilize the ‘Business Model Canvas’ – a strategic planning tool used to develop and refine business plans – to launch their own startups. Participants who complete the entire program will receive a Certificate of Accomplishment.

The Koffman Incubator and Opportunity Grows sponsor this highly specialized series.

Network with Industry Leaders

Complimenting the business education component of the series, participants will hear from leading industry executives to learn more about their entrepreneurial journeys and gain valuable insights into the particular challenges and opportunities that come with operating a licensed cannabis business in New York.

At the end of the series, participants will gain exclusive access to resources, networking events and pitch opportunities at the Koffman Incubator.

Supporting Social Equity

The OG Accelerator series is open to New Yorkers of all backgrounds. Individuals from communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition or who qualify as minority or women-owned businesses, distressed farmers, or service-disabled veterans are encouraged to register.

Session #1 – 5/03/22

Session #2 – 05/10/22

Session #3 – 05/17/22

Session #4 – 05/24/22

All session take place from 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm EST

Register here