Bridge West Consulting had an opportunity to speak with Amy Peckham, Chief Executive Officer of Etain Health, in New York. We are proud to spotlight this cannabis entrepreneur!
Amy Peckham is the Chief Executive Officer of Etain, a women-owned and family-owned cannabis company in New York. Amy founded Etain in 2015 with her two daughters, Hillary Peckham, Chief Operations Officer, and Keeley Peckham, Chief Horticultural Officer. Since Etain secured one of the original five medical marijuana licensees in New York six years ago, the company has experienced significant growth and success. Bridge West Consulting met with Amy to learn more about Etain’s unique journey.
How did you get the idea or concept for your business?
The catalyst that propelled Amy, Hillary, and Keeley toward cannabis entrepreneurship was their grandmother’s battle with ALS. Amy’s mother and Hillary and Keeley’s grandmother, Frances “Granny Franny” Keefe, was the matriarch of their family. During Granny Franny’s fight with the disease, Amy and her daughters researched medical marijuana as an alternative treatment. Though it seemed promising on paper, Granny Franny never had the chance to try cannabis.
Tragically, Frances lost her battle with ALS in 2012, before medical marijuana was legal in New York. Amy and her daughters experienced extreme frustration due to the inaccessibility of cannabis that could have helped Franny.
Amy also explained that as the mother of four children, she spent years taking them to various doctor’s appointments. About ten years after her children were born, her mother-in-law lost her battle with pancreatic cancer. Between taking care of her parents and her children, witnessing the over-prescribing of pharmaceuticals, and failed clinical trials, Amy’s compulsion grew. She knew there had to be other solutions to help patients in need. This series of life experiences and events motivated Amy to start a medical cannabis company where patients could easily access cannabis of the highest quality.
How did the concept of opening a medical cannabis company come to fruition?
In 2015, obtaining a license in New York was incredibly challenging. The state was offering a total of five licenses, so the competition was fierce. Amy began her research and started preparing in advance of the application process, which largely contributed to her success.
In 2013, Amy closely followed the medical marijuana regulations in California and Colorado. Together with her daughters Hillary and Keeley, Amy spent many nights in front of their computers, researching as much as possible. When the Compassionate Care Act was finally passed in 2014, Amy would not let anything hold them back. Keeley and Hillary graduated from college with business minors — Keeley was a certified Horticultural Therapist, and Hillary had a business certification from The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. “Hillary was the one who pushed me to put my money where my mouth was,” Amy said.
The team brought in the support of Jazmin Hupp, the Founder of Women Grow, who was a tremendous advisor to Amy, Hillary, and Keeley, as they built their license application. Jazmin, along with fellow Women Grow members, assisted in the development of various aspects of their business plan, including selecting the name, “Etain.” Amy shared that Etain is the name of a Gaelic goddess who represents women in a transitional capacity. It’s an homage to their Irish upbringing and a tribute to Granny Franny. Amy explained, “It is also a double entendre of cannabis and our family story that brought us to this name. For instance, we only make products from a female plant, the whole mother plant, which comes from mother earth. Our business grew from our mothers and daughters.” Amy expressed sincere gratitude for their team’s brilliant support, which was instrumental in helping to establish Etain. Today, Amy, Hillary, Keeley, and Etain are proud to support and remained involved with Women Grow.
“Winning a license was wild. Wild and exciting, I don’t think anyone had any nails left,” said Amy. “By the time the final day came, everyone was just sitting in front of their computers refreshing their screens. I couldn’t stand it any longer. To distract myself, I ended up cleaning my dining room vigorously, until the news came through. When it finally did, News 12 was at my front doorstep. I believe Hillary conducted 21 interviews that day.”
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
Medical marijuana in New York was not as accessible to patients as Amy expected, and this was a significant challenge. “New York medical professionals haven’t embraced cannabis at the same level as they have in many other states that began medical programs. For example, there are 80,000 doctors in New York, and about 3,500 in the medical marijuana program,” Amy said. It’s a domino effect. Since there are limited doctors, patients have limited support and education about the medicinal benefits of cannabis.
It took Amy, Hillary, and Keeley a lot of effort to forge relationships with doctors. “There’s a lot of resistance from medical practices, and it didn’t happen in an isolated manner,” Amy shared. A great example of this is New York medical school. If there are 80,000 doctors in New York, and only 5,000 of those doctors graduated in the last five years, that means 75,000 doctors did not have the opportunity to learn about medical marijuana in school. “Over the last 20 years, what’s really driven the acceptance of having legalized marijuana is the development of knowledge,” Amy said. She believes that to really make an impact, patients need more education and more knowledge.
When it comes to legalization at the Federal level, Amy thinks it will be a long road. “I think there will be a split from what’s considered consumable adult recreational versus the traditional pharmaceuticals, which is kind of a pity. I got into this industry to get away from pharmaceuticals,” Amy said.
What’s unique about your business?
From writing their cannabis license application with the support of Women Grow, to naming their company, ‘Etain,’ and having a management team that is 70% female, Etain’s commitment to empowering women makes them truly unique. Furthermore, Etain is the only women- and family-owned vertically integrated cannabis company. Amy said, “We’re women-owned, family operated, and 100% New York.” She also added that while their majority-female leadership team is partially by design, the fact that Etain is mostly female is mostly because the company is a comfortable place for women to work. Amy added, “Starting a female owned and operated cannabis business from scratch in an industry dominated by men is no easy feat. In fact, it’s remarkable.”
What marketing tactics have been most successful?
Etain showcases the integration of cannabis in day-to-day life. Amy is happy with being able to discuss cannabis more as a wellness product than anything else. “When you look at a lot of the surveys out there, so many people use cannabis just for sleep relief, not just pain. A lot of people are self-medicating with cannabis, not just socializing with it. Research has also shown that those who use it for social purposes, also use it for sleep, or for back pain. Other’s use is for more serious conditions, like to minimize seizures. It’s a brilliant plant.” Etain’s goal is to provide a form of cannabis for everyone, whatever their need may be.
From day one, Etain rolled out four main product lines: Dolce, Mezzo, Balance and Forte. The concept was to provide patients with the ‘full spectrum.’ Etain is thinking of new products every day, and people frequently share their ‘wish lists.’ In fact, they’re about to expand their facilities to make room for more products. “We started out as the smallest group with the smallest resources. We had a small lab and a hardy crew that cycled through developing one product each day for a long time. We’re very excited to soon have dedicated rooms to make different products, like water-soluble powders and lozenges that require their own environmental controls.”
Do you believe that this is the perfect time for New York to have recreational cannabis?
“It’s time for cannabis to come out from behind the closet doors. Literally. And the basement doors, and all of the places where people trying to cultivate cannabis plants,” Amy said. She said that New York is ready to turn the page.
Amy also expressed concern that consumer safety may be an issue for the New York recreational cannabis market and consumer safety awareness needs to be raised. “You can see it with the CBD market now. Everyone’s trying to put a cap back on it and regulate it now, but it’s already out there, and that’s a difficulty,” Amy said. Consumer safety is paramount at Etain, and the company has implemented best practices in manufacturing and testing for every single batch.
If you had one piece of advice for an entrepreneur just starting out in the cannabis industry, what would it be?
Amy said, “As soon as you get into the plant-touching side of the business, expect the unexpected.” Amy shared that entrepreneurs and cannabis business owners must be prepared and expect the worst to happen, like getting their bank accounts shut down. Owning a plant-touching operation can significantly impact your personal life, too. “It can interrupt life’s benchmarks, like going to buy a home and having your mortgage rejected because your full-time salary comes from a cannabis operation,” Amy explained.
Amy also expressed that the cannabis industry may not be for everyone. For those who are truly passionate and committed, Amy recommends having a team of people who can navigate the industry’s complex challenges, from the penalty tax laws, to cash management intricacies, etc. Amy also added, “research, research, research, know your personal strengths, get a solid team together, and don’t just think it’s a party.”
The cannabis industry is evolving and changing rapidly. Considering the many recent updates, are there any that you would like to mention?
Amy discussed a recent update announced by the Cannabis Control Board on October 5, 2021. The work that the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) is undertaking alongside the Department of Health (DOH) will expand the NY Medical Marijuana Program as it remains within DOH. Effective immediately, these enhancements to the program include:
- Patients supply per visit increased from 30 to 60 days;
- $50 patient and caregiver registration fee removed;
- Types of practitioners who can certify patients for the medical use of marijuana has been expanded and;
- Whole flower has been approved as a form of medical cannabis.
What do you like to do for fun?
Outside of operating a successful female-owned vertically integrated cannabis business, Amy enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, and watching ‘The Walking Dead’ on Sunday evenings.
We Can Help.
If you own a cannabis business or are thinking about starting a cannabis business, we’d like to help. As a partnership of highly skilled and seasoned cannabis industry consultants and advisors, Bridge West Consulting is ready to guide you through this exciting and challenging landscape. Feel free to reach out to us anytime to schedule a consultation.