Cannabis & Economic Development: Seke Ballard & Good Tree Capital

Cannabis & Economic Development: Seke Ballard & Good Tree Capital

In June 2019, Governor JB Pritzker signed a bill legalizing cannabis in Illinois starting in 2020. As the eleventh state to legalize cannabis, Illinois is hoping to drive economic development. Many local startups seek to take advantage of this legislation, and there are ample opportunities for both economic and community revitalization. On Friday, August 9th, Seke Ballard of Good Tree Capital will join Elev8 Cannabis in discussing how to navigate the cannabis industry.

For Seke Ballard, the emerging cannabis industry does not just provide great opportunities for business growth; it also serves to back Ballard's principle that "the free flow of capital is the lifeblood of any community".

Talking with his father in the aftermath of the Emanuel AME shooting in Charlottesville, Seke Ballard realized that one of the major issues facing the African-American community was a history of disinvestment and lack of economic opportunity. His father had run a lumber business, and had applied for thirteen business loans and was consistently rejected. Further research on Ballard's part found data from the Federal Reserve and other sources that revealed subconscious bias played a role in loans to African-Americans. In short, African-Americans were 2.2 times more likely to be rejected for a loan, and charged over 180 points of interest on loan repayment. Seeing how this subconscious bias plays in disinvestment in certain communities, Seke Ballard created an algorithm that could predict with 98% the likelihood of default on a loan.

Seke Ballard of Good Tree Capital

Seke Ballard of Good Tree Capital

Looking to change how capital was allocated in African-American communities, Seke Ballard moved to Chicago to encourage banks to adopt this new algorithm. However, with a lack of responsiveness, Ballard turned to the growing cannabis industry in Illinois. With many cannabis-based businesses unable to secure bank accounts and different treatment between state and federal authorities, this provided Seke Ballard and Good Tree Capital an opportunity to reach underserved communities to facilitate businesses with a high barrier of entry. (It takes approximately $500,000 in capital to start a dispensary, and up to two million dollars for cultivation.) By aligning capital with human resources, Good Tree Capital looks to move underserved communities out of poverty and break the cycle of disinvestment.  Good Tree Capital seeks to drive economic development in these community by developing businesses within an ecosystem of cannabis and other ancillary industries.

Right now, Seke Ballard of Good Tree Capital sees Illinois as the "gold standard" in terms of cannabis policy but also sees some potential areas of concern. Incorporating the failures and successes of other states that have legalized cannabis, the recent Illinois bill provides multiple incentives for starting cannabis-related businesses. With a 30 million fund for low-interest loans and grants, as well as lowered barriers for licensing (including removing the need for real estate as a prerequisite for license), the recently-signed Illinois bill provides opportunities for people without financial resources to start a cannabis-related business. However, one of the major concerns with the new Illinois bill surrounds implementation - with the Illinois Department of Commerce determining a "start date" for resources on October 1st (in advance of cannabis formally becoming legal on January 1st), it is imperative that the state make those resources available for the first wave of applicants. With cannabis-related businesses providing an opportunity for people to move out of poverty, Seke Ballard and Good Tree Capital consider cannabis legalization in Illinois as a key reminder that the opportunity for everyone to have economic freedom and independence is an alienable right.

If you want to learn more about cannabis-related businesses, Elev8 Cannabis is holding a special session featuring Seke Ballard of Good Tree Capital at the Sherman Park Field House (RSVP Via Eventbrite). Those who live in Chicago neighborhoods adversely impacted are encouraged to attend. With cannabis legalization in Illinois just around the corner, it is imperative that Chicago residents consider this as a potential opportunity to drive economic growth.

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