Social Equity Brand Spotlight: Khemia
We’re sharing the stories behind some of our favorite social equity brands. This month we spoke with Manndie Tingler, Co-Founder and CRO of Khemia, a cannabis brand designed for women and run by a powerful team of female cannabis leaders.
This month, we’re happy to be speaking with Manndie Tingler, Co-Founder and CRO of Khemia. Khemia is a female-focused social equity licensed cannabis brand that is on a mission to ensure that legacy operators have a strong position within the ever-expanding cannabis industry.
The word “khemia” (khem-ee-ah) comes from the root words “chemistry” and “alchemy” in ancient Greek and Arabic. The suffix “mia” is the feminine for the word “mine” in Latin. The name of this brand speaks to its legacy to revive cannabis artistry and preserve cannabis history, through creation of products that work with one’s individual chemistry and alchemy.
On her background and getting into cannabis
“My goal when going to college and grad school was to get into a career that really helped people live a higher quality of life.”
I have a master’s degree in counseling and I was a marriage, child, and family therapist before I enter the cannabis industry professionally. During that time, I was married and we grew cannabis in my attic. It was definitely a controversial time to be doing something like that, it was from around 2007 until 2012. During that time I started learning so much more about the history of cannabis and the fact that this plant was something we all had access to not even a hundred years ago. Then all of the sudden it was deemed really bad.
My goal when going to college and grad school was to get into a career that really helped people live a higher quality of life. I was starting to see a lot of people who were dealing with depression, anxiety, sleep issues, even just general unhappiness. They were all leaning towards going to the doctor to get on a pharmaceutical medication, and I’m thinking to myself, “There’s a better answer!” Everybody struggles with anxiety from time to time, a little bit of depression, sleep issues. So I’m sitting in my therapist chair and feeling this tremendous conflict – I have the answer growing in my attic and I can’t even talk about it with my clients.
Then one day, I did. I had a client who was a mom and struggling with everyday mom issues, managing stress, dealing with kids, feeling insufficient as a wife, all of these things right? All these pressures that we put on ourselves. So my client is sitting in the chair, crying and I’m thinking, “This woman’s problems are not that bad, but she’s sad. She’s just sad.”
She felt like she was going to need an antidepressant for the rest of her life, and I’m thinking, “Hold on, you don’t have to do that. Have you ever tried cannabis?” It was a very scary moment for me because I remember, in that moment, I feared losing my license and not being able to be a therapist any more – and quite frankly, losing my ability to make money.
At that time, I had a lot to lose, including the nonprofit counseling organization that I started, but after that point I felt myself getting more and more comfortable with recommending cannabis to people. A few years later, I realized that cannabis wasn’t just a movement anymore – it was becoming an industry. I was doing advocacy work for important issues like patient access when I met my two partners in Khemia, Kimberly and Mindy.
On starting Khemia with her partners
We immediately fell in love with each other and realized that we had this huge connection when it came to cannabis advocacy and making sure the industry policies were going to make sense. We weren’t going to sit idly by and just assume they were going to do things the right way. We ended up in as many cannabis meetings in California as we could attend, and we learned that Prop 64 was imminent.
My partners and I realized that so many of the people we loved, the healers and medicine makers, were going to be put out of business. They were small business owners making product in their living room; they couldn’t hire a $10,000 retainer attorney and didn’t have $32 million in the bank to go buy a facility, get all the equipment and pass all of the regulatory hurdles to start a business.
We basically said, “Not on our watch! There has to be a solution” and developed Khemia out of this need. We lovingly call Khemia a mothership, a place where legacy brand formulators displaced by Prop 64 have the opportunity to be a part of a company again. They do that through joining us as a partner, bringing their time-tested legacy formulations to the table.
We are cannabis business operators, so we handle the logistics, HR, sales, marketing, the building, equipment, etc. But medicine makers are not necessarily salespeople – they don’t want to be dealing with sales and marketing and accounting. They want to make products that help people and improve their lives.
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On Khemia’s mission and purpose
We decided to start Khemia out of a need to provide a place for these legacy operators to manufacture, and also to provide access to a dynamic leadership team that could handle all the logistical issues that they weren’t comfortable or didn’t want to manage. Basically everyone at Khemia is in one way, shape, or form a legacy operator.
We only hire legacy operators; we enter into an agreement with them and make them a part of our company. They get a share of equity in exchange for their formulations, and also get paid for their work. It’s a unique opportunity for them to share the medication and formulations they’ve created over the past several decades, and to stay in the industry and provide people with more access to their products.
We’ve also started Khemia to be a beautiful brand for women. We really wanted to create a brand that spoke to women and made cannabis consumption less intimidating. Looking at my partner Kimberly’s dispensaries and customer purchasing trends, we realized that 40% or more of our customer base are women. Yet only 5% of the products on the shelf were speaking to that target consumer, and that’s just not acceptable.
Essentially, we created Khemia out of a necessity for legacy operators and for the women who love weed. We wanted to be able to create a beautiful brand that helps non-cannabis consumers feel less intimidated about being around cannabis, perhaps even intrigued by it. We also needed to create a home for these amazing legacy operators who helped create the cannabis industry as we know it today.
It’s important for cannabis consumers to know that it’s a privilege. It really is, in the sense that not everybody has access and frankly, we all know that there’s still a lot of people in prison. So it’s a privilege to be out here able to make money and grow our business, even just to build a livelihood to support my family. That’s why it’s so important for people to continue on with lobbying efforts as well.
On Khemia’s products
Zen Sip Drink Mixes
I’m really excited about three products, starting with our Zen Sip line of drink mixes. We’re very health-conscious, but we’re also foodies so our products have to taste really good. Drink mixes were our way forward because they are shelf-stable for longer than traditional beverages, but more importantly we want everyone to feel no guilt when drinking our product.
Zen Sip mixes are gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, and vegan. Almost everyone can drink them, regardless of dietary restrictions which is an amazing thing. They are sold in compostable packaging, so the entire product and packaging will just disappear someday. Zin Sips was our first collaboration with a legacy operator; Zen Sips comes from a hybrid name from the legacy operator, Angela Kadara and her former company, Medizen, so the Zen in Zen Sips comes from her.
We created four different flavor profiles, three of them hot including Chakra Chai which is CBD-dominant, Cosmic Cocoa which is THC-dominant, and Mango Mantra which has been a big hit since we released it this summer. Our newest is Centered Cider which we just released in time for fall. We infuse them with a nanoemulsion, which is a fast-acting water-soluble cannabis base. Zen Sips start to kick in right around 10 minutes, rather than 2 hours which is typical of most edibles.
Rose Petal Pre-Rolls
Another product I’m excited about and that’s been getting a lot of recognition is our Rose Petal pre-rolls. We actually take organic edible rose petals, which are incredibly difficult to source, and combine that with top-shelf flower. For our flower, we do collaborations with LGBTQ-owned, women-owned, social equity-owned, or legacy operators – we’re supporting them and using their flower inside this particular SKU.
The Rose Petal pre-rolls are selling like crazy, we’ve had the hardest time keeping them in stock. Cannabis retailers buy them by the hundreds and this past Valentine’s Day it was named by LA Weekly and Weedmaps for being one of the top 10 things to buy your valentine. They also were named again in the top 10 things to get your mom for Mother’s Day, so that was pretty cool.
Celebration Gift Pack
Of course we also have our flower and pre-roll line, but we have one other SKU that I’m excited to share with you – our Celebration Gift Pack. I mentioned before our value system and the importance of working with legacy operators.
We also try to champion businesses that are owned by people from minority groups or groups that have been treated differently in our industry. So we have teamed up with Mellows, a hand-crafted infused marshmallow manufacturer that is women-owned, women-of-color owned actually and Stephanie, the owner, has teamed up with us to create this fun product.
We’ve taken a cute collectors mug, which says, “There’s no force more powerful than a woman determined to rise” on the back. We take our Cosmic Cocoa and her marshmallow, along with one of our pre-roll joints and put it all together inside this little collector’s gift mug. It’s then wrapped up with tissue paper and an adorable gift bag and bow. It says, “Come blow by on a Cosmic Cocoa and Marshmallow high” along with “Make with love by Khemia and Mellows” – really trying to make cannabis giftable.
We’re excited to take this idea and use it as an opportunity for like-minded businesses to get together and help tap into a customer base that you perhaps wouldn’t have been able to reach. And when we team up with another women-owned business, we’re going to get a lot more consumers who value women-owned businesses and their operators.
It’s just a nice crossover that we’re able to use to help support each other while also creating a product that you don’t often see out in the market. When was the last time you went to a cannabis retailer and saw a gift pack?
“Khemia was a business that was calling to us and the three of us were like, ‘This is happening!’ We didn’t really know how it was going to happen yet, but we were going to make it happen.”
On becoming a social equity license holder
So we actually started Khemia before the city of Sacramento announced what their requirements would be for social equity. Khemia was a business that was calling to us and the three of us were like, “this is happening!” We didn’t really know how it was going to happen yet, but we were going to make it happen.
The three of us all had some kind of interaction with law enforcement as a result of being involved in cannabis. I’ve actually gone through a raid with one of my businesses, even had my bank accounts shut down. My partner, Kimberly was deeply affected by the war on drugs when her father was arrested for cannabis. As part of her parents’ fight for custody, he was deemed by the courts as a “drug dealer” and was denied custody or visitation for 10 years.
Today, Kimberly and her father are close, but all that time lost in her childhood, really affected their relationship negatively – there’s so much we’ve all been through, but technically Kimberly and I don’t qualify for social equity. But we found out after Sacramento announced their requirements that our partner Mindy did. Mindy grew up in a community that was persecuted heavily for cannabis crimes, and as a result she ended up qualifying in Sacramento and the journey since has been very interesting for us.
On being a social equity brand in cannabis
“My partners and I collectively have over 37 years of cannabis business development and operations experience. We know how to operate a cannabis business, but it’s the hardest thing in the world to get funding for a women-owned business, let alone a women-owned social equity business.”
Sacramento should be looked to as a bit of a role model for other cities launching their cannabis social equity programs. The City has done a good job of setting the stage for what the process needs to look like and how to honor social equity situations.
The application process took a long time, but the city has created a grant program and Khemia has been the recipient of one of those grants. We are also getting approved for a no-interest line of credit that only social equity applicants in Sacramento can access. But it’s still not enough, right? Like the overhead cost just to get a business, to be operating in the cannabis space is no less than 1.5 to 2 million dollars.
So the city is giving us a grant and a loan which is very wonderful and we’re so grateful for it, it’s actually going to help a fairly small part of our business. The biggest obstacle that social equity companies run up against is access to capital. There’s this misunderstanding that social equity business owners don’t know how to operate a business or manage money – that’s simply not the case. The problem is that we don’t have the same access.
“…there needs to be a return to the wisdom of the legacy operator because a lot of these new guys have come in thinking they are bigger, better, smarter, more powerful than us, and they don’t always make it.”
My partners and I collectively have over 37 years of cannabis business development and operations experience. We know how to operate cannabis businesses, but it’s the hardest thing in the world to get funding for a women-owned business, let alone a women-owned social equity business. There’s a lot of misperception that if you’re a social equity company, you’re an immature business owner and you don’t know how to manage money – that can be a headache to overcome.
It’s especially frustrating when you think about how all of them, these larger businesses that are corporate come in and put smaller companies out of business, or absorb them. And many of these corporations are still not doing well. To me, it highlights that there needs to be a return to the wisdom of the legacy operator because a lot of these new guys have come in thinking they are bigger, better, smarter, more powerful than us, and they don’t always make it you know?
On social equity and corporations
“There’s no way to prove that a social equity applicant is involved with a good partner. So a lot of times they are preyed upon.”
I do appreciate that companies have put together scholarship programs for social equity brands, or opportunities to meet investors. That’s the kind of support that social equity brands need, they need access right? But there are also companies that are preying on social equity applicants and present it in the way that they are helping.
They are here to offer support, to get our businesses off the ground, plenty of reasons why they seem interested. At the end of the day, they are looking for a stake in your business. And so social equity companies oftentimes become victims to bad investors who intend to take over their business.
There are supposedly parameters put up by the state and the city to avoid this, but they don’t always know what’s going on behind closed doors. There’s no way to prove that a social equity applicant is involved with a good corporate partner. So a lot of times they are preyed upon and lose their business as a result, as if starting a business in our space isn’t hard enough already.
We now have to worry about falling victim to these bad actors. And I think a lot of corporate-run companies see social equity opportunities as an ability to get their hands on another license.
Sacramento recently announced they would give out 10 more licenses for retail storefront, but only social equity applicants were eligible. They had several hundred applications for these 10 licenses. My partner Mindy worked very hard to receive one of those licenses. So we’ll actually have a Khemia storefront soon which we are super excited about!
On tips for other social equity applicants and businesses
“…Have a really well thought-out business plan… If you walk in there without a mission and a vision, they are going to give you one.”
Beyond watching out for bad investors, I’d encourage everyone to have a really well-thought-out business plan. And not just an idea, but literally what the pillars of your company stand on, your core value system, and identifying who you intend to be as a business before you go out and start seeking investors because they are going to want to do that for you.
If you walk in without a mission and a vision, investors will give you theirs. Do your research as well, make sure you don’t get involved with someone who’s involved with everyone else. Ask around, ask questions – the industry is small. So when you’re talking to an investor, chances are somebody out there has already dealt with that person and it’s not hard to find out whether or not someone is a good or bad business person.
On the benefits Khemia has seen with LeafLink
LeafLink is a great tool for Khemia. It’s the epicenter of communication between our sales and distribution team. We also love that our customers (store buyers) can find us there and shop our products.
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