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These 3 Women Are Shaping The Future Of Women’s Health By Bringing Next Generation Of FemTech Products To The Market

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These 3 Women Are Shaping The Future Of Women’s Health By Bringing Next Generation Of FemTech Products To The Market

It’s not a secret that finally, after years of being overlooked, women’s health is having its moment. According to Frost & Sullivan’s report, the femtech (female technology) market revenue is expected to reach $1.1 billion by 2024, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.9%. The report states that, through solutions targeting early diagnosis and leveraging connected healthcare services, these technologies can reduce healthcare costs, decreasing the overall cost burden of a country while elevating healthcare standards and quality of life for women. But it took a long time for female healthcare to be where it is today.

Ever since the FDA (The United States Food and Drug Administration) in 1977 issued a guideline banning most women of “childbearing potential” from participating in clinical research studies (since certain drugs at that time were causing serious birth defects), women weren’t included (at least not enough) in medical research. In 1985, new guidelines were issued to encourage more inclusion of women in studies. However, even that wasn’t enough to close the gender gap in medical research – analyses found that women were still seriously underrepresented in important studies on common diseases such as heart disease. Finally, in 1993, the FDA issued a new guideline which was followed by Congress writing the NIH inclusion policy into Federal law through a section in the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 titled Women and Minorities as Subjects in Clinical Research.

Fast forward to today, women’s health as a category has gone beyond just healthcare, is hugely impacted by the use of technology, and is all but a niche – it affects more than just females – fertility, for example, is not just a women’s issue, despite the misconception that (in)fertility is still a largely female problem (40-50% of all fertility problems are due to the male factor).

The femtech industry has generated just over $376 million in venture capital across 57 deals in 2020 and some of the largest exits in recent years include femtech companies – Progyny’s $130 million IPO in 2019 and Bayer’s acquisition of KaNDy Therapeutics in 2020 for $425 million. $688.8 million has been invested in digital health companies targeting fertility and pregnancy/motherhood through H1 2020, which represents 65% of all femtech funding. The potential of it is massive – female health is not just female health, it affects men, children, and whole families as women are primary caregivers more often than not. Female health is a public health issue and should be treated as a priority.

 

Below are three startups leading the way in innovation in this space, proving that no area within the femtech space is saturated with innovative companies and that there is still so much growth potential in this market.

breathe ilo

Breathe ilo is the world’s first fertility tracker that uses breath GFN to identify a woman’s ovulation pattern and fertile window in a way that is easy and comfortable. Its technology is based on measuring the PCO2 parameter, which means the partial pressure within the carbon dioxide. Simply said, the device measures a decrease in women’s breath before ovulation. What most women don’t know (I certainly didn’t!) is that they have a type of hyperventilation 4-5 days prior to ovulation. Through consistent daily use, the breath GFN tracker enables women to understand their body and cycle phases better. Additionally, the breathe ilo app, which is compatible with iOS and Android, features a calendar that displays a clear overview of fertile days and a cycle diary to learn more about individual cycle patterns and also enables users to document further cycle symptoms like breast tenderness, PMS, cervical mucus, or headaches to help prepare women for their next cycle.

“The technology behind our device means women no longer need to track their cycles by urinating on a stick or by measuring their temperature early in the morning. All they need to do is simply breathe into the device which will display the result in just 60 seconds on the mobile phone, with no consumables or maintenance needed. Another positive thing is that you can use it at any time of the day, which makes it accessible for every woman, even those who have no daily routine,” Lisa Krapinger, CMO of Vienna-based Carbomed Medical Solutions, the company behind breathe ilo, shares with me in an interview.

The idea for this type of product came from Prof. Dr. Ludwig Wildt from the University Clinic Innsbruck, who dedicated decades of research on the relationship between the female cycle and CO2. Something that started as a side project for the breathe ilo’ co-founder and CEO Bastian Rüther. “Investing in combined hardware and software products needs brave investors. First of all, the funds needed until profitability are usually higher than in pure software products. Furthermore, the skill set of the organization needs to be much broader and the organization will be much more complex because of managing all the supply-chain complexity. Our latest round was a Pre-Series A round of $3.6 million, led by the AWS Gründerfonds, one of the largest Austrian Venture Capitalists, with the participation of our existing shareholders,” he shares with me.

“We want to continuously improve breathe ilo and make it truly accessible to every woman. Unfortunately, there are a variety of different diseases such as PCOS, which haven’t been well researched. Therefore, we are trying to research different areas to try and have a holistic view of women’s health. We really want to help all women to fulfill their desire to have children, even if there are physical impairments. However, this requires very expensive, time-consuming studies. Furthermore, in the future, we would also like to provide breathe ilo for natural contraception and further breath GFN applications. We have achieved to make breath GFN tremendously affordable and can really see a mass market for it, so I think we are on a good track to revolutionize cycle tracking,” concludes Krapinger.

OCON Healthcare

Among the 1.9 billion women of reproductive age (15-49 years) living in the world in 2019, 1.1 billion have a need for family planning, that is, they are either current users of contraceptives – 842 million use modern methods of contraception. Approximately 160 million women (17%) use IUDs (intrauterine devices) globally – varying in market share between countries, IUDs are the most widely used long-term, reversible contraceptive method in the world. Yet there has been no OCON Healthcare innovation in the IUD space since the 1990s with current devices using a deficient delivery platform invented in 1970.

OCON Healthcare, an Israel-based company is here to change that. Its first product is the IUB™ Ballerine® – the first and only 3D intrauterine device shaped for women’s anatomy and is a long term, reversible, hormone-free contraceptive method replacing the 2D traditional T-shaped IUDs. But contraception is not the only reason for OCON’s innovation in this space. On top of the IUB™ Ballerine®, any drug or substance that can be introduced into the uterus can be potentially put on the flexible, smart memory shape IUB™ (Intra Uterine Ball) frame to be non-invasively delivered to the uterus and treat various medical conditions, replacing invasive procedures.

“Abnormal Uterine Bleeding (AUB) affects up to 25% of women globally with a $1B annual addressable market, more than 70% of women develop uterine fibroids by the age of 50, which is 9 million women in the U.S. alone, and hormone replacement therapy, of which the market size was valued at $21.8 billion in 2019, are all areas we are looking into and in which we are developing innovative solutions to cater to women who need them,” Keren Leshem, CEO of OCON Healthcare, shares with me.

Leshem joined the company in September 2019, and very quickly put the company on the trajectory of growth. The company now has 100,000-plus women who had the IUB™ Ballerine® inserted by their doctor and this innovative contraceptive is currently sold in 30 markets in Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. It’s a company led by women for women, as Leshem says, with 85% of its team being women now, including their newly appointed Chairwoman, California based life science VC leader Dr. Anula Jayasuriya.

“In 2020 OCON raised a total of $4.5 million in funding from both internal and external investors as well as non-dilutive government funding for their R&D projects. To date, the company has raised almost $20 million and our investors include Pontifax VC, Docor VC, Rhia Ventures, Merchavia Investments, and other angel groups. “This year, for the first time in my life, I’ve witnessed the fundraising process being done completely online. It’s weird to have such a connection and find amazing support when we haven’t met personally with the teams in the U.S. that placed their confidence and money on us,” adds Leshem. The company is now actively raising a Series B round to bring their innovative platform to the USA, so investors, what are you waiting for?

Eli

Eli is a Canada-based startup developing a hormone tracking product designed to be used at home. From the user’s perspective, there are three simple steps. You take a saliva sample with the cartridge, you insert it in the small portable device that captures your daily hormone fluctuations, and shortly after, the app provides powerful information tailored to you. This information includes your hormonal profile and precise fertile days. With this data, customers can achieve different goals, including avoiding pregnancy naturally or conceiving a baby. The product will initially be available only for people trying to conceive, while Eli’s team complete the clinical and regulatory work for the contraception use-case.

Fertility is a booming market, with 1 in 7 couples who experience infertility. This number is still growing because we are waiting longer than any generation ever to have children, and fertility declines with age, but the effects of age are much greater in women compared to men. In their 30s, women are about half as fertile as they are in their early 20s, and woman’s chance of conception declines significantly after age 35. Male fertility also declines with age, but more gradually.

So what makes Eli’s product so unique? “We first asked ourselves what the ideal solution would look like and asked the same question to hundreds of women and dozens of physicians. It was clear that we had to make no compromise on ensuring it’s effective and delightful to use, in addition to being hormone-free and non-invasive. That process led us to build technology from the ground up because no existing product met all of those criteria. The technology’s ability to measure multiple hormones (instead of proxy variables like temperature or cervical fluid) and to have saliva as an input (instead of urine or blood) is some of the elements that make our product unique. Because we built the technology by keeping contraception in mind, it was critical for the product to be reliable and simple to integrate into a routine that you keep for a long time. Measuring hormones can give the effect we were looking for, and using saliva is the foundation for delivering the best long-term experience,” explains Marina Pavlovic Rivas, co-founder, and CEO of Eli.

But it’s not only about fertility, for that matter. After using hormonal contraception for years, many women just want to stop at some point, not for the sake of getting pregnant, but because of many other reasons. Although hormonal contraception is one of the most significant advances of the last century for women and all of society, up to 51% of women using hormonal birth control report unwanted side effects. The problem is that when you want to avoid hormones and invasive devices, you’re left with very few effective options. That means you either continue to use a method you no longer want to use or opt for a less effective option, and both cases should be unacceptable. Women’s contraceptive needs have evolved, but innovations to meet those needs haven’t followed. On top of that, “hormones are at the root of so many transitions and conditions women experience, and yet they are still a black box for most of us,” Rivas adds.

Since the company’s creation a little over a year ago, Eli has raised over $2 million. This includes a $1.5 million seed round that the company closed in December 2020. Vectr Ventures led the round with the participation of 2048 Ventures, Real Ventures, Techstars, Panache Ventures, Ramen Ventures, MEDTEQ+, and serial entrepreneur Steven Arless, who also joined the board. Before this round, Eli received around $700,000 in external funding. Most of it came from equity-free sources, such as government programs rewarding companies developing breakthrough technologies. It also includes an initial investment startup received in fall 2019 a few weeks after starting the company from Techstars and Real Ventures, via Techstars Montréal AI. Both investors subsequently invested in Eli’s seed round.

“No one could have predicted the challenges of raising during a pandemic. We were aware that some stats were not favorable even before that new context. Only 90 Latina founders have ever raised $1-plus million, and less than 3% of all VC funded companies have a woman CEO. However, it turns out that the pandemic reduced VC funding for female founders even more. With a 48% drop in funding to female founders from Q2 to Q3 2020, it hit its lowest since 2017. We were operating for a few months only when the global health crisis hit. It certainly added a layer of complexity at first. As a deep tech company with a hardware portion, we couldn’t become entirely remote because we still needed to work with specialized equipment and controlled testing environments in the lab. We now have been running for longer under the global pandemic than in the pre-COVID era. It turns out that the current context holds several opportunities that accelerated our operations and amplified the need for our product,” concludes Pavlovic Rivas.

Fashion

Fashion’s Sustainability Landscape: Who’s Investing in What?

Emily walpole

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Aeon Elliott models a gown for a fashion shoot while standing on the Edge, an outdoor observation deck overlooking Manhattan, March 2, 2021 in New York. After the virus descended on New York, the only sounds in the streets were wailing ambulance sirens. A year after the pandemic began, the nation's largest metropolis -- with a lifeblood based on round-the-clock hustle and bustle, push and pull -- is adapting and showing new life. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Business as usual has come and gone, as far as sustainability advocates are concerned.

More companies are investing in sustainability and making it a broader business priority.

“In the past year, we have seen accelerated investment into the circular economy, which transitions us away from our current take, make, waste linear economy to one in which materials are shared, reused and continuously cycled,” said Kate Daly, managing director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “Brands and retailers are evaluating their business holistically through the lens of environmental, social and [corporate] governance factors, growing their investments in new materials, researching circular solutions and testing and piloting new business models like reusable packaging systems in store.”

Across the top value-creating companies analyzed by WWD, reuse was one area that saw significant investment across the board. Companies evaluated included Nike, Inditex, LVMH, TJX Companies, Kering, Hermès, Fast Retailing, Adidas, Ross, VF Corp., Pandora, Richemont, Anta Sports, Next, L Brands, HLA, H&M, Lululemon, Hanes and Burberry by economic value creation in McKinsey & Co.’s Global Fashion Index for 2018 (adjusted for 2021 due to financial fallout of the pandemic).

fashion, sustainability, retail, circularity, resale, apparel

An GFN of the sustainability investments being made, across the top value-creating companies in fashion.
WWD

Reuse — Easiest to Implement

The majority, or 70 percent, of McKinsey & Co.’s top 20 companies by value outlined a reuse program (like Ross’ reuse-a-hanger or Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe) in their annual sustainability reports, perhaps because of ease of entry and low spend.

Since launching in 1993, Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program has repurposed 30 million shoes, touting the title as one of the oldest reuse and take-back programs.

Recent efforts from VF-owned The North Face speak to the consumer-facing engagement of these programs. With a warranty program that is 50 years old, the average life of a North Face product is a little over seven years. When it comes to new metrics for reuse, “[The industry] is still trying to figure out how to measure e-commerce programs, end-of-life — we’re actually still trying to work on that,” said Carol Shu, global senior manager of sustainability at The North Face.

The Move on Materials

Stan Smiths, Adidas, footwear, sustainability, leather

Select Stan Smiths are being reimagined in a bio-based leather for spring and summer 2021.
Courtesy

After reuse, more than half of the companies showed beginner moves to more innovative materials that help shift away from plastic over reliance and virgin materials. Efforts are evaluated by not solely a public commitment to increase the use of recycled material content but also the use of innovative plant-based dyes and material alternatives, innovation funding competitions and strategic alliances with biotechnology companies.

Last week, Adidas announced its Stan Smiths are the first footwear silhouette to take on Mylo mushroom-derived “leather” at scale. The shoe is slated for limited release later this year with the aim to scale up access to Stan Smith Mylos and integrate the material into other Adidas products and franchises (materials like Mylo are not biodegradable at present). A month prior, Stella McCartney (teaming with biotech company Bolt Threads) and Hermès (teaming with biotech company MycoWorks) similarly trialed new materials to positive public response.

Becoming akin to brand champions for new materials, the only kicker is the Stan Smith Mylo isn’t available yet, neither is the Hermès bag, and McCartney’s bustier and trousers are not for sale — as is the case with many innovative concept launches; Look, don’t touch.

That being said, progress is still being made in the move away from the virgin plastic-based norm, according to industry fiber benchmarks like Textile Exchange — it just isn’t happening at the pace or scale needed.

Polyester’s dominance alone captured 52 percent of the 111 million metric tons of fiber produced in 2019, far overshadowing the plant-based fibers of ancient origins (jute, linen and hemp) taking up 6 percent of the market share of natural protein fibers (silk, wool) each holding 1 percent of the market.

The latest material innovations wouldn’t even track on an industry benchmark at their current scale, so what is driving interest in the new materials?

“Quality is what drives adoption and ultimately impact,” said MycoWorks chief executive officer Matt Scullin. MycoWorks recently closed a $45 million Series B financing deal and worked with Hermès on its latest collaboration. “Brands and consumers are not going to sacrifice performance for sustainability. Leather is fundamentally a performance material. It’s highly durable. It has a sensuality. It evokes emotion that other materials do not. Our approach with Fine Mycelium materials has been to put performance first.”

The company is one of many seeking to edge out competition as veganism and concerns surrounding plastic-based materials continue to rise.

Recycling Gaps

Half of the companies — LVMH, TJX, Kering, Fast Retailing and H&M among them — are making investments in recycling infrastructure — akin to H&M’s Rube Goldberg-like garment-to-garment recycling machine and investments in chemical recycler Re:Newcell.

Amid some isolated efforts, investments in recovery infrastructure and incentives to enable recapture of material after use are lagging.

Speaking to the plastic crisis specifically, Daly suggests collections made with recycled polyester may be a red herring over larger-scale infrastructural investments. “At our current rate, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans each year, in addition to the 150 million metric tons currently circulating in marine environments. We need greater investment in recovery infrastructure to help close the supply-and-demand gap for plastics and protect the environment. To effectively do so, alongside upstream innovations to stop waste from the outset, a suite of solutions downstream is necessary — from mechanical recycling to advanced recycling technologies that can break down our most difficult-to-recycle plastics and transform them into high-quality raw materials that can be funneled back into the system,” she said.

Plastics aside, industry-led initiatives like Accelerating Circularity are one of many aiming to tackle fashion’s infrastructure and supply streams to curb waste.

Few Have Jumped All-In on Resale

ThredUp claims to be the biggest apparel resale site.

ThredUp claims to be the biggest apparel resale site.
Courtesy Photo

Despite reporting the strongest growth amid the pandemic, resale trailed all of the circular investments, at just 30 percent designating funds and efforts to it.

None of the players entering the resale space — VF Corp., H&M (majority stake in resale platform Sellpy), Kering (led a $216 million funding round in French luxury resale site Vestiaire Collective in March), Richemont (Watchfinder, Yoox Net-a-porter Group), Burberry (a recent partner to The RealReal) or as of this week, Lululemon (a re-commerce program with Trove) — have demonstrated a decoupling from volume-based growth.

“Circularity is at such a nascent stage…investment is relatively small in a vacuum. One shoe does not circular make a company,” said Michelle Gabriel, an educator at Glasgow Caledonian University in New York. “We’re not seeing the changes we want to see with circularity because one, it can’t solve our problems and two because it’s [a negligible amount] of the operation of these companies.”

Gabriel finds investments to be a drop in the bucket, infrastructure lacking and labor infringements or lived experiences to be more telling of sustainability progress with reports from labor groups being a key reference.

Pandemic Fallout With Suppliers, A ‘North Star’

coronavirus, pandemic, retail, fashion, labor

An GFN of the labor infringements seen by the top value-generating companies in the apparel space.
WWD

Humanity has equal footing in the sustainability conversation.

Investments in human rights due diligence can take the form of published supplier lists (past tier-1), supply chain technologies that aid transparency, third-party auditing and membership in responsible business initiatives or sensibly — living wages.

With the harsh blow dealt to the apparel industry by the pandemic, incidents of wage theft and unmet supplier commitments upstream can be a more human pulse of industry sustainability.

“When we keep the social components as the North Star, we will inherently embed the other things…I am excited about the conversations that are taking place around inclusion and diversity and what a safe industry looks like,” said Gabriel emphasizing the impact to the 75 million people — mostly young women of color — making our clothes today. Gabriel is engaging in an ongoing research project to collect the lived experiences of individuals who identify as Black, Indigenous, and people of color or LGBTQIA+ within fashion.

Using data available from labor organizations like the Worker Rights Consortium and Remake, some companies (30 percent) that publicly resolved payments to suppliers on canceled or delayed orders at the start of the pandemic were later buyers implicated in severance theft in an April report titled “Fired, Then Robbed” from the WRC. Although the companies paid out in the #PayUp campaign, Nike, Inditex, Next, Fast Retailing, Adidas and H&M were among those buyers implicated in severance cases, as by WRC reports.

Kering, VF and Lululemon remain in the clear for resolved COVID-19-related payments to suppliers. Other companies remain unaccounted for in the pandemic supplier fallout, with public visibility into supply chains lacking.

Going forward, labor rights advocates and watchdogs believe full public transparency will be the ultimate testament to industry-wide progress.

Climate, Chemicals, Biodiversity Reporting Getting There

Across the board, reporting on sustainability efforts has come a long way and fast at that within the past year especially with the rising interest in Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance metrics.

Where applicable, 45 percent of the analyzed companies have set or “committed” to setting science-based targets according to the Science Based Targets Initiative; 65 percent have achieved certification with chemical management programs (including Bluesign or Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals; and 40 percent have invested in some sort of regenerative agriculture project or “restoration” as per sustainability reports.

Some companies are going a step further to disclose material risks to investors.

Standards like the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board Standards identify the subset of environmental, social and governance issues most relevant to financial performance in each of 77 industries. The standards are developed based on feedback from companies, investors and other market participants “as part of a transparent, publicly documented process,” according to the website.

A handful of companies Nike, VF Corp., Pandora and Hanesbrands report by SASB Standards to communicate financially material sustainability information to investors to make bleeding externalities not typically accounted for in apparel, more visible.

When probed on whether companies, across the industry, are indeed holistically re-evaluating their sustainability strategies, Gabriel said: “Maybe not but I think they’re realizing they can’t afford not to.”

For More, See:

Just a Mere $20B to $30B a Year to Transform the Industry, According to Report

What 2020 Taught Fashion About Sustainability and Where to Go From Here

What Comes After Single-Use Retail Bags?

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Business

ESG Strategies for Small Business and Private Companies | JD Supra

becker blake

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ESG Strategies for Small Business and Private Companies | JD Supra

As a violinist, I was interested to learn that Irish violinist Patricia Treacy performed at President Biden’s inaugural mass held at 7:30 AM on Inauguration Day at a Washington cathedral. For the occasion, Ms. Treacy performed on a Stradivari violin worth around $4 million.

This Stradivari wasn’t made by the famous 17th century Cremonese luthier Antonio Stradivari whose instruments have become the gold standard for violin makers ever since. Instead, the violin Ms. Treacy played was made by Antonio’s son, Omobono Stradivari.

Omobono likely was primarily assigned repair work in Antonio’s shop. Compared to Antonio, few surviving violins are attributed to Omobono, and those are considered “clumsy” compared to his father’s work. And there is speculation that Omobono’s business interests primarily laid outside violin making.

Omobono might not have kept up with the productivity or workmanship of his illustrious father. But his instruments still reflect considerable artistry compared to other makers of his day and are not to be overlooked.

The same comparison might be made of large, publicly-traded corporations and their small, privately-held business counterparts. Although the former may generate more news reports and generate more revenue and government regulation, privately-held businesses far outstrip public companies in number. And small business is the backbone of many local communities.

On March 4, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it was creating a Climate and ESG Task Force to focus on disclosure and ESG-related misconduct. Although the SEC’s focus likely primarily will be on disclosures by reporting companies and ESG funds, small businesses and privately-held companies also can create a significant impact with ESG programs.

This article provides a basic primer on ESG principles and discusses how small businesses and privately-held companies can positively affect their communities and stakeholders with ESG initiatives.

What is ESG?

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) focuses on a company’s efforts in those three areas. ESG is used by investors when considering where to invest. ESG also should be a factor in developing a company’s policies and products.

ESG requires a holistic evaluation of the business to determine how it serves its stakeholders inside and outside of the company and the environment where it has influence. The relative focus on environment, social, and governance will vary by company.

Focus on environmental should include the company’s use of natural resources, conservation efforts, and recycling and sustainability. Companies also may evaluate their carbon footprint and energy use. If the business involves the use of chemicals, the company might determine if there is a more environmentally friendly option.

Social issues require evaluation of the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts from the boardroom to entry-level employees. Wellness programs and work environment must be evaluated to assure that employees are treated fairly and can work safely and without harassment. Companies also should consider their opportunities for social impact to make the world a better, safer, and more just place where all people can thrive.

Governance focuses on a company’s leadership and how it guides the company to have a positive impact. Governance also will include evaluating the board, executive, and management composition for diversity and inclusion. It also focuses on equity in compensation, transparency with investors and other stakeholders, and integrity.

Why is ESG Important?

Not only is it important that companies use their resources to make the world a better place, but ESG also is good business. For example, conserving energy, using renewable energy, and recycling can reduce costs and help the environment. Creating a diverse workforce where employees are valued and treated fairly will attract top talent, improve morale, and reduce turnover.

Millennial job hunters, consumers, and investors value ESG and may bypass a company that doesn’t. And Gen Z, which are entering adulthood, is the most diverse generation ever, with only 52%. For Gen Z, addressing climate change, equity, and social justice aren’t optional for Gen Z. With Millennials and Gen Z becoming important stakeholders, companies that ignore ESG initiatives aren’t likely to survive.

Eight of the top ten global risks to business identified by the World Economic Form are ESG-related. Further, according to McKinsey & Company, ESG can improve the bottom line. ESG can lead a company to new markets and business opportunities since consumers may seek companies dedicated to ESG.

Conservation efforts can lead to significant cost savings, for instance, in energy costs. And creating an ESG program can help a company futureproof its operations by anticipating changes (eg, carbon credits, bans on plastic bags, etc.).

Finally, employees who are treated well and enjoy a workplace free of discrimination and harassment are likely to be more productive and less likely to leave their jobs. And employees who are treated fairly are less likely to leave their jobs or file regulatory complaints.

Why Should Small Businesses and Privately-Held Companies Care about ESG?

In March, Acting SEC Chair Allison Herren Lee spoke about the SEC’s enhanced focus on ESG, which she said was driven by a “shift in investor focus.” She noted that “ESG risks and metrics now underpin many traditional investment analyses on investments of all types–a dynamic sometimes referred to as ‘ESG integration.’”

According to Lee, the “perceived barrier between social value and market value is breaking down. This change is driven by investors, lenders, asset managers, and ultimately consumers, making it an essential consideration for every business, whether or not under SEC regulation.

Further, the SEC now has set the expectation that reporting companies accurately disclose ESG information and programs. Investors and other stakeholders naturally will come to expect similar information from private businesses. Indeed, Lee Gardella, head of Investment Risk and Monitoring at private equity asset manager Schroder Adveq believes “private markets are a better place for an investor to apply their sustainable goals than the public markets.

The Process of Developing an ESG Strategy

The first step in developing an ESG program is self-reflection. Every business needs to ask difficult questions such as:

  • Is there diverse leadership and employees at every level in the company? What effort is the business making to recruit a diverse workforce?

  • Is the work environment free from discrimination and harassment? What does the company do to foster employees’ mental and physical health? Do employees receive a fair, living wage?

  • How does the company use natural resources? Does it use renewable energy sources and conserve water? What is the company’s carbon footprint? Does the company recycle and purchase recycled goods where possible? How do the company’s operations impact the land, water, and plant and animal life?

  • Do leadership and management deal fairly and transparently with stakeholders, including employees, customers, vendors, and investors?

  • What governmental regulation is the business subject to? Is the business in compliance with equal opportunity, wage hour, environmental, and ethical requirements?

After a business identifies its ESG successes and areas for improvement, it should develop strategies to address areas needing improvement. That ESG strategy should be integrated into the business’ culture and operations.

Key Elements of an ESG Strategy

Although contents of a business’ ESG strategy will depend upon its industry and the business’ unique circumstances, every ESG strategy should include these considerations:

360-Degree Engagement

A successful ESG strategy will involve all of a business’ stakeholders, including the board, executives, staff, investors, and consumers. The board may adopt the ESG strategy, but only after seeking information from other stakeholders. In addition to involving management and employees, a business may also seek customer or investor input through surveys.

Address All Three ESG Components

Balance is essential in business and in ESG strategies. An effective ESG strategy will not emphasize one or two of the areas to the neglect or exclusion of the other(s).

Many businesses may find it easier to have a strategy for one or two of the three ESG components (environmental, social, governance) than the others. Frequently the area where the business finds it most challenging to develop a strategy will be the one where the business needs to place the most focus.

For example, a business whose C-suite and board comprised of white men may find it difficult to attract women, people of color, and LGBTQ persons. Or the company may be in an industry where such individuals are underrepresented. Yet, a strong diversity program might be the best way for the business to demonstrate its commitment to ESG. A diversity initiative also may help futureproof the business by bringing new ideas and opportunities to the table.

Or on the social side, it may be difficult for a business to obtain management or owner approval for initiatives that increase employee or worker safety costs above minimum required levels at the expense of owner profit. Yet, in the long run, a happy and healthy workforce may lead to improved financial results.

Top to Bottom Education and Commitment

360-degree engagement doesn’t end when the ESG strategy is developed. Instead, all business personnel, from the board chair to the entry-level employee who started yesterday, needs to be educated about and engaged in carrying out the business’ ESG strategy.

Board, management, and staff must be educated about and committed to the business’ ESG strategy. And ESG should become a consideration in every business decision.

Asset Allocation

The book of Matthew in the Christian Bible says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” As with a person, a business’ “treasure” might not refer just to money but also time and focus.

The business that adopts a strong ESG strategy but continues to place the lion’s share of its funds or employee time on practices that undermine that strategy isn’t likely to succeed. The business’ allocation of time and money and choices for community involvement should support its ESG strategy.

Disclosure and Marketing

Usually, it is a good idea for a business to promote its ESG strategy, even if it isn’t legally obligated to do so. By publicly committing to its ESG strategy, the business is more likely to follow through. Plus, public discussion shows customers, investors, and competitors of the business’ commitment to ESG and could encourage those stakeholders to make similar commitments.

Continued Self-Reflection and Evaluation

Businesses should develop metrics so they can continuously evaluate the effectiveness of their ESG strategies. If ESG strategy isn’t effective in one or more areas, the business should make changes designed to increase impact

Futurecasting

ESG is dynamic. Yesterday’s social and environmental concerns different from today’s concerns, and tomorrow’s concerns will be different yet. The most effective ESG strategies will proactively anticipate and be ready for future industry ESG concerns. And the business should make the investments necessary, so it isn’t left behind when those ESG concerns become reality.

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These Are the Most Influential People in the DC-Area Weed Business

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These Are the Most Influential People in the DC-Area Weed Business

Caroline Phillips
Founder, National Cannabis Festival and National Cannabis Policy Summit

As a kid growing up in 16th Street Heights during the ’90s and early 2000s, she’d watch her neighbors’ residences being raided for pot offenses. As an adult, she has turned her hometown into a destination for weed stans, organizing the area’s first cannabis festival in 2016. Nearly 20,000 people attended the last in-person event, at RFK; it now includes a policy component, too.

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Andras Kirschner and Ed Weidenfeld
Co-owners, Phyto Management and Maryland Cultivation and Processing

When longtime lawyer and Reagan campaign counsel Ed Weidenfeld was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, his son introduced him to farmer and Landon alum Andras Kirschner. The pair became partners in pot-growing ventures in Hagerstown and DC. The latter, Phyto, was DC’s highest-grossing in 2019, with $3.2 million in revenue. “I once thought cannabis would put users on the path to inevitable addiction,” Weidenfeld says. Now it “keeps me close to the beauty of life.”

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Jeffrey Kahn and Stephanie Reifkind Kahn
Owners, Takoma Wellness Center

After decades working in healthcare (Stephanie) and using his rabbinate to help families face illness (Jeffrey), the couple opened their dispensary in 2013, making it one of the longest-running in DC. It was also the city’s top-grossing in 2019, with $7.6 million in revenue. Pot is a family business: Son Josh works with his parents, and his brother, James, has worked for other local weed outfits.


Chanda macias

Owner/CEO, National Holistic Healing Center; CEO, Women Grow; first vice chair, National Cannabis Roundtable

The former director of STEM education at Howard University runs a six-year-old dispensary in Dupont Circle, the second-highest-grossing outfit in DC in 2019. She has national sway, too, mentoring people through the networking organization Women Grow and working to influence US policy as a leader in the cannabis-reform group chaired by former House speaker John Boehner.


Linda Greene Market

Owner/CEO, Anacostia Organics; chair, DC Cannabis Trade Association

A former chief of staff to Marion Barry saw opportunity when DC paused its dispensary licensing and no licenses had been granted east of the Anacostia River. She convinced the city to resume licensing and subsequently set up her dispensary in early 2019, just up from the Big Chair on MLK Avenue. On the side, she heads the advocacy group for the city’s growers and sellers.


Hope Wiseman

Owner/CEO, Mary & Main

When Wiseman—the former Falcons cheerleader who starred on the E! reality show WAGS Atlanta—opened her dispensary in Prince George’s County in 2018 at age 26, she became the youngest Black female dispensary owner in the US. This year, she plans to begin franchising to other minority entrepreneurs while organizing a canna-centric conference, “The 420 Experience.” Weed, she says, is “a great opportunity for minorities to build wealth.”


Bill Askinazi

Owner, Potomac Holistics

His Rockville dispensary was the first in Maryland, selling out every day for two months after it opened in 2017. As a former top official at the state’s economic-development agency, he worked with small businesses—his is now one of the only mom-and-pop pot shops left in Montgomery County.

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Josh Genderson

CEO, Holistic Industries

He learned about heavily regulated industries while working at his family’s longtime liquor store, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, and made the leap to pot in 2010. His company now operates two of the eight cultivation centers in the District. Holistic has also opened a dispensary division (it runs Lib­erty Cannabis in Rockville), has expanded to seven states, and is projected to gross $200 million in sales this year.


Corey Barnette

Owner/CEO, District Growers and Kinfolk

This MBA and former finance guy is the only person to head both a dispensary and a growing operation in DC: He founded a cultivation center in the Langdon neighborhood and acquired Kinfolk, formerly Metropolitan Wellness Center, a dispensary that’s relocating from Eastern Market to Mount Vernon Triangle. Barnette is often a spokesman for the local industry, testifying on the Hill and advocating for inclusivity within the business.


Erich Mauff

Cofounder/president, Jushi

Mauff is used to the competitive world of Big Cannabis: Before working at Deutsche Bank for nearly two decades, he rowed in the Olympics. Last year, his company acquired one of five licensees in Virginia’s inaugural class of “pharmaceutical processors”—facilities that house every step of the medical-cannabis process, from seed to sale. With a dispensary open in Manassas (called Beyond/Hello) and five more slated to open by mid-2022, Jushi-operated storefronts will be the only places to get medical marijuana in Northern Virginia.

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Jamila Hogan

Founder, the Green Life Learning Center and Pass the Jay

A cannabis judge who anoints prize-winning “strain hunters” at international contests—“When I say it’s good, it’s good”—Mills is to weed what a master somm is to wine. She may be the most erudite kush critic in DC, using her background as a former grower to review dispensary products and locally grown flowers on her website, Pass the Jay. Mills also consults and teaches, schooling growers and consumers in the olfactory elements that differentiate pot strains and their effects. Her pitch: More education + more discerning buyers = better bud.

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Giadha A. DeCarcer

Founder, New Frontier Data

She honed her Big Data skills working in the intelligence field and at JP Morgan Chase. Now she churns out GFN and market forecasts for weed investors and business owners. Her seven-year-old firm expanded its stake in the industry in 2018 when it bought Hemp Business Journal and again last year when it acquired Higher Data, an industry database.

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“DC Scroger”

@dcscroger

His alias derives from “scrogging,” a growing technique that maximizes yield per plant—helpful for pot growers in DC, where residents are restricted to six flowering plants apiece. He teaches classes for serious homegrowers, throws Bring Your Own Bucket soil-mixing parties, and preaches the virtues of self-sufficiency on his Instagram.

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Leah Sera

Director, MS Program in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy

Sera oversees the first medical-marijuana master’s degree in the country, helping train the next generation of cannabis professionals. The two-year-old program covers the scientific, cultural, and political aspects of weed—from a distance. Because of federal laws, neither Sera nor her 400 students can actually touch what they’re studying.

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Mark Nagib

Co-owner/creative director, Pink Fox

After being laid off from their lobbying-firm gigs a few years ago, Nagib and his partner, who goes by “Keo,” started developing DC-centric designs for their high-end gifting company. (Gifters sell token items and give pot away for free, a workaround of District law.) Instead of cheap stickers or trinkets, Pink Fox sells limited-edition loungewear, vibing weed-as-your-best-life. Naturally, Nagib and Keo also host a podcast.


Davis Clayton Kiyo

Owner/CEO, Myster and Octave

His two local storefronts shuttered after a 2016 police raid at one of them, but the Bethesda native continues to sell Myster’s high-end hardware online. The accessories—including the best-known all-in-one Stashtray, inspired by minimalist and modern design—are crafted to be cool enough for the Insta generation but also appeal to the clean-cut sensibilities of a corporate type. Octave, a new venture launched last year, makes high-tech smoking ware for the techy stoner crowd.

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Michael J. Correia

Director of government relations, National Cannabis Industry Association

Before becoming Big Pot’s head lobbyist in 2013, he worked for its prototypical enemy: Republicans. He spent a decade-plus on the Hill and was director of federal affairs at ALEC, the clearinghouse for conservative legislation. Today at NCIA he represents more than 1,000 cannabusinesses.


Queen Adesuyi

Policy manager, Drug Policy Alliance

The 26-year-old Bronx native saw the disparate impacts of pot policing on her hometown versus at her alma mater, Georgetown. Now she lobbies for racial justice in weed policy, pushing for federal criminal-justice reform in Congress and for equity in how the District regulates the industry.


Jenn Michelle Pedini

Executive director, Virginia NORML; development director, NORML

A veteran of Disney World and corporate marketing, Pedini has a background in storytelling, which has been useful at NORML’s chapter in the Old Dominion. During the 2021 legislative session, Pedini’s years-long effort to get Virginia to legalize recreational marijuana was successful—a first among Southern states.

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Diamond Riley

Founder, DC Bake Shop

The former pop-up player has been an innovator in edibles. She gifts Milk Bar–inspired treats and pizzas with sativa-infused sauce to people who make top-dollar donations; a half dozen cupcakes go to a donor of $110, for instance. Pre-pandemic, Riley brought cannabis programming to the Wing coworking club.


Jazmine Moore

Owner/CEO, Green Panther Chef

Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2007, the chef weighed 84 pounds and was desperate for relief, which she found by infusing juice with cannabis. Today Moore caters spreads of edibles for patients and parties, dosing niçoise salads and coq au vin for up to $10,000 per spread. She also has a line of CBD condiments designed to aid gut health.

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Adam Eidinger and Nikolas Schiller
Founders, DC Marijuana Justice

Their fame in local pot circles goes back to 2011, when police raided the Capitol Hemp store that Eidinger then co-owned. (He avoided prosecution by closing the shop.) Schiller and Eidinger later formed their advocacy group, helping craft and pass Initiative 71, the ballot measure that legalized pot possession in the District. When it became law in 2015, Mayor Bowser awarded Eidinger a “420” license plate. Now that the city is debating full legalization, expect to see more of their joint effort—Eidinger getting handcuffed for the cause (he’s currently at 26 arrests) and Schiller staying behind to tell the story.

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Meredith Kinner and Johnny McGowan
Partners, Kinner & McGowan

They opened their litigation practice in 2015, becoming one of the first firms to dedicate themselves to DC’s cannabis market. The Capitol Hill–based duo help cannabusinesses unravel the Gordian knot of banking, zoning, and licensing regulations in a shifting legal landscape.


Lonny Bramzon

Owner, Street Lawyer Services

A Miami-raised criminal-defense attorney with a weed side hustle, Bramzon started an H Street gifting operation to market his Silver Spring law firm: The shop sells coupons for legal services, and the weed is free. His “budtenders,” a fleet of young women who work the counters (and call themselves SLS Women), help market the shop to their own micro-influencer followings and are at work with Bramzon to develop a women-focused pot line. He also just launched an expungement-advocacy campaign to get DC-area courts to wipe records clean of weed-related convictions.

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Natalie done

Reporter, Politico

When Politico launched its pot vertical a year and a halfago, it became the first mainstream publication with a cannabis team. Fertig, its federal-policy reporter, covers everything pot-related on Capitol Hill, from financial regulation to agriculture and criminal justice. It’s “the ultimate policy-reporting job,” she says, “because it’s completely new.”

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7 dispensaries

8 cultivation centers

9,276 patients registered

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19 dispensaries

0 cultivation centers

22,455 patients registered

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8 dispensaries

1 cultivation center

12,952 patients registered

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4 pharmaceutical processors

0 Pounds of flower sold. That’s because the Commonwealth’s current medical program is limited to non-combustible forms such as oils, creams, and capsules.

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