Exclusive Interview with NBA All-Star and Webber Wellness Founder Chris Webber and JW Asset Management Founder and Chief Investment Officer Jason Wild
Chris Webber, an NBA All-Star and founder of Webber Wellness, and Jason Wild, Founder and Chief Investment Officer of JW Asset Management, have teamed up to launch a $100 million cannabis impact fund. They spoke with New Cannabis Ventures about their collaboration and how the new impact fund will support cannabis entrepreneurs of color. The audio of the entire conversation is available at the end of this written summary.
Webber and Wild are no strangers to the cannabis space. Fifteen years of playing professional basketball took a toll on Webber’s body, and he became interested in the wellness benefits of cannabis. He founded Webber Wellness and has built substantial relationships in the cannabis space.
Wild is a pharmacist by training, and he started a pharmaceutical hedge fund back in 1998. That fund grew from $80,000 to just under $2 billion in assets under management today. Eventually, a substantial portion of that fund was pivoted to focus on cannabis. Initially, its cannabis investments were exclusively in Canada, but now, it has investments in the U.S. Wild serves as the Chairman of multi-state operator TerrAscend, which has a footprint in states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Approximately 85 percent of the fund’s assets under management are in the cannabis space, according to Wild.
A friend of Webber’s from the University of Michigan connected him with Wild. Initially, Webber was interested in talking with Wild about his experience, but it soon became clear that their interests and passions aligned, leading to the new impact fund.
The team just completed the offering document and is starting the process of speaking with investors. Wild expects to have a substantial amount of the money raised within the next few months. The impact fund already has a strong pipeline of companies, and the team is preparing to start deploying money over the next six to eight weeks.
The impact fund will target companies that will be sustainable and profitable over time. Plant-touching businesses will be a major focus for the fund, but the team sees potential across the entire supply chain. Wild and Webber will take an entrepreneurial approach, evaluating anything that could be a fit.
Ultimately, the fund wants to support companies that will be successful. This success will allow Wild and Webber to continue their work and potentially launch an even bigger fund in the future.
To help drive that success, the impact fund will do more than just provide capital. Webber and Wild will leverage their experience and relationships in the industry to provide the fund’s companies with business resources and backend support. Webber is looking to provide support to local municipalities and working with community activists to help support social equity applicants.
Over his years investing in cannabis, Wild has made a number of mistakes and learned from them. He will be able to pass that knowledge on to the fund’s companies.
In addition to Webber and Wild’s experience, a number of other companies have reached out to express their interest in lending support. The fund may be able to offer centralized resources to its companies. For example, the fund could offer its companies insurance coverage under the same carrier, or it could provide avenues to employee training or HR services.
Wild expects the companies in this fund to have returns similar to his existing fund. When considering investments and talking to investors, both Webber and Wild emphasize that this impact fund is not about charity. It is about offering people of color access to opportunities and a fair playing field.
Right now, the team is focused on getting this impact fund up and running. But, Wild envisions launching a second, possibly bigger fund, in the next year or two. He and Webber are hopeful that the impact fund’s model could be taken up in other parts of the industry.
This impact fund seeks to support entrepreneurs of color, but there remains a lot of work to be done in terms of social equity and diversity in the cannabis industry. Webber sees access as the first step to addressing the harm done to individuals and communities of color by the laws that disproportionately target them.
Cannabis companies operating in the space today can recognize that there is a problem and be open to making changes to address that problem. Federal legalization, whenever it happens, can also play a significant role in addressing social equity in the industry.
From a business perspective, federal legalization could spark positive changes in the way the industry is taxed. But, more importantly, Webber and Wild want federal law to address the number of people who are still being imprisoned for cannabis use. A step forward, like expungement of records, could help more people of color enter the cannabis space and have the same opportunities as the people profiting from the industry today.
Cannabis is a difficult business for any entrepreneur. The industry is changing so quickly and competition is fierce. Webber and Wild want to give entrepreneurs of color the same opportunity to enter and grow in this space. Access is the first step, and the pair is excited to be a part of the solution.