New Viola CMO to Expand Minority Representation, Including African American Presence

Cannabis industry is welcoming newcomers

As marijuana is becoming more mainstream, the cannabis industry is welcoming newcomers. Marijuana-related businesses (MRBs) are not only hiring outsiders, but business offices are becoming more diverse. That was driven home further when cannabis products company Viola added a chief marketing officer to the executive team.

Viola, a brainchild of 16-year NBA veteran Al Harrington, was named after his grandmother, who benefited from vaping cannabis extracts to treat her glaucoma and diabetes. Now, Harrington, a former New York Knicks forward, wants to open the CBD industry to minorities, and hiring Ericka Pittman is only the beginning.

“One of the things I’m trying to do, especially with Viola [Extracts], is to become an on-ramp for minorities, especially black people, to participate in the industry,” Harrington said in an article with BET in late 2019. “Not only from a job-creation standpoint but from an ownership standpoint.”

Pittman, who has 25 years of marketing expertise in the luxury goods and services space, has a resume chock-full of lifestyle brand involvement. This is a perfect fit for Viola’s customers, as Pittman will be in charge of cultivating brand awareness and advocating for those affected by racial profiling and the War on Drugs. This is a mission upon which the entire company stands.

“As black female C-suite representation continues to grow within the cannabis space, I am excited to join efforts with such a dynamic company rooted in purpose,” Pittman told Biz Women last week. “Viola truly brings to market not only a premium product but an impactful brand mission led by a special group of minority industry leaders.”

Pittman’s prior experience includes stints with AQUAhydrate, Inc. and Combs Enterprises, a business run by Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, after spending 15 years in the interactive media industry working for the likes of Time, Inc., Vibe Media Group, Blue Flame Agency, and Conde Nast. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Corporate Communications from Baruch College, in New York City, and went on to earn an “Executive Women in Leadership” certification from Cornell University’s three-month-long online program.

Pittman also spends time as a member of the National Association of Professional Women, Advertising Women of New York, and Cosmetic Executive Women. When she’s not taking over boardrooms or showcasing her skills, she advocates for Dress for Success and works with Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

Reach out to state governments for business start-up guidance

For minority entrepreneurs seeking a jumping-off point in this fast-paced canna-business world, Harrington suggested reaching out to state governments for business start-up guidance. States like California, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and a whole host of others have guidelines in place that allow people of color an opportunity to join specific industries through discounted rates on licensing fees and business development initiatives. This broadens the scope of minority representation and allows prosperous ventures for those with the will to succeed, but not necessarily the means.
Harrington and his associated foundation, Viola Cares, have good community-driven intentions for 2020, in hopes of reaching some of those people. He called the black population “innovative” and said that he wants to help give back in every way possible to those willing to capitalize.

“We’re going to start giving back a part of our revenue to our foundation, Viola Cares, which will go out to expunging records, educating the youth about the industry, and letting them know that there’s a viable opportunity to be in this industry with very well-paying jobs,” he said. “We’re trying to change the stigma and change people’s lives, especially when cannabis was something used to destroy our community.”

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