By Douglas Karlson
When someone is looking to grow their business in the emerging cannabis industry, it helps if their Rolodex has Beth Waterfall’s name in it.
With deep knowledge of the industry’s regulations and key players, coupled with skills she gained in the corporate world, and a passion for the product, Waterfall has emerged as a key go-to-person when it comes to business development.
“I don’t come from the ‘marijuana world,’” says Waterfall. Rather, after graduating from Providence College, she gravitated to the corporate world, working in marketing management. It’s a field that leveraged her interest in writing and working with people. She was hired by a law firm and later became director of marketing for a large regional accounting firm.
But Waterfall’s career took a major change of direction in August 2015, when she began taking medicinal marijuana to treat a painful muscle injury. A month later, she attended New England Cannabis Convention’s (NECANN) first Boston cannabis convention and saw an opportunity.
“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I think I found my calling here,’” recalls Waterfall.
Unhappy and uninspired with her work at the accounting firm, she decided to apply the skills in business development and event planning, which she had gained from her corporate experience to the cannabis industry. Her corporate experience, she says, sets her apart from many of the other professionals who service the highly-regulated industry.
Her friends questioned the move. But Waterfall says it’s the smartest thing she ever did. “I’ve lived and demonstrated how you can transfer skills from a buttoned-down environment to cannabis,” says Waterfall.
She’s now a consultant to six companies, mostly tech companies and law firms. Her biggest client is Vicente Sederberg, a law firm that specializes in cannabis. She also helps develop programming for NECANN.
All told, she helps organize about 20 events per year for various organizations and clients, all aimed at providing a networking platform for the emerging industry, educating the public and reversing the negative perceptions regarding cannabis use.
Some of those events are for a nonprofit organization Waterfall co-founded and leads called Elevate Northeast, or Elevate NE. Elevate Northeast supports the northeastern cannabis industry with workforce and community education, advocacy and networking.
“With my background in marketing I’m all about changing perception,” says Waterfall. “There’s so much to learn and so much bad information out there.”
In June, Elevate NE was approved as a 501(c)3. That means the organization will be able to do more fundraising and hire staff. Until now, says Waterfall, it was all volunteer.
“It was a labor of love because I feel so strongly there is a lack of understanding of cannabis.”
As the saying goes, it’s not just what you know, it’s who you know. That’s especially important if you’re a consultant helping with business development. Waterfall’s outreach within the industry and the communities it serves has allowed her to expand her network, which helps increase demand for her consulting business.
“One of the ways I differentiate myself is by my large network,” she says.
It’s a lesson for any aspiring business development consultant. Success comes easier if you focus on a passion, and develop expertise and contacts in a specific industry.
For her clients, Waterfall is choosy who she takes on because she is concerned about both about her reputation and that of the industry. “I’m picky as to who I work with. Companies that are mission-driven, not just companies that want to cash in on the ‘green rush,’” she says.
“At the end of the day I really care about this. I want Massachusetts to do it the right way. I want to keep bringing good companies to the forefront so Massachusetts can be an example to other states and to the rest of the world.”
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