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High Folks: Carol Ortega Is Making Sure Latin Americans Have A Seat At The Table

One Colombian woman is showing the cannabis industry how to evolve through social responsibility.

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High Folks: Carol Ortega Is Making Sure Latin Americans Have A Seat At The Table
Courtesy of Carol Ortega

“[We] can’t talk about cannabis entrepreneurship without touching the social equity side. It has to be that way because of the damage that has been done for decades,” shared Carol Ortega, the founder and managing director for Muisca Capital Firm, the first Latin American Investment Management Firm. She is helping to drive financial investment for Cannabis ventures in Colombia and Latin America and believes that Cannabis has the power to mitigate the levels of poverty within the Latino Community in the US and abroad.

Hailing from Bogotá, Colombia, Ortega knows first hand how the war on drugs continues to negatively impact minorities across the Americas, and she has been working fearlessly to create opportunities for Latinos who want to join “the party,” as she calls it. Her focus is on providing Latin Americans with access to the cannabis industry through science-backed education and venture capital resources.

On September 12th and 13th in Bogotá, Muisca Capital Group along with The Arcview Group will be hosting the Cannabiz Latino Hub, the first-ever Latin American cannabis investment conference, which will be an opportunity for entrepreneurs to do business, engage with investors, and meet asset allocators from across the world. Key Speakers include Steve DeAngelo and Troy Dayton of the Arcview Group, and Jason Ortiz of the Minority Cannabis Business Association.

In 2014 Oregon legalized recreational marijuana, creating a fresh market for entrepreneurship. While working as the Director of Finance and Operations for Adelante Mujeres, which is now the biggest accelerator for entrepreneurs in the state of Oregon, Ortega saw a huge lack of Latino ownership in the cannabis industry, and she wanted to provide her services to help those interested in starting businesses. 

“[When I started], I only found seven Latino entrepreneurs in Oregon. I acted as a CFO, consultant, and fundraiser for them, and I found that my niche with Latino entrepreneurs in Oregon was very, very limited because there wasn’t a lot of [them] joining the [cannabis industry] at the time. Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma and fear of this industry because of the damaging impact it has had on Latinos in the US and Latin America,” said Ortega. 

Latinos, like Blacks, are four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession, which affects the number of Latino cannabis business owners. According to a 2017 report, Latinos only make up 5.7% percent of owners. Taking this into consideration, Ortega’s boisterous background in accounting and finance allowed her to begin creating a unique space for herself in the industry. Before taking part in Oregon’s cannabis industry, she was a professor of finance and accounting for ten years at Xavierian University. In her role as professor, she was also a consultant for Colombia’s Ministry of Commerce and helped the country transition to new accounting laws, which allowed for her to begin making a name for herself as an expert in finance. 

Her experience as a professor and consultant in Colombia put her in a position to see that members of her community are not encouraged to be leaders. Similar to most minority communities, Ortega found that there was a huge education disparity that keeps entrepreneurs— “visionaries who see opportunities”—from joining the cannabis industry, so she created a network for entrepreneurs in Colombia.

“Latin Americans are just not used to fundraising [and entrepreneurship]. We are just used to being employees,” said Ortega. She also mentions that at one point business plan and pitch deck basics were not being taught. She also cites that the lack of Spanish language content is also a barrier many potential entrepreneurs face. “I saw that reality and decided in order to provide my services, I needed to train [Latin Americans] and educate them on cannabis and venture capital.” 

She founded the Colombian Entrepreneurs Network (RECC) and created programs that help cannabis businesses starting up in Colombia. They hosted CannaCiencia, the first cannabis science event in Latin America that focuses on science, research, and investment.

“We decided to fight the stigma through science. We believe at the end of the day that science is going to eliminate the stigma, the fear, and the ignorance for everyone in the world but especially in Latin America,” shared Ortega. During its first run in 2018, CannaCiencia was extremely successful. Instead of the 150 people RECC projected to attract, 350 people came from all over the world. This year they attracted 1,500 people, which included academics and politicians. 

Expected to reach $13 billion by 2028, Colombia’s evolving cannabis industry has grown exponentially since 2016. Putting on events like CannaCiencia and the CannaBiz Latino Hub is helping Ortega have a deeper impact across Latin America. She and her team are leading the technical committee that is going to review Colombia’s existing cannabis laws and propose reforms. 

Ortega’s determination to put Colombia and Latin America at the forefront of the cannabis industry isn’t just about business. After five decades of civil war and with the Peace Process Agreement in place, in 2016 Colombia began the process of rebuilding their country after the war on drugs had torn it apart. While living and working in Bogotá during the war, Ortega had witnessed many of her friends and family members being killed. For her, conquering the cannabis industry is about transmuting the economic and social damage that was done to create wealth, opportunity, and community for a country that has been so heavily divided. 

“For years the FARC lead the black market in Colombia. The Toribio and Cauca regions were the epicenters of the civil war because that’s the region where the cultivars were and are. About 2,000 hectares have been cultivating illegally in this region under the violent control from FARC,” shared Ortega with High Times.

“Now all the families that have been growing cannabis for the black market are in the process of legalizing and obtaining licenses. These farmers were victims of the violent control from FARC and ELN, and hopefully, all of these families can now navigate the legal market and keep providing for their families since this commodity is the source of their income.”  

At the forefront of Colombia’s cannabis industry is the need for more social responsibility says, Ortega. “Something that caused so much suffering for all of us is bringing so much opportunity to the country and that’s what we’re looking for. We are looking to mobilize capital from wealthy countries, families, and individuals to heal the damage the world has done [to] our country through the war on drugs.”

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