Akerna Founder and CEO Jessica Billingsley
By Jarrett Banks
Being a female CEO in tech and the even less diverse cannabis industry is no small feat. But Akerna Corp. (ticker: KERN) Founder and CEO Jessica Billingsley has more than thrived. The Colorado-based company provides consulting services and compliance software to the cannabis industry.
In an interview with IPO Edge, Billingsley discussed the launch of MJ Retail, a point-of-sale product connecting merchants and consumers. The full interview is below:
IPO Edge: Tell us about Akerna and becoming the first cannabis-focused enterprise software platform.
It was both a challenging and humbling task. When I first launched MJ Freeway in 2010, my mission was to create the world’s most transparent and accountable supply chain. Not only does the industry have a regulatory need for this kind of tracking, but consumers also have a right to transparency regarding what they are putting in and on their bodies.
The Akerna ecosystem is how we currently realize that dream. With MJ Retail / MJ Platform, Akerna accomplishes this mission by connecting data points across the global cannabis supply chain from seed to sale to self.
IPO Edge: What is MJ Retail?
MJ Retail is a groundbreaking new product that is the first of its kind. It is an independent POS product that connects to Akerna’s ecosystem for compliance, back office, and reporting functionality. MJ Retail is specifically designed to provide merchants and consumers with a flexible and mobile-friendly experience by allowing transactions to happen at any time throughout the retail experience on any device.
IPO Edge: How does it benefit the industry?
When it comes to POS software platforms, businesses are usually presented with the choice of either a full-featured, data-rich system that requires an investment in training or a simple to use platform that lacks essential features. Businesses shouldn’t be forced to choose. MJ Retail marries both form and function: it is easy to use and lightweight, and it does not sacrifice critical data collection and analytics reporting features.
MJ Retail gives back to retail workers much needed time, cost, and energy spent on unnecessary clicks. This is something that has benefits that continue long after you begin using it.
IPO Edge: Recently, Akerna announced they would start offering payment processing services to hemp and CBD operators using MJ Platform. Could you tell us about that?
Through a partnership with Priority Technology Holdings, Inc., any hemp or CBD company that uses MJ Platform can contract with us for traditional merchant processing. Although hemp and CBD are federally legal, businesses still encounter issues that stem from federal cannabis prohibition, like the ability to process payments.
Typically, those in the hemp industry must use high-risk payment processors that charge outrageously high fees and offer few if any integrations. That’s why we partnered with Priority to provide a better and more cost-effective solution.
For any hemp and CBD clients who contract with us for payment processing, we are also offering MJ Retail to them free of charge. With so much happening in the industry, from supply chain issues to regulatory uncertainty, the least we can do is make things a little easier for the fledgling industry.
IPO Edge: Speaking of partnerships, Akerna also recently announced MJ Analytics in partnership with the Business Intelligence firm Domo. Tell us more about that.
Over the last year, Akerna and Domo have been working closely together on various projects to improve some of Domo’s beta tools as well as to develop MJ Analytics, our groundbreaking new reporting engine. MJ Analytics offers a suite of Enterprise-level data tools that give its users unparalleled access and insight into the cannabis supply chain, including custom dashboard building, data sharing and exports, and the ability to schedule alerts and triggers. MJ Analytics is an excellent example of giving our clients the ability to have the best of both worlds. Our retail clients can use MJ Retail’s streamlined POS system while still having access to MJ Analytics’ robust reporting engine.
IPO Edge: We saw the news that two MJ Freeway Consulting clients won every medical cannabis dispensary license in Iowa. Care to share your thoughts on that?
We are incredibly proud of both our clients and our stellar consulting team. Given the limited number of licenses available, it was an exceptionally competitive environment. The fact that our clients were able to win every license demonstrates our consulting team’s undeniable value. As new markets open over the next few years, I am confident the need for such services will only continue to grow.
IPO Edge: There are several cannabis initiatives up for a vote this November. What are your thoughts on the outlook?
2020 has the potential to be a banner year for the cannabis industry. We have seven cannabis ballot initiatives in five states up for a vote, and so far, polling seems to indicate most of the ballot measures will pass. We feel confident that, come election night, the cannabis industry stands to make significant gains, with 2021 offering unprecedented expansion opportunity. We feel Akerna is perfectly positioned to take advantage of these new opportunities.
Editor at Large