2 Minutes With … Akele Parnell, CEO of ÜMI Farms

He's all about building a brand through nostalgia and curiosity

Akele Parnell is co-founder and CEO of ÜMI Farms, a Chicago-born craft cannabis brand. ÜMI Farms includes retail dispensaries and a cultivation facility, along with the new brand Lab 11.

Akele is a member of the board of directors of Chicago NORML, and the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition, where he co-led the negotiation and implementation of the cannabis industry's first community benefits agreement. He is also a member of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Task Force of the U.S. Cannabis Council.

Prior to co-founding ÜMI Farms, Akele was head of equity partnerships at Lantern, a cannabis delivery and e-commerce platform. He also served as in-house attorney at Green Thumb Industries, one of the largest publicly traded cannabis companies in the U.S.

We spent two minutes with Akele to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations and recent work he's admired.

Akele, tell us …

Where you grew up, and where you live now. 

I was born in Birmingham, Ala., and I now live in Chicago. Chicago's been home for the better part of 15 years. 

How you first got interested in cannabis. 

I tried it and fell in love. 

One of your favorite projects you've ever worked on, and why. 

Designing and launching Lab 11's first limited-merch drop. We're already planning for future drops. Switching gears from the more technical and operations-related side of growing the brand to creative projects has been a lot of fun. 

A recent project you're proud of. 

I'm especially proud of Lab 11, the first brand we're launching under the ÜMI Farms umbrella. Lab 11 is a craft cannabis brand inspired by the creativity of urban subcultures—arts, streetwear and fashion, skate culture, music—and by nostalgia for the golden era of the industry. 

We're building the brand through a nostalgia-tinged lens, drawing from cultural moments of collective significance in a way we've not seen current brands in the market do—at least not in a way that speaks to the various communities and cultures to which we belong.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today, and how to approach it. 

Instagram and Facebook's shadow-banning of cannabis accounts and their prohibitions on product advertising. It's extremely frustrating. 

One thing about how the cannabis industry is evolving that you're excited about. 

I'm most excited about product innovation. I love seeing new and improved ways to consume cannabis and interact with the plant. 

Someone else's work, in cannabis or beyond, that you admired lately. 

I've always admired Pure Beauty's creativity, visuals and commitment to more sustainable practices. 

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

I find podcasts and documentaries about UFOs fascinating because of the implications for humanity if aliens are here. But, I don't know … could be the weed, lol. 

A visual artist or band/musician you admire. 

Pharrell Williams is always on the cutting edge of creativity in his fields—music, fashion and design. 

Your favorite fictional character. 

Yoda. I need a book of his life teachings. 

Someone worth following on social media. 

Dalton Bauder for cannabis, psychedelics and other inspired creative content and parodies. 

Your main strength as a marketer/creative. 

I'm curiosity-led and consume a lot of music, art, entertainment and information. I think that's my biggest strength. I'm drawn to what sparks "aha" moments, and those moments of inspiration serve as the connective tissue for a lot of the ideas the team and I build on. 

Your biggest weakness. 

I like things to go exactly as planned and, as I've learned, that's rarely possible.

Something people would find surprising about you. 

I've been great white shark diving off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. 

One thing that always makes you happy. 


One thing that always makes you sad. 

Bad food. 

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry. 

Something in music, fashion and/or social impact–ideally working at the confluence of all three.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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