2 Minutes With ... Annu Khot, Founder and CEO of Socíale

On building her first dispensary and elevating women in cannabis

Annu Khot is an award-winning founder, CEO, and innovator who is transforming the cannabis industry to foster greater inclusivity and benefits for all. Khot is on a mission to bridge societal divides, create economic opportunities for underrepresented communities, and enhance well-being.

In 2019, she founded Socíale, an employee-owned business exclusively offering products from female and minority-owned operations. Socíale embodies her vision of providing ownership opportunities to those disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs.

With two decades of leadership as a managing partner for successful real estate and technology ventures, Khot has always done things differently. Under her leadership, ownership opportunities were created for the marginalized, and potential was unlocked for the under-resourced. 

Annu, tell us …

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I was born and raised in India, and now live in the suburbs of Chicago. I have been in the U.S. for the last fifteen years, but remain proud of my Indian roots and am very involved in the Indian-American community.

How you first got interested in cannabis.

Cannabis has been part of Indian traditional medicine for centuries, but I didn’t try it until much later in life—when I was coping with the mental and physical pain of numerous miscarriages. I ultimately delivered a healthy, now eight year-old son, but my experience with cannabis was so transformative that I knew I had to forge a career in the industry.

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

Building my very first dispensary! Socíale is based in Park Ridge, IL, and is slated to open later this summer. This location is just the beginning. My team and I recently raised $3 million to expand our retail footprint across the state, so there is more to come! You can follow along on our journey via our website and Instagram. And of course, stop by once we're open!

A recent project you're proud of.

I am incredibly proud of our team's $3 million capital raise. As I mentioned, this capital will be used to fund our retail expansion across the state. Raising capital in the cannabis industry is a tough road. Cannabis remains illegal on the federal level, meaning that entrepreneurs like myself are barred from securing bank loans to scale their businesses. Our journey to raising $3 million came with a lot of "no's, but we found an incredible group of investors who are aligned with our long-term vision and believe in the power of our team.

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

Small businesses frequently leverage Instagram and TikTok to make their products go viral. While I'd love to do that as a dispensary owner, openly mentioning cannabis is banned on most platforms. This puts the onus on cannabis marketers to get creative and find unique ways to skirt regulations.

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

I am very moved by the recent federal cannabis pardons. They are a start to ending cannabis injustices—but more has to be done. Forty thousand people remain incarcerated in the U.S. for non-violent cannabis offenses. As a social equity dispensary, Socíale has partnered with a number of cannabis social justice non-profits to be part of this movement and end this needless incarceration.

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

I recently stumbled upon the clothing brand Buy Weed From Women, and love its mission. The brand offers chic totes, sweatshirts, and t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Buy Weed From Women," which I'll certainly be buying for every woman on my team!

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

I watched LADY BUDS a few weeks ago and it quickly ranked among one of my favorite documentaries. The film follows six women—farmers, entrepreneurs and advocates—as they transition from the illicit market to the newly regulated California cannabis industry. I loved what the documentary revealed about the industry, and I recommend it to all of my contacts in the cannabis space.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

I am so inspired by the artist and muralist Jenny Vyas. She is a Chicago-based artist who primarily portrays women in all of her art forms. I love the beauty and nuances of her work!

Your favorite fictional character.

I am more drawn to real-life people than fictional characters. Stories of resilience, perseverance, and determination are my biggest motivations!

Someone worth following on social media.

@hempvati (aka Priya) is one of my favorite follows on Instagram. She is India's first female cannabis activist. Diagnosed with stage three lymph node tuberculosis, Priya turned to cannabis when prescription medications worsened her condition. With the help of cannabis, her symptoms cleared within four months. Priya later founded Hempvati, a foundation dedicated to cannabis education and counsel across India.

Your main strength as a marketer/creative.

Understanding what makes my audience tick, and delivering content that inspires.

Your biggest weakness.

Giving people the benefit of the doubt and trusting too quickly.

Something people would find surprising about you.

English isn't my first language. When I'm home with my family, we speak Hindi.

One thing that always makes you happy.

Spending time with my eight year-old son and being silly together.

One thing that always makes you sad.

Thinking about the female wage gap. It simply maddens me, and we need systemic change to parental leave and the traditional 9 - 5 working hours if we are to close it.

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

Traveling the world as a motivational speaker. I'm "that friend" people come to when they need advice or a kick in the pants to move forward. I love traveling and connecting with people from all cultures, so this career path has always felt like a natural fit!

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