2 Minutes With ... Vanessa Valdovinos, Co-Founder of HUSH Chicago

On expanding to Las Vegas and tips for cannabis vendors

A proud Latina and Chicago native, HUSH Chicago co-founder Vanessa Valdovinos brings 15 years of hospitality and experiential marketing—plus a passion for cannabis culture—to her role as director of events. 

BIPOC cannabis brands trust Vanessa and her HUSH business partner Kay Villamin to create evocative event experiences. She ensures every detail from concept to completion—including design, food, service, entertainment—elevates clients' reputations, helping industry professionals and brands engage with their target audience.

Vanessa is a tireless advocate for the cannabis industry. She serves on the marketing and advertising committee of the National Cannabis Industry Association and the events committee of the Chicago chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). She's also an active member of the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition.

We spent two minutes with Vanessa to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations and recent work she's admired.

Vanessa, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in Edgewater, Chicago's Northside neighborhood and happy to say I still live in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood. I've visited almost every major city in the U.S. and nothing can ever compare to Chicago.  Our skyline, our amazing food, our architecture, our history, our people and of course nothing can beat driving down Lake Shore Drive. Chi-Town for life! Spoken like a true Chicagoan. 

How you first got interested in cannabis.

Mary Jane and I have been friends for a very long time. I'd say almost more than half of my life. It started with hanging out with friends in a social environment and passing joints. I didn't realize it at the time but I started subconsciously using cannabis to aid me with my anxiety. I was calm and more focused during school especially when it came to test taking. For the most part, I consumed it for recreational purposes. 

It wasn't until when my business partner Kay Villamin and I started HUSH that I started educating myself more about the medicinal properties this beautiful plant has to offer (and still learning). I've since changed the way I approached cannabis. I'm not only an advocate for cannabis, but I'm more of an intentional consumer. Whether for relaxation, pain management, or enhancing my creativity, it's now a part of my daily wellness regiment.

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

FOUR TWENTY: Make it Sexy—A holiday celebration and fundraising event. This event was in partnership with Cannabis Equity IL Coalition. It was celebrating three years of hard work and helped raise funds so they can continue to work on community programming including expungement, know your rights education, policy and re-entry work, and so much more. The event was located in Chicago's South Loop area, with two-floors of live entertainment, education, a silent auction, and so much more. Guests arrived to an upscale, safe cannabis-friendly environment with their best attire where they were able to engage with cannabis businesses, bid on their favorite auction item, dance and connect with other industry professionals—all in one evening.

A recent project you're proud of. 

We recently launched HUSH in Las Vegas during the biggest and oldest conference of the industry—MJBizCon. On November 17, we hosted HUSH HOUSE, an upscale, casino-themed post-event experience. Bringing over 450 industry professionals together in an 8,000 sq ft grown and sexy indoor and outdoor environment where all guests had access to over 5 different cannabis activation rooms, free-to-play casino games and play-to-win fun cannabis prizes. We brought Chicago energy to Las Vegas.

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

Being that we're in a highly regulated market, using social media platforms puts a cannabis business at risk for accounts to get flagged and shut down. Which is why businesses look to virtual, live, and hybrid events to either participate as vendors, sponsors and/or to attend. 

There are so many events happening worldwide now and companies really need to determine where to spend their marketing dollars. Here’s what I'd recommend to consider:

  • What are the company's marketing goals?
  • What event targets your ideal audience?
  • If sponsoring an event, determine KPIs.
  • If vending, how are you going to stand out from the rest of the vendors? What three things do you want your target audience to walk away knowing about your company? 
  • If hosting an event, look into what existing events make more sense to participate in rather as a partner, vendor, exclusive sponsor, etc. 
One thing about how the cannabis industry is evolving that you're excited about.

I'm excited about the 20 newly-awarded social consumption lounge licensees in Nevada, and the first new cannabis-friendly hotel coming later this year to Las Vegas. 

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

40TONS, a woman and minority-owned cannabis brand that works to bring restorative justice to communities affected by the war on drugs. The company's mission is to promote diversity and inclusion of BIPOC communities within the cannabis industry while creating a positive social impact. 

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

I'm currently listening to an audiobook, Winning: The Unforgiving Race to Greatness, by Tim Grover. He discusses the roadblocks, obstacles and challenges that get in the way of your own success. He talks about the mastery of the relentless mindset. Tim Grover was Michael Jordan's personal trainer for fifteen years. He's worked with elite athletes like Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, teaching them the principles of relentless drive, result-driven performance and mental toughness. This book is very suitable for 2023 … The Jordan Year.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

The famous Surrealist, Spanish artist, Salvador Dali. I've always been fascinated by the interpretation of dreams and I was captured by his melting clocks representing the omnipresence of time. He also explored Sigmun Freud's dream theories in his body of work. 

Your favorite fictional character.

Teresa Mendoza from the TV series La Reina del Sur (Queen of the South) played by one of my favorite Latina actresses, Kate del Castillo. She's such a badass boss who started as a poor money changer in Sinaloa, Mexico, to become a dangerous yet successful cartel leader known as Queen of South. 

Someone worth following in social media.

I just recently started following Vincent Bai—an artist from Belgium who plays with illustrations created by shadows from common objects, called shadow doodles (aka Shadowlogy). Brings me back to my childhood when I used to make shadows using my fingers. 

Your main strength as a marketer/creative.

Visionary—I can visualize potential opportunities. I can be in a large empty space or a run-down building and my imagination will just take over. When I get to smoking a little bit of some good sativa flower, I can turn that vision into a reality real quick. 

Your biggest weakness.

I overcommit. Mostly, because I want to do it all. 

Something people would find surprising about you.

As a kid, I would choreograph all sorts of dances for me and my cousin to perform. We'd practice and then perform in front of my entire family during special occasions. We onced performed "Whatta Man” by Salt-N-Pepa. We obviously had no clue how inappropriate it was for us back then. Now as an adult, I'm still dancing to the same song, ha! 

One thing that always makes you happy.

My fur-baby, Luna. She's a Pitbull/Husky mix who makes me so happy. She is such a character and makes me laugh. Every. Single. Day. 

One thing that always makes you sad.

People who are glued to their phones and not being present in their own lives. 

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

What’s so great about what I do is that I can just pivot to any industry I want. If I had to choose a different profession, I'd explore an acting career. 

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives and marketers 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.

Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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