Cannabusiness: Graduate students pitch ideas to enhance District Growers’ business

Melissa Saurio
Graduate Students in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Administration proposed their strategies to help District Growers, a medical marijuana supplier in Washington D.C., expand its business as part of an annual case competition.


On Friday, in Lerner Hall 70 graduate students from the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics presented strategies to sell legal marijuana effectively.

The ideas were conceptualized for the annual Carol A. Ammon Case Competition was “Cannabusiness” in Washington D.C. The annual competition is open to all Lerner College of Business and Economics graduate students and is an opportunity for them to utilize skills taught in the classroom and apply them to real-world issues. Each year local business owners participate in the competition and listen to the graduate students present strategies to enhance their business.

“This is something that really enriches the experience for our students and for our faculty,” Jack Baroudi, associate dean for graduate MBA programs, said.

At this year’s competition, the finalists presented their findings to Corey Barnette, CEO of District Growers. Barnette is a registered medical marijuana cultivator in Washington D.C, which allows him to grow 500 medical marijuana plants at a time.

“Through Barnette’s leadership the company has become known as one of the most capable cannabis growing and production operations in the industry,” Baroudi said.

Alongside Barnette on the finalists judging panel were Malik Burnette, a gardener for District Growers and Tattiana Aqeel, the production manager of District Growers.

The 19 groups that competed were narrowed down to three remaining teams for the final round. Each group had a total of 25 minutes to present followed by 15 minutes of question and answer.

The first finalist team to present was High Flying Consultants. High Flying Consultants focused on an expansion strategy for District Growers. Due to disadvantages unique to Washington D.C. such as an increase in competition, uncertainty in the marijuana laws and a weak supply chain, the team recommended that District Growers set up a second supply chain in Maryland.

“State law in Maryland specifically requires Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to actively encourage minority owned businesses to enter the cannabis market — that puts District Growers in a very good position,” Daniel McCaffrey said.

High Flying Consultants also proposed a way to expand Rebel Kitchen, a line of edible products infused with cannabis from District Growers. They proposed holding cooking classes to teach participants how to make their own edibles. The finalists also suggested adding a recipe page onto the District Growers website to engage customers.

In order to enhance brand awareness, High Flying Consultants recommended content marketing, a strategy that involves the creation of sharing online content, such as videos, to enhance awareness of products without advertising for a specific brand.

“This will make the brand stronger, it will create awareness about the brand and it also increases brand loyalty,” Sarah Meadows said. “It allows the customer to gain relevant information.”

The group Homegrown Consulting, took a different approach by providing a value to the organization through a cost leadership strategy, a strategy used to establish the lowest cost of operation in a specific industry.

“We believe that we can return $1.2 million of value to District Growers,” David Scofield said. “We believe that we can reduce the amount of working capital needed, we believe that through specialization of employ knowledge we can reduce the cost of the labor force.”

Homegrown highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of District Growers. The finalists explained how to exploit those strengths to increase profit. They proposed a cannabis production planning schedule with eight bays containing five different high quality strains of cannabis. Bell told the judges that Homegrown wants to be able to yield cannabis every two weeks so that there is never any stock out.

“If we just focus on high-margin, high-quality strains you would make $24 million,” Adam Bell said. “If you have a mix of high-quality and low-quality, you’re leaving $4 million on the table.”

The final group to present was DCG. Their approach provided strategies for competing with other marijuana cultivators. They recommended increasing the types of edible products that District Growers provides at Rebel Kitchen, which would be appetizing to consumers in California and Colorado. They also suggested expanding the site of District Growers.

In the short term DCG hopes that their strategy will allow District Growers to accomplish high quality production in large volumes, strengthen their brand awareness and have a strong engagement with the public.

Long term goals for DCG are even more ambitious. DCG proposed that in the future District Growers produces a market center, with a cafe next to where Barnette grows his marijuana.

Following the judge’s deliberation, awards were presented in Lerner Atrium. In third place sharing plaques and $1,000 was Homegrown Consulting. In second place sharing plaques and $1,500 was DCG. And for the second year in a row, High Flying Consultants took first place, sharing plaques and $2,500.

“Basically we want Mr. Corey Barnette to be the Johnnie Walker of the cannabis industry,” Shyamala Athaide, a member of High Flying Consultants, said.


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