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Native Roots Guest Commentary — Inclusivity in the Cannabis Industry

If you are a woman on an executive team in the cannabis industry, you’ve probably noticed a decrease in fellow female co-workers since the start of 2020.

According to a Special Report from MJBizDaily, the percentage of female executives in cannabis has been on a rollercoaster ride. In 2015, 36% of executive positions were held by women, which dipped to 26.9% in 2017, then back up to 36.8% in 2019 only to drop to a new all-time low of 22.1% in 2021. These numbers are significantly below the national average of females in leadership at all U.S. businesses, which lands at 29.8%. With the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacting women in the workplace, we can safely assume this as a factor.

In an era where societal awareness of social equity needs is growing, as evidenced by recent local legislative changes to foster social equity with cannabis delivery businesses, there still remains significant opportunity for improvement in workplace gender equality. But hiring women isn’t just a task for your DEI checklist – it also makes good business sense.

READ — A budding relationship between cannabis and real estate

Research shows that when you add more women to senior leadership roles, you can expect more significant profits, better customer experiences, heightened social responsibility and higher-quality customer experiences with an emphasis on safety.

As the saying goes, “If you want to change the world, start in your backyard.” As a female executive leader in human resources at Denver-based Native Roots Cannabis Co., a vertically-integrated operator with 20 locations throughout Colorado, I understand personally and professionally why gender equality in the workplace is important – and why positive change is so meaningful. You can’t be what you can’t see.

It is a privilege to work with the star-studded Native Roots executive team that is 57% female. Chief Operating Officer Beth Kotarba received the C-Suite Award from Denver Business Journal, a highly-competitive distinction that recognizes C-suite executives outside of CEOs who have demonstrated vital leadership and business savvy to implement their company’s vision. Kotarba’s accomplishments include guiding the company’s growth in size, complexity and consumer footprint while also implementing policies to expand opportunities for women within the company and creating programs that foster learning, teamwork, and employee appreciation. She also led the implementation of environmentally conscious practices and technology, and served an instrumental role in 30% revenue growth over the past five years.

READ — TARRA: A New Way for Women to Work

Chief Sales Officer Denise DeNardi was selected this year as an Outstanding Woman In Business from the Denver Business Journal. Rising above in a highly competitive nomination process, honorees were appraised by an editorial panel based on nominees’ leadership within their organization and industry, career accomplishments and community involvement. De Nardi is one of only two women from the cannabis industry honored this year. In her role at Native Roots, De Nardi develops ongoing strategies and oversees performance for multiple revenue channels. Under her leadership, the company increased its top line revenue to ensure margin protection; developed and implemented an internal sales structure to achieve company objectives; and embraced a company culture that champions continuous experimentation to drive growth, elevate the brand experience and enhance customer engagement.

Achieving these notoriously competitive recognitions is a challenge, with only the most talented of executives being named. Securing recognition of two with female executives in the cannabis industry for a mainstream highly-esteemed regional business honor signals a shift in both the perception of the industry and gender in leadership.

Gender workplace changes are also happening outside the executive team. Production and management, two departments historically staffed by male employees, are now more balanced after hiring or promoting qualified female candidates. This includes roles such as bay manager, head grower, facility manager, director of supply chain and senior manager. These changes happened with the mentorship and guidance of the executive team supporting talented female staff looking to advance.

Working in your “backyard” is a start; driving change in your community comes next. Our executive leaders are passionate about advancing the industry towards success. De Nardi teaches a 10-week course at The Color of Cannabis, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping people of color enter, thrive and advance within the industry. DeNardi and Kotarba are also mentors with the Marijuana Industry Group in a program established to promote diversity and inclusion in the Colorado cannabis industry by fostering relationships between social equity entrepreneurs and established cannabis business leaders.

While we are proud to have covered some ground on this journey, we are just getting started. We must continue to engage with our community, community partners and industry partners around the incredible opportunities the cannabis culture can provide all individuals, regardless of gender identity. Our goal is to have a culture of diversity and inclusion that threads through everything we do. The only way to make this happen is to ensure people of all backgrounds are represented. We are committed to the journey.

Do you want to see more change in your workplace? Creating a committee – women in business; diversity, equity and inclusion; social justice; accountability – is a good start to harness like-minded individuals looking to drive change. Plant the seeds of change now, and you will see your “backyard” grow with the fruits of your labor.


Adria HeadshotAdria Hamberger is the vice president of human resources at Native Roots Cannabis Co., Colorado’s largest privately-owned vertically-integrated operator with 20 dispensary locations in the state. She brings 25 years of management experience to her role. At Native Roots, she leads the team that develops and maintains company culture, creates HR plans and strategies, implements talent strategies and provides insight around people initiatives. 

Three ways ADUs Go Easy on the Environment 

Homeowners thinking about adding freestanding ADUs (accessory dwelling units, a.k.a. in-law apartments, granny flats, or cottages) tend to focus on creating much-needed space without knocking down walls in the houses they’re living in, the addition of rental income, and other practical considerations. The political can also come into play: ADUs provide low-profile, distributed housing, quietly preserving a street’s character and avoiding the ire of neighborhood associations. 

In addition to the practical and the political, a third factor plays a role – or least should – in the ADU calculus: the environmental. The environmental advantages of ADUs sort themselves into three broad buckets. The first involves the efficiency of the finished ADU itself; the second is about the benefits of a smaller physical footprint; and the third support greater housing density the distributed, smaller footprints of ADUs enable. 

Efficient from the ground up

Freestanding ADUs tend to be much more efficient than the single-family homes they augment. ADU building envelopes typically include above-code insulation and weatherizing with such features as Zip System wall sheathing, OSB with rubberized membranes, and ultrahigh-efficiency doors and windows. ADUs comply with strict building-code standards, which demand that additions and new homes – including ADUs – have enough solar panels to achieve net-zero energy consumption. In addition, ADUs boast tankless water heaters as well as highly efficient mini-split HVAC systems that handle both heating and cooling, and appliances tend to be both right-sized and Energy Star rated.  

The high-volume, factory-based production of ADUs also enables a strikingly precise alignment of inputs to outputs. In fact, the waste from the onsite construction of a modular ADU is measured in garbage cans, not dumpsters. That same precision and scale can also enable the efficient recycling of metals and the composting of clean wood waste.  

Taken together, a well-built ADU is built tight and runs lean. That translates directly into low utility bills; indirectly, it allows our built environment to tread more lightly on the planet.  

Physically (and environmentally) small

When it comes to environmental footprint, a structure’s size matters. A detached ADU of 700 square feet is estimated to have just half the long-term environmental impact of that 2,262-square-foot house. 

There are knock-on benefits to going small too. There’s less room to store the stuff that accumulates into the clutter that Marie Kondo has made a career out of curating. Less room means fewer, more deliberate purchases, and less shopping means less embodied energy in the products themselves and, later, less landfilling. As I prepare to move into a 1,000-square-foot prefab home with my family of four, I can attest unequivocally that space constraints modify shopping behavior – for the better, in my opinion. 

Low-profile density

ADUs are a thoughtful way to address growing populations. While development on urban fringes consumes open space, reduces natural wildlife habitats, increases air and water pollution, and brings greater risk of mass destruction from wildfires, ADUs in yards closer to downtown translates into less need for cars and more opportunities for public transit.  

A 30-mile commute at 23 miles per gallon yields about 2.5-ton annual carbon savings per ADU from commutes not taken. Together, that’s about 42 U.S. households worth of emissions. 

There is no shortage of greenwashing in the construction industry, with bold claims about the sustainability of certain materials or techniques that don’t stand up to deeper scrutiny. The environmental advantages of living smaller and more thoughtfully, however, are undeniable.  

Backyard studio spaces for work, creativity, or living allow us to extend the life of our existing homes to work in more modern ways. Prefab construction at scale results in meaningful reductions in waste and degradation of the environment. An embrace of these structures at the municipal level will be a key element in solving our housing crisis in a way that results in more livable communities that tread ever more lightly on the planet.  


Jeremy NovaJeremy Nova is co-founder and creative director of Studio Shed. A longtime professional mountain bike racer who competed in the 2004 Athens Olympics, Nova built the first Studio Shed to store his many wheels. His passion for smart design, efficiency, engineering, and architecture has buoyed Studio Shed’s growth into the only ADU maker that ships nationwide for installation by a comprehensive network of certified installers. 

Laborjack excels with “muscle for hire”


Spurred by a supportive Fort Collins business community, skillful website programming and some guerrilla marketing, the ambitious co-founders of Laborjack are making a name for themselves as “muscle for hire” in the temporary manual labor market on the northern Front Range.

Both Colorado State University graduates in finance, business partners Blake Craig, 32, and Josh Moser, 26, remember well the days as college students struggling to earn money during flexible hours between classes and studies. Now they are growing their Fort Collins-based business via the friendly, hard-working vibe of select college students providing on-demand labor services in the college towns of Fort Collins, Boulder, Greeley and Denver.

The company has eight employees, including Craig and Moser, and provided work for 1,800 people this year through the end of third quarter 2021. In January, Laborjack expanded into the Phoenix market and has plans to tackle Colorado Springs and Salt Lake City next.

The entrepreneurs originally met in 2016 at a 3 Day Startup hosted at CSU. Craig, who was working as a real estate agent, pitched an idea of “Uber for movers” with the labor-only business model of students with good attitudes helping nearby residents move.

The owners say they “completely bootstrapped from the beginning,” starting slow and reinvesting all proceeds back into the business. Laborjack (a play on the word lumberjack) started from ads placed on Craigslist, and the moving services soon grew into call-backs for landscaping and day labor for odd jobs. By February 2019, the owners were able to pay themselves a salary. This June, Laborjack reported revenues up around 90% year over year.

Some 80% of Laborjack employees are college students or recent graduates as well as gig workers from the artistic community who need extra work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the current tagline “finding reliable help just got easier,” Laborjack functions through an online platform where individuals book help, workers accept jobs and payments are processed.

At networking events, Craig and Moser sport matching bright red or plaid suits. They find the eye-catching advertising inspires people to double take and approach them to talk.

“You got to find fun and carry a good attitude no matter the situation,” Craig said

Made in Colorado: One-of-a-kind running jackets, wind chimes and more

Vander Jacket

“I’ve always loved fashion,” says founder Sarah Vander Neut. “My mom taught me how to sew in rural 4-H and my dad was running for Nike in Oregon.”

The two worlds led directly to her sewing running jackets when she was pregnant with her first daughter about a decade ago. “I had to make a few for myself because nothing fit,” Vander Neut says. People who saw her running in her jackets “loved them,” she says. “The lightbulb went on for me.”

Using surplus fabric and scrap from other companies, Vander Neut made more than 1,000 unique Vander Jackets in her first nine years in business. “Every one is different,” she notes. “It is a Denver microbrew, so to speak, for clothing.”

She continues to sew her one-of-a-kind (and often custom) jackets by hand but works with a local cut-and-sew contractor for a new retail line. “USA-made athletic apparel is really rare,” Vander Neut says. “That’s what makes it special.”

  • $215 to $225 one-of-a-kind jackets; $185 retail line
  • Made by Vander Jacket, Aurora

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Hyperflesh Masks

Landon Meier started making “hyper-realistic” baby masks circa 2001, then soon turned his eye to remarkably lifelike masks of celebrities like Mike Tyson and Charlie Sheen. He caught the attention of late night TV in 2013 with a Walter White mask worn by Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad.” Last year, Danny DeVito wore a Hyperflesh mask of himself on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” The resulting viral videos catalyzed sales. “I can ride that fame for a while,” Meier says.

Meier has since made spot-on masks of politicians and characters like Dwight from “The Office” and Tyrion from “Game of Thrones.” “The sculpture always takes the longest,” Meier says. “I’m trying to get a particular expression, an expression that embodies that person or character.” He says smiles on his masks can be subjective, noting Mike Tyson’s grin is “friendly and menacing at the same time.”

Next up: a “classic Hollywood character,” possibly Nick Cage or Steve Buscemi. But not the Tiger King: “A lot of people wanted me to do Joe Exotic. He’s quickly fading.”

  • Celebrity masks $5,000 and up; baby masks $300 to $500; custom masks $20,000
  • Made by Hyperflesh, Denver

BG Pups Guitar Pickups

In a previous career, Bryan Gunsher played guitar for jam and reggae bands in California. Around 2005, he says, “I wasn’t playing out as much and I still wanted to do something musical, so I learned how to make guitar pickups.” Not any old pickups, but pickups modeled after the P-90 first made by Gibson Brands in 1946. “People love the sound, but it won’t fit in many guitars,” Gunsher explains, noting that his BG Pups are compatible with common guitars, not just Les Pauls and Gibsons.

Since 2013, he has used a custom-made machine to wind the wire after initially hand-winding every pickup, increasing his output by a factor of four and saving his back in the process.

Gunsher, who moved to South Park in 2015, has made about 1,000 pickups in his career. Some have been used onstage by guitarists with Fleetwood Mac, Kid Rock, and the Wallflowers. “Right now, I’m absolutely slammed,” he says. “All these guitarists are stuck at home with their guitars.”

  • $65 to $110 per pickup
  • Made by BG Pups, Fairplay

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Fettle & Fire wind chimes

“In the design world, you would call me a maximalist,” says Lindsey Bricker, a professional ceramicist since the early 2010s. That aesthetic led to pieces with a “layering of patterns and colors and textures,” including her flagship line of wind chimes. “Construction-wise, they’re upside-down dishes with a hole punched in them so you can string them together,” explains Bricker.

Place two or three strands a few inches from each other, and the discs audibly collide in the breeze. She offers catalog and custom colors, and often makes customers chimes with their favorite team’s colors or to match a holiday.

Bricker moved her kiln from her basement to a Longmont studio three years ago. Now she has two employees helping her fire more than 1,000 discs a month. “We are working at full capacity,” she says.