Finally, information about NY’s $200M Cannabis fund managers sees the light of day

Finally information about NY’s $200M Cannabis fund managers sees the light of day

It took the state exactly 100 days to release information on the players managing New York’s $200 million cannabis social equity fund, but it’s now public and the details are, in parts, expected, confusing, surprising – and untrue.

As a refresher, NY Cannabis Insider requested documents from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) in September that would show how the agency ended up selecting Social Equity Impact Ventures to raise and manage money that is essential to the state’s promise of equity in its future cannabis marketplace.

The records request followed confusion, rumors, and worries among cannabis entrepreneurs that Impact Ventures was not thoroughly vetted or qualified for the job. That’s because the team – composed of NBA Hall of Famer Chris Webber, entrepreneur Lavetta Willis, and executives with financial firm Siebert Williams Shank – has not yet raised the $150 million from private investors that is necessary to secure and retrofit up to 150 dispensaries as part of the state’s Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) program.

DASNY President Reuben McDaniel III and NBA Hall of Famer Chris Webber at an announcement of the hiring of Social Equity Impact Ventures as NY's social equity fund manager.

DASNY delayed producing those records for more than three months, and did so only after NY Cannabis Insider published stories about the agency’s non-responsiveness every day for weeks, and after enlisting the NY Committee on Open Government to step in.

The documents include a partially redacted version of Impact Ventures’ response to DASNY’s request for proposals submitted in June. The response spans 86 pages and includes new details on the team, its qualifications, and – notably – its concerns over raising the $150 million within the state’s proposed timeline.

The documents also confirm that Impact Ventures did submit information to the state that was not true or, at best, was a stretch.

NY Cannabis Insider contacted a spokesperson for Impact Ventures weeks ago. The spokesperson initially agreed to answer questions – but then stopped responding.

The role of Siebert Williams Shank

In June, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Impact Ventures as the state’s top pick to manage the New York Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund, and the headlines at the time all keyed in on the same thing – that Chris Webber, a famous athlete, was spearheading the fund management team alongside his business partner, Lavetta Willis.

However, the DASNY records show that Siebert Williams Shank, a minority- and women-owned investment banking firm, is the majority shareholder of Impact Ventures – at 60% – while the Webber and Willis team own the remaining 40%.

This graphic shows how the fund management team overseeing NY's $200M cannabis social equity fund is organized.

Headquartered in New York and Oakland, Siebert Williams is a large firm with 19 offices across the country. Suzanne Shank is its CEO and the first person mentioned in the DASNY documents under a section called “The Team.”

Shank is a 35-year veteran of the financial services industry and “one of the most successful African-American women on Wall Street,” according to a 2016 profile. She is a major figure in Detroit whose firm has led large municipal projects, including an $800-million deal with the NYC Transitional Finance Authority.

William Thompson, Jr., is the second name mentioned. Thompson is the chief administrative officer of Siebert Williams and a former NYC Comptroller from 2002 to 2009, during which time he “managed a $66 million annual operating budget” and “safeguarded a $100 billion portfolio,” according to the report.

Though Siebert Williams has an established reputation raising capital, it’s not apparent – either in the DASNY report or through online research – that the firm has any experience in the cannabis sector. The report highlights Siebert’s past work creating a “private equity-style investment vehicle” – or “impact fund” – to provide financing to minority-owned businesses, but doesn’t mention any funds relevant to cannabis.

For that, the Impact Ventures proposal highlights the past work of Webber and Willis.

The role of Chris Webber and Lavetta Willis

From the report:

“Enhancing the Siebert Team’s impact fund experience is the Webber team’s recent launch of the WebberWild Fund, a private equity cannabis impact fund that seeks to lift up diverse leadership teams within the cannabis industry.”

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