Viola’s Harrington Institute Provides Education to Bring ‘New Wave of Talent’ to Cannabis Industry
Black-owned cannabis brand Viola has launched its own education platform to bring a “new wave of talent” to the cannabis industry, according to CEO Al Harrington.
The Harrington Institute, powered by the Cleveland School of Cannabis, another Black-owned business in the space, aims to remove a common barrier to entry for Black individuals looking to enter the cannabis industry: education.
“We just don’t have the fundamental education to understand the industry,” Harrington tells Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary. “We see how negatively it impacted our communities for so long, [and] people just can’t really wrap their head around [the fact] that [they] can actually do this legally and make a career out of it.”
The Harrington Institute’s curriculum aims to help students learn both the technical aspects of growing, processing and selling cannabis, as well as the business side of the industry, so they can ultimately decide how they can best participate in the growing marketplace.
“I just felt like this was something that was really needed, and the fact that I could work with people who look like me was something I was really, really excited about,” Harrington says. “When I think about the opportunity to really usher in the next wave of talent in the cannabis industry, I really feel like we haven’t been tapped into it yet.”
In its five years of operation, the Cleveland School of Cannabis has had more than 650 graduates and has maintained a 65% job placement rate, says Kevin Greene, the institution’s vice president.
“We’re constantly evolving that curriculum,” he says. “We have to think about equity in multiple different angles. … We designed the program and educational tracks, but we’re also allowing individuals to take al-a-carte classes so they can look at a specific class and say, ‘Hey, I just need to fill some gaps in my education here.’”
Cleveland School of Cannabis President Tyrone Russell says he knew he wanted to partner with the Harrington Institute because of what Viola represents in the industry.
“This is an organization that always talks about how it represents the larger culture,” Russell says. “Following Viola and the work that Al and his team were doing, it spoke to exactly what we represented in terms of making … the opportunity for people in the industry that [have] been locked out of for so long. … It’s bigger than them, and it’s something that they’re putting in the effort to change the culture and the industry, and we wanted to be a part of it in any way that we could.”
Russell and his team were also excited by the prospect of combining their existing cannabis education curriculum with Harrington’s 10 years of real-world experience in the industry.
“We’re going to be able to create insight and deliver experiences and education that touch on the technical side that are going to inspire people and really give them some nuanced details on how to navigate this space and really open up this opportunity,” Greene says.
Viola has created a separate curriculum under the Harrington Institute platform that will be offered virtually through the Cleveland School of Cannabis. The curriculum includes three educational tracks: horticulture, manufacturing and dispensary operation.
The education is module-based, and classes are taught live through an online platform. The virtual classes were originally aimed at reaching students on a global scale, Harrington says, but quickly became a way to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well.
“It’s been a two-year ramp-up, but we’re really excited to launch this and give back to the community, change people’s minds and give people the education that … will bring in a new wave of talent into the industry,” Harrington says.
To achieve that goal, Greene says the partnership between the Cleveland School of Cannabis and the Harrington Institute must create opportunities for those who have historically lost out on traditional higher education due to financial barriers. The team plans to create sponsorships to address this issue.
“One thing that we’ve seen in higher education … is that there’s still a large gap with individuals, Black and Brown, who can’t get the access to capital to attain the education that can change their lives,” Greene says. “What has not completely happened in our current financial aid system with traditional higher education is thinking about the long-term effects of long-term debt. Everything that we’ve set up, from the classes we provide to how you can take the classes to the financial support that we’re providing … is all through the lens of equity. We’re making sure that the education is accessible and that we’ve also created a culture to get people to be successful. That is one of the major steps in creating equity in the cannabis industry.”
Registration Coming This Fall
The Cleveland School of Cannabis is hosting the first of several information sessions about the Harrington Institute on Sept. 29, with registration opening on Oct. 6. Classes will officially begin Nov. 8.
Greene says more and more RSVPs for the information sessions are trickling in, with 250 planning to attend the first session later this month.
“The response has been great across the board,” he says. “Truthfully, I think what it says is that there is a large demand of a population that is … looking to find access and support.”
Opportunities in the industry are endless, Greene adds, but the Harrington Institute aims to prepare potential business owners to take advantage of them.
And as these opportunities continue to change as the cannabis industry evolves, both the Harrington Institute and the Cleveland School of Cannabis will also evolve to provide the most relevant education possible.
“This education is going to create economic opportunities for individuals, especially in Black and Brown communities,” Greene says. “We’re glad to be a part of the journey.
© Cannabis Business Times