2018 was a year of change for Kattia Jiménez—it’s the year she left her full-time travel position with the Centers for Disease Control and began her new academic appointment at UW–Madison’s All of Us Research Program, and it’s also the year she launched her company, Mount Horeb Hemp LLC. In the fall of 2017, the Wisconsin State Legislature passed a law allowing the formation of a hemp pilot program to be administered by the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) for the 2018 growing season. Soon after, farmers across the state got planting, and Kattia was among the first.
Just as her second crop was getting ready to be harvested, Kattia made her way into the D2P offices and connected with mentor Cecily Brose. “With the foundations of a newly legalized Wisconsin agricultural crop and a social mission to advocate for farmers of color, Kattia walked through my door and my life has been forever changed,” says Brose. “Kattia is a truly inspiring woman entrepreneur and our mentoring time together spanned from dreaming up the possibilities to tactical strategies to build her business.”
In the fall of 2019, Kattia joined the fall cohort of D2P’s Innovation to Market program, a free non-credit course that helps faculty, staff, and student innovators bring ideas to the marketplace. After a successful first year on the farm, she faced the new reality of a flooded market for hemp biomass, forcing her to quickly pivot to a new role of farmer-producer. Through the Innovation to Market course and Cecily’s continued guidance, Mount Horeb Hemp LLC launched a new product: a full spectrum CBD oil. She chose a MOSA organic and GMP certified processor – GMP stands for good manufacturing processes—and Kattia embodies good in more ways than one.
Kattia’s hemp farm provided the perfect venue for a physically distanced in-person visit this August to talk about how the company got started, what she’s learning, and her vision for the hemp industry.
What drew you to wanting to start a business?
My husband and I have owned this land in Perry township for over a decade, and I wanted to do something with it. I was born in Costa Rica but grew up in Seattle, and the Seattle Hempfest is the largest in the country. So, I was coming in with an open mind and some knowledge about the industry and its potential.
Why CBD oil?
Hemp can be used to make many environmentally friendly products, from rope, textiles, and insulation to paper and fuel. CBD (Cannabidiol) is one of more than one hundred natural chemicals made by the plant, and an amendment to the 2018 Farm Bill fully legalized hemp-derived CBD products. Everybody has an endocannabinoid system already at work in their body, and preliminary research suggests that CBD oil may help some people deal with anxiety, depression, epilepsy, arthritis, and insomnia to name a few. There is a lot of competition in the CBD market, but I am hoping customers place a higher value on purchasing from a business that grew the hemp flower used to make their CBD products. I also think there’s a movement to buy local and support our communities, especially since the COVID-19 public health crisis.
What are the regulatory issues you have to deal with? Does the FDA regulate your product?
That’s the thing. Because the FDA has not yet taken a position on CBD, there are products on the market that don’t have the amount of CBD oil listed on the label, and there are many that contain pesticides, molds, and VOCs, which people are ingesting. The good actors in the industry desperately want the FDA to regulate CBD, but they’re not ruling on it. They will periodically take action with companies that make unsubstantiated medical claims, but they should do more. There’s no one checking any part of the manufacturing process. Without regulation, consumers really need to self-educate and insist on third party lab testing. I value and model transparency. When you visit my website, you’ll find third party lab results for each of my products. These lab tests verify the amount of CBD in each product and assure the customer my products don’t contain any harmful ingredients. My products also include a QR code, that when scanned, leads to the test results for that product.
What have you learned working with D2P?
As a first-time business owner, I was surprised to learn that starting a business is very methodical. It isn’t just about having a great idea. Because you can have a great idea and a lot of money, but still fail. There’s a science behind entrepreneurship, how you go from an idea to a successful product. Cecily’s mentorship has also been extremely valuable. It’s so helpful to have access to someone with direct industry experience.
What’s next for Mt. Horeb Hemp LLC?
I’m working on getting my current products into different markets and creating new products. I would like to continue to learn as much as I can about this versatile plant. Even though the COVID-19 public health crisis has been damaging on so many levels, this forced pause has given me the time to add e-commerce to my company’s website. I’m also in my local grocery store, one in Verona, and a few boutique places. Recently, I began collaborating with another female entrepreneur who produces goat milk soaps, and she’s going to carry my products in her shop in Mount Horeb.
The hemp industry in Wisconsin is just getting started. Because of the lack of supporting clinical trials and regulatory infrastructure, many people believe CBD oil is snake oil. I personally use CBD and it has helped me with a long-term back injury that can flare up and be very painful. It’s difficult because CBD hasn’t been researched very much since hemp was legalized as an agricultural crop. We need more research.
Are you working with any of the researchers on campus?
In 2019, UW-Extension started a Hemp Program. The interest in hemp was almost overwhelming for DATCP staff, and UW–Madison stepped in to help farmers. I applaud the University for really following through on the Wisconsin Idea. Dr. Shelby Ellison from the Department of Horticulture has started teaching a hemp course, and she has visited our farm. I hope to contribute to some hemp growing trials during the growing season next year. I also understand that the UW–Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is working on a certified seed that will be more suited to our Wisconsin climate.
What drives you personally?
Part of the American dream is people following their passions. Lately I’ve been inviting community members to the hemp farm so they may start thinking about the future of the cannabis industry beyond CBD. It’s a little taboo, but just like tattoos were once for sailors, eventually they became mainstream. When public perceptions in our state do change in relation to cannabis, I’m invested in how the industry grows. Because of my commitment to social justice and equity, I’d like the access and opportunities I’ve experienced made available to communities that have been most harmed by the criminalization of this plant. That really drives me. There’s a man in a Michigan prison right now who recently contracted COVID-19. He’s been in prison for 25 years of a 40-year sentence for selling three pounds of cannabis. Something that now, you can walk into an Illinois retail store and purchase legally. I fundamentally think that there’s something very unjust about that. What do we say to that man and so many others in prison while others profit from the exact same plant? I want Mount Horeb Hemp to become a successful business so that I have a platform to work on cannabis equity issues that are important to me. I feel a responsibility to do so because many people don’t have access to farmland or capital to bring products to market.
What advice to you have for other campus innovators?
Really, it’s just baby steps. It’s just doing a little bit every day and reaching out for help. I’ve learned a lot of people want to help, even at the highest levels. I just reach out to people. Sometimes they don’t reply, and that’s okay, but more often they do. And work through the fear— there is no industry where you don’t belong. You can do it! You just have to do the work. With the particular industry I’ve chosen, many are wary of it. But when that goes away (and it will), UW–Madison has a great entrepreneurial infrastructure. I think a lot of people don’t know there’s this large support system waiting for them to walk through that door.