B Starr Agency (BSA) is a woman and POC-owned marketing agency that focuses on cannabis, culture and community based projects. Founder Bianca Gutierrez, sometimes known as Bianca Starr, will tell you she’s been combining these elements her entire life. A recognized community activist in her native San Francisco, she's an event producer, nightclub owner, creative strategist, cannabis industry veteran and single mom who’s done it all.
Bianca Gutierrez And B Starr Agency (BSA): Cannabis Cultural Fusion With Cookies, Berner, Erykah Badu, And More
With over 20 years of experience in the music, culture, and cannabis spaces, Gutierrez and her team strive to bring “cultural fusion” everywhere they go. This is most evident in some of BSA’s notable activations in recent years, producing large-scale events for rapper Berner, founder of the globally-acclaimed Cookies brand, such as the Couch Locked 420 Comedy Show and last year’s The Sesh. In Spring 2023, BSA helped connect Cookies' collaboration with artist Erykah Badu to launch the That Badu cannabis brand. The agency also put together the partnership of four-time Grammy winner D’Angelo and Amazon’s Audible, where the artist released a unique “diary collection” on Audible’s latest Words + Music initiative.
But for Gutierrez, who has been in lead marketing positions for San Francisco’s top dispensary Barbary Coast and the equity-owned brand Sunset Connect, everything comes down to community impact. The wonder woman spoke with Honeysuckle about her various roles as activist, her plans to manage the next Powerzzzup dispensary in San Francisco (which will make her the first Latina to do so), and how her passions converge into one high life indeed.
Bianca Gutierrez On Cannabis And Community
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: Bianca, for years you have been a major force in cultural brand-building, marketing and nightlife. When did cannabis enter your life?
BIANCA GUTIERREZ: Cannabis entered my life during my late teens and has been an instrumental part of my life ever since. Cannabis has always been a connector in our communities for people to share their experiences together in a variety of ways. It's a part of our culture here in San Francisco. Whether it was trimming for extra cash for friends, growing or using it for medicine habitually, cannabis has always been a part of our culture.
What do you think makes cannabis the perfect vector for all the aspects of industry that you have pioneered - art, business, social equity/justice, and community?
Historically the trade of it was criminalized and these experiences have mostly been underground. I've seen many people in my community get arrested and/or serve jail sentences for their actions in the business aspect or for simply having it for their own consumption. Now that it is a growing legal industry with official marketing departments and positions, the aspect of authentic experiential lifestyle and event marketing campaigns have become more valuable.
With roots in cultural events over decades, having owned a nightclub in San Francisco, producing fashion shows and BSA, I use my experience and network to offer brands a way to connect with consumers, integrating creative ways; utilizing art, music, fashion and community driven event campaigns to build their brand. We have worked with some amazing brands and done some really cool projects with different creatives and influencers so far, so I am excited to continue that work in the short and long term.
On Berner, Cookies Events, And Valencia's Powerzzzup Dispensary
You’ve produced successful events for Cookies. How did your relationship with the brand and Berner come about?
My business partner Kamel [Jacot-Bell], who has a long relationship with Berner, and I produced Berner's Couch Locked 420 Comedy livestream and live event in 2021 at the tail end of the in-person events being on freeze because of the pandemic. It was actually San Francisco's first big event coming out of the pandemic. We booked comedians Bob Saget, Paul Rodriguez, Jeff Ross, Michael Blackson, and more, and worked closely with Berner to curate the marketing and the experience to launch the Couch Locked brand which was a success. We then worked with Berner on The SESH at the Midway in San Francisco last year with a lineup of Berner, Too $hort, BabyFace Ray and Andre Nickatina and other local talent. The event integrated Cookies and all the brands under Berner's banner like VIBES, Santa Cruz Shredder and others and gave Bay Area cannabis heads a place to smoke out and see some of their favorite artists live on 420. Since then, we have worked with Berner in various capacities, most recently the marketing of his new cannabis tech app Social Club through an aggressive grassroots marketing campaign.
You'll soon be managing the Powerzzzup dispensary on Valencia Street. This project comes from the brand of the same name created by Kenny Powers, the geneticist and cultivator responsible for the most popular strains in the Cookies ecosystem like Gary Payton, Cereal Milk and others. How do you see the new store shaping the San Francisco market, and the industry overall?
In 2021 when producing Couch Locked Comedy, Berner first mentioned the idea of naming the Valencia dispensary project Powerzzzup. I then connected with Kenny through my network and with my dispensary partners. Kenny being one of the most legendary men in cannabis, also a San Francisco native, creates a perfect synergy which is organic SF culture and premium cannabis strains, which will only be available at the Powerzzzup dispensary. Between Kenny's expertise in cannabis and my roots in the Mission District community, plus the marketing apparatus with BSA as well as the incredible location we have on 18th and Valencia Street, we are very excited to build the Powerzzzup retail store to be one of the top dispensaries in San Francisco.
On Being A Latina Trailblazer And Bay Area Community Advocate
We’ve seen that BIPOC ownership in the cannabis space is woefully low by the numbers. As the first Latina dispensary owner in San Francisco’s Mission District, how do you see yourself empowering the community to enter the cannabis sector and bringing that cultural fusion?
Great question, this is what I am most excited about because I feel I am in a unique position with my agency and one day the dispensary to give a platform to women and POC-owned brands. Since we can work with them in multiple ways, in-store as well as with events and marketing campaigns, we can really highlight the owners of these brands and tell their story. I conceptualized and produced an event series called the Rotation where dispensary buyers and consumers can come meet the owner of the brand and Rotate into different stations curated by each partner throughout the event, creating an intimate experience with that brand. The Rotation is an example of how I plan to create more branded events like this that can create content, engage the industry and consumer, while showing measured success on how that can move the needle with the brand in stores while putting a focus on education and awareness.
I also have some content projects in the works that will highlight people in the Mission District and the work they are doing on the ground in the community. Given the long history of the Mission District as an iconic Latino neighborhood, it blows my mind and I am very humbled that I will be the first Latina woman to own a legal cannabis dispensary in the neighborhood. Through mentorship and employing more people, I hope to pass that down and inspire more ownership by women of color in my community in years to come. I also work with City College of San Francisco and teach a class around cannabis branding where I can share my knowledge and experience with those interested.
San Francisco and Oakland have been pivotal in cannabis history and modern American culture; these cities are responsible for birthing incredible social activist movements. As someone who is so deeply rooted in these communities, what makes you proudest about them and how do you see them influencing the future of culture across the nation?
As you mentioned, the Bay Area (San Francisco and Oakland) has been the birthplace and breeding ground for many national and global political, social and empowerment movements for marginalized communities of color. From the Black Panther Party to Anti War, migrant workers and women's rights movements and beyond. Also SF being the birthplace of the movement to legalize cannabis, there will always be a legacy here of standing up and fighting for what's right that influences others around the country and globally.
My father was a popular radio and television personality here in the Bay while using his platform to shed light on the work of different activists, and he exposed me at an early age to the role media plays in progressive movements. I think there are so many people in the Bay Area doing amazing work around issues that continue to plague our community, Rudy [Corpuz Jr.] from United Playaz and his work with youth around nonviolence, and we also support Hip Hop for Change, which works with underserved youth. Now with social media and independently built platforms having significant influence, content and media has become an even more important tool to spread positive messaging and inform people about the work that is being done as well as give context to their movement. I think with so much going on and the many problems plaguing our society, we will continue to see the Bay Area play a pivotal role in shaping the future of progressive activism.
On Cannabis-Artist Partnerships
What factors go into creating the ideal artist-cannabis brand partnership, such as That Badu?
I think artist partnerships for cannabis brands and products all depend on who the artist is and how authentic it is to their brand and them as a person. I truly believe that an artist needs to be 100 percent invested into it and commit to pushing it versus simply being a name that is being lent to a brand/product. I know when my business partner Kamel initially asked Erykah Badu about starting a cannabis brand, she was not ready and didn't want to do it until she was able to put her heart and soul into it, being very hands on with the project. Years later she was in a place where she could take it on and Kamel connected her with Berner. From there those two created a great partnership and relationship, which I think shows in the success of the project. Being an artist himself, Berner has definitely been a master at these types of partnerships when it comes to choosing the right artist to work with for the Cookies brand.
*Editor's Note: For more on Erykah Badu and That Badu cannabis, click here.
What should the public expect from the next evolution of cannabis into mainstream arts and entertainment?
Similar to other industries where celebrities or musical talent start a product or brand, the partnership has to really make sense from a business standpoint and the talent has to really be passionate about it. I think the next evolution of these types of partnerships will happen when the cannabis industry gets through its initial growing pains as well as some of the federal laws changing towards national legalization. Cannabis will be more attractive as an investment and we will start to see many more brands partner with bigger celebrities on cannabis marketing initiatives and products, etc.
What do you feel has been your biggest achievement in the cannabis industry to date?
I would say my work with BSA as a whole has been so fulfilling. To be able to work with such a powerful plant and incorporate it into everyday life feels incredible. The opportunity to open a dispensary after having had trouble with the law previously for cannabis is also a great achievement and my continued work in the social equity community.
For more about Bianca Gutierrez and BSA, visit bstarragency.com.
A version of this article was originally published in Honeysuckle's 16th print edition. Click here to get your copy now!
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Featured image: Bianca Gutierrez, founder of B Starr Agency (BSA) (C) Fernando Sanchez @fern_doe