You may be familiar with craft cannabis, but what about craft community? Trailblazers is a unique entity, an organization self-described as “a curated community of cannabis and psychedelic business leaders working together to advance the future of the industry.” It’s a prestigious membership group that gathers innovators and C-suite executives together a few times a year for immersive experiences that resemble summer camp getaways rather than business conferences. But throughout each meeting, the organizers and attendees focus on what matters most: Building trusted relationships with your fellow justice-minded humans, and educating yourself on how plant medicines connect you to the wider universe.
If this sounds up your alley, you’re in luck, because Trailblazers is expanding its horizons to the urban jungle for its first New York City gathering on July 27th. The organization is also offering new membership perks that include additional networking opportunities, exclusive digital content, and much more. Check out the Trailblazers website now to apply.
Watch the recap from the Trailblazers Sedona gathering in May 2022!
What Is Trailblazers?
Founded in 2018 by Tyler Wakstein, co-founder and CEO of OpenNest Labs; David Denberg, a leadership culture maven noted for founding extensive entrepreneurship communities; and Peter Gross, co-founder of Coalition Entertainment; Trailblazers capitalizes on what Wakstein explains is “creating unique vessels and spaces for people to gather, connect, share, learn, be inspired.” For many years, the trio behind Trailblazers produced events through Summit Series, a preeminent leadership conference and community platform. When Wakstein, who had been investing and consulting in cannabis since 2014, raised the idea of events centered on the plant to Denberg and Gross, it was an instant hit.
“We recognized that, just like in any emerging market, there are way more opportunities to collaborate than compete if you can align yourself with the right people,” said Wakstein. “David, Pete and I came together talking about what an amazing opportunity to take a plant we respect greatly, bring it to the masses, and destigmatize it… doing what we did really well for many years at Summit Series. [We want to] help people find their next life partner, business partner, investor, and do all that specifically for cannabis and psychedelics.”
Engaging experts like Kim Dudine, an international business development professional with a background in plant medicine and spiritual healing, became a major part of Trailblazers’ secret sauce. Dudine oversees strategy and dedicated support for Trailblazers and serves as one of the organization’s primary points of contact for attendees. The most recent Trailblazers event in Sedona, Arizona featured a diverse array of programming and dynamic speakers such as LSD master chemist William Leonard Pickard; Al Harrington, former NBA player and co-founder/CEO of Viola, the nation’s leading Black-owned cannabis brand; Margeaux Bruner, Director of ESG and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Trulieve; Dr. Sue Sisley, a medical cannabis research pioneer and President of the Scottsdale Research Institute and Field to Healed Foundation; Jeff Ragovin, Chief Commercial Officer of Fyllo, and many more.
Wakstein and Dudine sat down with Honeysuckle to discuss the evolution of Trailblazers, their vision for the future of the cannabis and psychedelics sectors, and of course, the power of community.
Trailblazers: Unifying Cannabis and Psychedelics Advocates
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: What is the most important part of Trailblazers for you?
TYLER WAKSTEIN: I don’t think it’s necessarily exclusive to us, but there are those out there intentionally building community and creating safe spaces for people to foster connections, deepen relationships, spur action, which is what we are attracting, and of people who want to be trailblazers. They’re seeking other like-minded people they can build, create, collaborate with… We started with just throwing one party at Powder Mountain in Utah in 2019, and it’s now evolved into something way bigger than us. We’re honored to be the stewards of the community, but it’s no longer about me or David or Pete or Kim or Sarah or any one individual on our team. It’s about the participation in it. Like anything, you get out what you put in, and the people who have put into the community have gotten a lot out of it. We’re proud of that.
KIM DUDINE: Yeah. Personally for me, and you’ll hear me say this a lot, it’s all about reflecting the consciousness of the plant. Cannabis is unifying. It holds the consciousness of unity consciousness; it’s playful; it makes you curious. Obviously people [have] different experiences with the plant, but I just really respect the medicine as being an integral role in my personal healing and journey. To work with someone like Tyler, who always wants everyone in the community to be highlighted, is great. That’s the true litmus test of a leader who just builds something and wants it to grow and evolve on its own and have the sum of its parts be greater than the whole.
WAKSTEIN: In March 2020 we had to cancel our event [due to the pandemic], and that was a moment for us to realize how important community is.
How Does Trailblazers Incorporate Psychedelics Education?
It's incredible that Trailblazers is able to fold psychedelics into the mix, because similar to cannabis, it all works together with our bodies and nature. While it’s a realm that many people find very mysterious, you’re able to bring some of these mysteries into the light a bit more.
WAKSTEIN: Whether it’s LSD or MDMA or ketamine – which are not plant medicines but are psychedelic medicines – or psilocybin or ayahuasca or 5-MeO-DMT in addition to cannabis, ultimately that’s where we are inspired. That’s why we are spending our time in this industry. It’s healing. All of these medicines have the potential to provide relief to those who are suffering. Every human on Earth is suffering, arguably now more than ever with geopolitical and economic traumas, there’s so much heaviness.
With cannabis, the joke is that it’s a gateway drug, but I see it as the gateway to plant-based medicine. Our parents and grandparents were so [inundated with] propaganda and stigma and reefer madness… A lot of it was built around racism, but I think it also had to do with the greater system and powers that be wanting to control the masses, not letting people think and feel freely. [Coming out of that now], the expansion into psychedelics is more like the natural mind-enhancing path that I think people are seeking in finding mental wealth.
“Mental wealth” is an interesting concept. We hear about “generational wealth” often, and we’ve even heard it described in terms of creating spaces where people feel free to express themselves. But what does mental wealth mean to you?
WAKSTEIN: I think the most valuable wealth is your mental wealth. I practice Buddhism and have practiced meditation for a long time. Kim’s a master Reiki healer and is an amazing meditation and spiritual teacher for me, and many people whom she’s interacted with throughout her life on this planet. The whole game of the world is ultimately to become a master of your own mind, right? And to control all the stories and thoughts and negative energy that we can hammer ourselves on [and keep us from reaching our goals]… I think this next generation of leaders will not allow for the lack of gun control that our country has. They won’t allow for a plant that’s been growing for thousands of years to be demonized and criminalized and rip apart communities of color because of racism. So I think wealth is being redefined. It’s not just about how much money is in your bank account. It’s more about the freedom you have to be who you want to be and who you want to have around you.
Which brings us back to the Trailblazers ethos, especially with psychedelics.
WAKSTEIN: Yeah. We definitely have been intentional about how we enter the psychedelic space. I think a lot of people are jumping into psychedelics and trying to throw psilocybin [products] into everything like it’s a trend. As an entrepreneur and someone who’s been in the entrepreneurial ecosystem a long time, that’s a very privileged way to look at it… There’s a serious psychedelic revolution in the world, but [we need to be] interested in how we’re helping veterans, inner city youth, women and men who have been abused, all the different traumas we face as humans on this planet. Psychedelics provide a really powerful way to help shift our relationships with those different layers of trauma.
DUDINE: I see it as this whole revitalization of the 60s, but now with more organization and technology behind us. There have always been flows in our evolution as a society when we start to wake up to who we truly are outside of societal norms and what we’ve been told. Somehow it’s always squashed down, but I don’t see that happening this time. Too many people now have access to cannabis and other medicines like ayahuasca. It’s all contingent on how sacred we consider our relationships with the plants and how we can be honorable stewards of them. Not to have [psychedelics] be a trendy thing, but to remind people that these were once sacraments and were sat with in a ceremonious way.
I’ve sat with psilocybin personally and sacredly and recreationally, and there’s a huge difference in the experiences there. These plants and molecules we’ve been gifted help us heal, yes, but also help us live a very full life and honor the whole journey that is the human experience. We can allow these plants to shift our perspectives and vantage points, and receive their intelligence and wisdom for something that is really worthy of reverence.
Trailblazers Membership: How To Apply, And Who You'll Meet There
How does a person apply to be in the Trailblazers community?
WAKSTEIN: (Laughs) I think we're exclusively inclusive. Definitely there’s no assholes allowed. But seriously, one of the coolest things about the community is that it curates itself versus us curating it. [We invite people] to go to trailblazerspresents.com. You can apply on our website to be a fellow, which is managed by our diversity, equity and inclusion advisory board that helps bring more intention and equality to the kind of access we have, which is to some of the top operators, funds, and brands in the space. That bridges the gap between underrepresented founders and those resources.
A lot of our community is referral-based. People introduce others by going to Trailblazers, having a wonderful experience and saying to their friends, “You need to be part of this.” We don’t really have a rigorous criteria for membership, though we do look for executives and people who have the ability to make decisions in a company. Whether you’re a CEO or COO or CMO, or maybe you’re not in the C-suite but you have tons of leverage within a company because you’re a mover and shaker, an intrapreneur leading innovation projects within the business. Many big companies and MSOs [multi-state operators] are beginning to develop those positions. So we look for those types of people who can bring the magic, which the C-suite sometimes lacks. I think sometimes the C-suite comes to Trailblazers because they need to be reinspired about the magic, because you can lose it in this really challenging industry.
What is the process to apply to Trailblazers?
WAKSTEIN: For us it’s about decision makers, executives, investors, policymakers, researchers, advocates. Every person who comes to Trailblazers does go through a curation process. So we do set up an interview call. We want to get to know them, make sure we’re setting intentions and expectations of what they’re participating in. It’s all about those reciprocal relationships and advancing the industry.
Trailblazers And High-Touch Curation
The Trailblazers experience has been called “high-touch curation.” It’s also been called summer camp for adults. Why did you want to structure your events as retreats?
WAKSTEIN: Part of building great business relationships is building great friendships. It starts with trust and being open, and it’s hard to be open when you have seven 30-minute Zoom calls, or a conference where you have 22 meetings over two and a half days in Las Vegas. It’s not as productive. So having one campus is a special and unique part of our production vision. The other is nature. A lot of what we’re doing is inspired by nature and what cannabis is – this beautiful plant, this flower that alters our mind and inspires creativity and helps us to sleep and all these other things.
Summer camp has been referenced a lot with us. The best example is that people don’t ask what people do on the first day. You meet people, you might be on a hike or a meditation or sit next to them in a content session. But it’s not until the last day that you’re like, “I know we’ve hung out a bunch, but I don’t know what you do.” Our closing brunches always feel like a big hug fest. Everyone goes, “Oh, that was so awesome. We need to continue our conversation.” “I got introduced to this person, now I have to follow up.” Those are the cool moments that inspire me – the non-transactional community interactions that can feel like summer camp.
DUDINE: The first month I worked at Trailblazers, Tyler said, “This is a community of people who are really good at what they do, but even better at who they are.” That’s what we shoot for. You can have an incredible event in a place like Sedona, but that event is always going to be only as good as the people. That’s the magic secret sauce in Trailblazers. We shoot for the goal that everyone there is going to either personally or professionally radically improve or inspire your life in some way.
Trailblazers Comes To New York July 2022
And now you’re about to journey to New York, to find nature in the urban jungle. What can we look forward to there?
DUDINE: When we choose our locations, it’s fifty-fifty. The land is calling us and we are called to the land. There are absolutely different energy containers you can tap into for each place. Going from Powder Mountain to Sedona to Ojai to New York, that’s no mistake. Those are powerful pieces of land that lend themselves to powerful containers.
WAKSTEIN: New York is interesting because it’s our first urban event. A lot of our team are city dwellers, city hustlers, city partiers, but we have to go into the unknown: How do we bring the Trailblazers magic to an urban event? I don’t know if we have all the answers yet, but I can tell you we definitely have some cool and exciting tricks up our sleeve to create that type of magic and even the campus feel. It’ll be a very different format.
What else is next for the Trailblazers community?
WAKSTEIN: Now that we’ve been around for almost four years, we’re starting to formalize what it means to be a Trailblazer. We’ve launched our membership program with a 365-day mobile app that’s going to be really powerful for connecting the community year-round. It will have specific features for each event, members-only content and more. Part of the membership also funds our fellowship program, which means that membership funds bring more diversity. What you’re giving out helps underrepresented founders get access to the opportunities we offer.
What we’re seeing in the sector is that whether you’re trying to get a license or raise capital or get a cultivation agreement, it all matters who you know. How you can get in the room with that person. When you look at the data of how many women or people of color can’t get funded or acquire C-level positions, it’s just absurd. It’s a nationwide global issue, not just specific to cannabis. We do have a lot of influence in our community, so we really try to hold our members accountable [to further equity in the space]. As we formalize our community and work to get more investment, we can do more and provide more value to our members throughout the year.
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Featured image: A meditation exercise at Sedona, led by Kim Dudine (standing center) while Dr. Sue Sisley of the Scottsdale Research Institute Foundation lies down with Dodger the dog (left). (C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.