Executive Spotlight: Jessica Billingsley, Co-Founder & CEO of Akerna and MJ Freeway

Jessica Billingsley is a technology pioneer, solutions creator and industry leader, providing proven compliance software solutions to the cannabis market. She is the Chief Executive Officer of Akerna—the first cannabis compliance technology company to be traded on Nasdaq—making her the first CEO from this market space to bring a company to a major U.S. exchange. Jessica is also the CEO of Akerna’s flagship subsidiary—MJ Freeway. She established MJ Freeway in 2010 and it is the leading seed-to-sale regulatory compliance technology provider and developer of the cannabis industry’s first enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform. Akerna also offers Leaf Data Systems as a government resource for public sector compliance. Combined entities tracked more than $15 billion in world-wide, client cannabis sales to date. She is the first woman ever from the cannabis industry to receive the prestigious Fortune’s “Most Promising Women Entrepreneur Award” and is also recognized as one of Inc.’s “Female Founders 100.” Jessica received a degree in Communications and Computer Science from the University of Georgia and lives with her daughter in Denver.

GMR Executive Spotlight Q&A – 

Full birth name: Jessica Billingsley 

Title: Chief Executive Officer, Akerna and Chief Executive Officer, MJ Freeway

Company: Akerna and MJ Freeway

Years at current company:  Akerna launched in June 2019. Nine and a half years at MJ Freeway.

Education profile:  At 16 years old, I received a full academic scholarship to attend the University of Georgia, where I received a degree in Communications and Computer Science.

Most successful professional accomplishment before cannabis:  Prior to forming MJ Freeway, I built and managed technology operations with an emphasis on executive management, corporate culture, finance, and strategic relations. I launched my first company at 22, and I’ve been a successful founder, owner, COO and CEO of several companies.

Company Mission: Our technology empowers a compliant cannabis industry to prove outcomes that positively change lives every day.

Company’s most successful achievement: Nine years ago, my co-founder and I invented seed-to-sale tracking upon identifying the need for organic material tracking and compliance SaaS solutions in the growing cannabis industry. We were supporting one of the first cannabis dispensaries and grows in Colorado, and saw that cannabis needed technology built for it not adapted from other industries. And we believed visibility across the entire supply chain from seed-to-sale would be a requirement for the industry’s sustained growth. MJ Freeway was born with the launch of our patent-pending cannabis seed-to-sale technology. Today, seed-to-sale tracking is a requirement of most state’s that regulate legal cannabis. And to date MJ Freeway has tracked more than $13B in legal cannabis sales.

In 2017, in response to what I saw as the maturing of the cannabis market to multi-state enterprise businesses, MJ Freeway launched the cannabis industry’s first ERP. We also led the international expansion in the cannabis technology sector very early on in 2012 in Canada then into Spain. Today, our total international footprint spans 13 countries. Innovation and seeing what opportunities are next on the horizon – and then being ready for them first – is a hallmark of MJ Freeway and now Akerna. 

Most recently, I’m proud of an accomplishment that is a testament to the entire MJ Freeway team. Via a merger between MJ Freeway and MTech, a shell company formed for the purpose of acquiring a cannabis technology company, Akerna is the first software company that serves cannabis businesses to be traded on a major U.S. exchange. Akerna is traded on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol: KERN. It’s an unprecedented milestone signifying a shift in beliefs and generating ripples of opportunity.  

Finally, I’m proud to have broken a couple of glass ceilings by serving as CEO of a technology company and holding a CEO position in a publicly traded company. Unfortunately, both are very rare occurrences. MJ Freeway launched last year the One Woman Challenge campaign to empower women in their careers. I want to reverse the growing decline of women in tech. It’s appalling to learn there’s a smaller percentage of women working in tech today than 25 years ago. Please learn more about the #OneWomanChallenge on our website and social pages and get involved. 

Has the company raised any capital (yes or no): Yes

If so, how much?: $25M in private financing prior to this most recent public transaction.

Any plans on raising capital in the future? Yes. Akerna’s strategy is to consolidate cannabis technology companies to connect data points in the global cannabis supply chain. Raising capital is a piece of our strategy to fully execute on Akerna’s strategy and is a reason for our listing on Nasdaq to be able to access more cost effective capital.

Most important company 5-year goal: To build the world’s most transparent and accountable consumer packaged goods supply chain. There’s an explosion of growth in consumers’ desire for transparency in products, which starts with transparency in the supply chain. With MJ Platform’s technology, I can tell you what farm the cannabis in your gummy was harvested from, what date it was harvested, and what nutrients were added prior to harvest. We can then follow the progression of the exact cannabis in that gummy until the moment it was sold to you. Seed-to-sale technology gives an unprecedented level of transparency across the supply chain. We intend to build on MJ Platform and grow Akerna through acquisitions to connect more data points across the cannabis supply chain and empower businesses, governments, and the public with the information they need to make better decisions. We are excited about the explosive growth of this industry and how compliance technology will underpin it. 

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