Harlem ups its breakfast game once more

Harlem’s independent foodie culture continues to thrive, with two breakfast spots opening early next year:

BO’s Bagels
BO’s Bagels, an artisanal homemade bagel stand that sells its goods at local farmers’ markets, is opening its first retail store at 235 W. 116th St.

The 1,500-square-foot space will have 15 seats — from co-founders Andrew Martinez and Ashley Dikos.

Mark Tergesen and Joe Italiaander of ABS Partners Real Estate represented the tenant, while Josh Singer of The Heller Organization represented the landlord, 133 Equities, LLC.

Harlem Coffee Company
Harlem Coffee Company is also opening its first retail location at 151 Lenox Ave. early next year.

Founder Mark Thompson leased a 1,000-square-foot ground-floor store.

The flagship location, situated between West 117th and 118th streets, will serve the brand’s premium house blend coffee along with teas, juices, sandwiches and pastries in a “speakeasy lounge-like environment.”

The plan is to roll out other locations throughout Harlem in 2018, a spokesperson said. Tergesen represented the landlord, 151 Lenox, LLC.

Blavity, the BuzzFeed for black millennials, is raising $1 million

Published without comment:

Blavity, the new media and lifestyle site for the young and black in America, takes on meaningful subjects like the Black Lives Matter movement, NFL player protests and discrimination from Airbnb.

The site, which showcases BuzzFeed-like content such as “15 times athletes joined Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest,” reaches about 7 million unique visitors per month and just announced a new design and is currently raising $1 million in seed funding.

Co-founder – and “true unicorn” in the tech industry as a black, female co-founder and CEO of a startup – Morgan DeBaun came on the TechCrunch Disrupt SF stage for the first time today to chat about all that it takes to make it when there aren’t many like her raising or running a company in Silicon Valley.

“You can see it within 5 minutes if a VC is going to get it,” DeBaun said of startups focused on diversity.

But it’s not only VC’s who sometimes don’t get her vision. Even those in the black community don’t always agree with what she’s doing, according to DeBaun. An article about a Netflix documentary caused a bit of controversy earlier this year and the co-founder ultimately decided to take the article down based on the rough feedback.

“It was a tough editorial decision,” she said, adding it probably won’t be the only time that happens. “I set myself up for criticism any time we release anything…it’s tough sometimes.”

So how does she determine what is going to be relevant to her audience? It’s all about listening to a young, black demographic, which includes DeBaun. Part of that means trolling “black Twitter,” getting input from the community and pulling relevant content from the news of the day.

Although the site’s sole focus is on black interests, it still holds some value for even “white women in Kansas City” DeBaun mentioned. “I think it’s fantastic. Blavity has something for everybody.”

But DeBaun’s bigger ambition is to go beyond the media site and make Blavity into a lifestyle platform. What does that mean? That’s still under wraps, it seems but will include fireside chats and other types of community building — and there’s momentum in the black community to grow the audience with rising VC’s, tech companies and co-founders and more discussion about diversity and inclusion so we’ll likely see something reflecting those developments.

Regulators Approve Hemp Derivatives Exchange

Fully legalized marijuana might be a pipe dream, but trading hemp derivatives is about to become a reality.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission approved the first exchange for hemp derivatives when it allowed Seed SEF to register a swap execution facility, a trading platform. The industrial hemp trading platform is one of 23 SEFs registered with the CFTC, the agency said.

Industrial producers have long sought to distance hemp, which is used in an array of products from biofuels to clothing, from marijuana, a biological cousin that also comes from a variety of the cannabis sativa plant. Unlike marijuana, however, industrial hemp must contain less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the compound that produces a high.

Since 2014, the federal government has allowed the cultivation of industrial hemp for research purposes and 30 states have passed legislation related to industrial hemp, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But the Drug Enforcement Administration still includes industrial hemp in its schedule of controlled substances along with marijuana, presenting legal risks to those who grow and sell it unless they are licensed by their states.

Seed said in a statement that it would “provide new means for agricultural market participants to hedge risk…in areas where there have been recent regulatory shifts or dramatic market restructurings.”

Efforts to smooth state and federal regulatory dissonance for industrial hemp have gained some traction in Congress. A bill to exclude industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act’s definition of marijuana has 14 Senate co-sponsors, including nine Democrats and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.). A companion bill in the House has a bipartisan mix of 73 co-sponsors. But neither measure has moved out of committee.

By: Gabriel T. Rubin at gabriel.rubin@wsj.com

Cannabis advocates push for hemp exchange

The cannabis plant’s unsteady transformation from outlaw weed to mainstream commodity is poised for another step forward as entrepreneurs lay plans to launch hemp derivatives.

Seed CX of Chicago has applied to a US regulator to become a trading venue for financial contracts on industrial hemp, the marijuana cousin found in such products as fabric, shampoo, plastics, building materials and food.

Brian Liston, Seed CX president, hopes to offer three contracts tracking markets for hemp seed, whole hemp plant and hemp plant extract. He aims to wipe away what he calls a “stigma” around the commodity. “We will be successful when it is normal and when it is boring,” Mr Liston said.

Hemp, like marijuana, is a type of cannabis. Cultivation in the US has long been hamstrung by federal laws that classify both varieties as controlled substances.

But the hemp market got an official imprimatur in 2014 when US farm legislation legalized a new category of “industrial hemp” in states that allow it to be grown. Industrial hemp is defined as a cannabis plant with less than 0.3 per cent level of THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes people high. Hemp does contain cannabidiol or CBD, which is thought to have potential therapeutic benefits.

At least 27 states have passed laws related to industrial hemp, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Mr Liston said Kentucky, Tennessee and Colorado accounted for most of last year’s crop. Recorded US  previously peaked at more than 150m lb during the second world war.

Seed CX has filed a draft application with the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission to become a “swap execution facility”, an exchange-like trading platform established under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reforms, people familiar with the matter said. The regulator confirmed an application was pending.As legal sales of cannabis for consumption grow, entrepreneurs test the market’s potential

Mr Liston and his co-founder, Edward Woodford, hit upon their idea while studying for masters degrees in finance at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The cannabis industry is fascinating, from every perspective,” Mr Liston said. “It’s sort of this untapped, hard-to-access industry that literally needs every sort of service, and a lot of large businesses don’t want to be seen entering the space.”

Even if it wins over regulators, Seed CX would also need to attract traders. Futures and similar derivatives contracts tend to struggle if they are not based on an active underlying cash market, something Mr Liston said he also would seek to cultivate.

Michael Gorham, finance professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, was skeptical. “The overwhelming majority of futures contracts die within the first five years of being listed,” he said.

Marijuana has also been gaining legal status in the US in recent years. Some 86 per cent of Americans now live in states that allow some level of medical or recreational use of the drug, according to ArcView Group, an investor network.

Legal sales rose 17.4 per cent to $5.4bn in 2015 and are projected to reach $6.7bn this year, ArcView estimates.

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Soon Hemp May Be A Tradable Commodity With Startup Seed CX

 

You can trade gold and pork belly futures, why not hemp?

Raising venture capital is difficult for any first-time founders with a company that hasn’t yet launched. Multiply that by 100 when your startup has any tangential relationship to cannabis.

It is no surprise, then, that it took Edward Woodford, co-founder of Seed Commodities Exchange, a commodities trading platform for industrial hemp, to send 11,000 emails, travel 46,238 miles, and meet with 604 investors to raise Seed CX’s first round of funding. At one point, Woodford sent so many messages on LinkedIn that the service temporarily banned him.

It’s also little surprise that when Seed CX finally secured its $3.42 million convertible note, announced today, many of the company’s 50 investors declined to make their names public. The ones that it did include were lead investor Charlie O’Donnell of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, Darren Herman, Tom Sosnoff, 500 Startups, iAngels, Struck Capital, Ron Geffner, David Adler, Christopher Lee, and Julien Codorniou.

The problem is not that Seed CX operates in a legal gray area — the platform only operates in areas where hemp farming is federally legal — or that its legal risk is any higher than a disruptive company like Uber or Airbnb. It’s that most investment funds have a “vice” clause, which forbids them from touching anything that sounds like drugs.

A number of venture investors liked Seed CX enough to invest their personal money. Seed CX’s investor list is rounded out by commitments from several trading platforms, Woodford says.

Seed CX’s commodities trading platform is powered by GMEX Technologies, a London-based subsidiary of financial technology company GMEX Group. Seed CX is awaiting regulatory approval by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. The startup hopes to be up and running with its first commodities: hemp seed, whole hemp plant and whole hemp plant extract, by the time the farming season starts in May.

The market for commodities, which dwarfs the stock market, allows traders to buy and sell anything from precious metals like gold to farm products like soybeans. As the U.S. government cuts subsidies for tobacco, many farmers in Kentucky have begun growing and processing hemp. Currently there are around 100 hemp farmers in the U.S. and 150 hemp processors. (Hemp farming and processing is federally legal under the Agricultural Act of 2014, but only in states with the proper infrastructure, which currently includes Kentucky and 26 others. Hemp itself is legal everywhere.) Woodford would not disclose how many farmers and traders had signed up to use Seed CX when it launches.

If it gets regulatory approval, Seed CX will be the first trading platform for hemp. Many commodities trading platforms start out specializing in one type of commodity to maximize liquidity, Woodford says. From there, Woodford says Seed CX will expand into other “nascent, illiquid” commodities.

Woodford believes commodities traders will be eager to trade hemp because they like unique, idiosyncratic risks of a new market with a complicated legal framework. Also, many traders believe that the longer they are in a market before it becomes mainstream, the more edge they have. Likewise, for hemp farmers and processors, a commodities market allows them to lock in prices with derivatives contracts.

Even though hemp is made from cannabis, Woodford is not eager to be associated with the marijuana industry. “The perception of cannabis — sometimes it widens peoples’ eyes and sometimes it narrows them,” he says. “In Silicon Valley, it is a real turnoff.” That’s part of the excitement behind Seed CX, but Woodford is careful to note that hemp is different from marijuana.

Seed CX’s fundraising struggle speaks to the broader business world’s mix of fear and excitement around cannabis legalization. Few startups in the category have been able to raise venture capital from traditional institutional investors.