Chairman of the Board & Chief Executive Officer
Location: Denver, CO
Industry: Technology and cannabis
For Jessica Billingsley, life is a freeway, and she drives her road to success with passion.
Billingsley is CEO & Chairman of the Board for Akerna, a consolidator of cannabis technology companies who connect data points in the global cannabis supply chain. In doing so, Akerna creates one of the world’s most transparent and accountable consumer packaged goods supply chains on a global scale. With 20 years of technology and systems experience in rapidly scaling businesses, Billingsley is a highly regarded executive in both the tech and cannabis space.
Her journey started in 2009, when she made her first investment in one of Colorado’s first licensed cannabis operators. From there, Billingsley’s interest in the market grew exponentially with the main driver being the plant’s health and wellness benefits. Misconceptions about the positive benefits inspired her to co-found MJ Freeway in 2010. Inventing seed to sale tracking, a software model that provided businesses, governments, and consumers with connected data on where and how cannabis is being grown, cultivated, and brought to shelf. In 2019, MJ Freeway merged with special purpose acquisition company MTech Acquisition Corp to create the Akerna brand, which today includes six cannabis ancillary solutions. Billingsley was named CEO of the new entity upon the deal’s completion.
It is obvious that she has the strength and dedication that are characteristic of a true Titan of industry. And with her trail-blazing leadership style, there is no stopping her now. Akerna’s 5-year vision is to be the leading compliance and regulatory technology provider when cannabis is federally legal.
“Our passion for future innovation is integrated into every facet of our culture,” Billingsly said. “We eat, sleep, and breathe innovation.”
In June 2019, Billingsley became the first CEO of a cannabis ancillary company to be listed on Nasdaq - an arduous process that included addressing any potential legal hurdles, documenting every company decision made, and much time and convincing. In 2019, Billingsley was named to Entrepreneur’s inaugural list of 100 Powerful Women; in 2018, she was named one of Inc. Magazine’s 100 Female Founders; and in 2015, she was named one of Fortune’s Most Promising Female Entrepreneurs. An influence and vision for women in the workplace: Billingsley has long prioritized bringing more diversity into the cannabis and technology industries.
“I measure my success as a leader by looking at the bigger picture,” she said. “It’s not about being perfect but learning from our successes and failures along the way. We, as leaders, need to focus on being nimble and adaptable.”
Every leader in the world was forced to adapt this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its numerous social and economic effects. This year, we have learned that the rate of change in all businesses is exponentially increasing,
“It is essential to take time to think at a strategic level before unexpected events or issues arise. Historically, Our passion for future innovation is integrated into every facet of our culture. We eat, sleep, and breathe innovation. this time to think and strategize has not always been seen as well-invested by businesses with a short-term focus on ROI,” Billingsly said. “Presently, we are living in a time of a fundamental paradigm shift in how we approach and evolve our business strategy. It is clearer than ever that leaders must make time to think about future strategy at a high level to stay competitive in an ever more quickly evolving future landscape.”
She added, “This does not require a 180-degree change every time we are faced with conflict or crisis. Instead, we must consistently make time to anticipate potential future scenarios - good and bad- and our company’s role in them.”
Billingsly said that if leaders are not thinking about the future in time to make those shifts, there will be a lack of success.
“Learn how to fail forward,” she said. “We must be adaptable at any point in time.”
Jessica is an avid rock climber, often finding her most creative business ideas when suspended hundreds of feet in the Rocky Mountain air.