Erin O’Donnell: Helping Businesses Weed out the Industry Complexities

Infused Banking | Erin O’Donnell - Helping Businesses | CIO Women Magazine

Even with all the laws and restrictions, the Cannabis industry continues to flourish rapidly across the globe. While Cannabis has been used in the medical field for years, most fields don’t have that luxury. Seeing the continuous growth of the industry, it is only natural that businesses and entrepreneurs are attracted to the cannabis world.

While several US states have made Cannabis legal, many businesses and entrepreneurs still struggle to access safe and reliable cannabis services. Although the industry sat on an estimated value of $13.2 billion in 2022, federally, it is still categorized alongside the likes of heroin, crystal meth, and other Schedule 1 substances. As a result, businesses that rake in large sums of money through cannabis-related sales cannot use banking services and have to go the cash route instead, putting them in a tough spot.

Noticing the lack of reliable banking services, Infused Banking came to life. Today, through education and research, the bank aims to guide entrepreneurs or businesses to understand the intricacies of the cannabis industry, while also enabling them to access beneficial information easily.

In its latest issue, The Most Influential Women Leaders To Watch In 2023, CIO Women has featured, Erin O’Donnell (Founding Partner of Infused Banking). Below are some of the snippets from the fascinating conversation.

1. What inspired you to direct your journey in this particular field?

I’ve always been passionate about creating memorable experiences for people. As a professional event planner, I’ve seen firsthand how technology has transformed the events industry over the past few years. Virtual events, in particular, have been game-changers. They’ve made events more accessible by eliminating geographical barriers, allowing people from all around the globe to participate. This means we can reach more diverse audiences and create truly global experiences. 

2. How difficult were the initial years? State a few challenges you faced. 

The initial years were certainly tough. Bootstrapping a business (we just celebrated 11 years in 2023) requires a lot of hard work and dedication, and being a single mother added to the challenge. I had to balance my time and energy in between nurturing my children and growing the business from the ground up.

There were sleepless nights and long hours, but I was determined to succeed as both a mother and an entrepreneur. I like to think these two things are similar, I worked the way I did to take care of my kids. Working from home gave me the flexibility to be home with my kids after school, which means a lot to me looking back. 

3. Please walk us through your professional background.

I am the Founding Partner of Infused Banking, Co-Founder of BankersHub, and Co-Founder and former CEO of Bankerstuff oversees product innovation and education. I have over 30 years of experience in strategic event management, specializing in technology and online delivery of content. BankersHub offers education and certification in the banking industry and launched the industry’s first certification for Cannabis Banking. 

Previously, I co-founded Bankerstuff, an online portal of banking education and information, where we launched the banking industry’s first virtual conference and expo and served as the CEO. I frequently speak at industry conferences on planning virtual events, including live-streaming events and webinars. I have also been a featured keynote speaker on the topic of the importance of social media in financial services. 

In the late 1990s, during the “dot.com” boom, I worked in San Francisco for VentureOne Corporation (now owned by Dow Jones) where I was responsible for creating and leading the company’s events department. At VentureOne, I was responsible for the P&L of the events business which I grew from inception into more than 25% of the overall corporate revenue for VentureOne. 

Prior to VentureOne, I worked in the renewable energy industry, creating industry events for Technology Transition Corporation in Washington, DC, focusing on the scalability and growth of the Photovoltaic, Fuel Cell, and Hydrogen Power Industries. I also worked with renowned Geophysicist, Dr. Gordon MacDonald, at the think tank “Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation” at the University of California (San Diego) founded by Herbert York, where I planned conferences for government officials, scientists, and academics. 

I am a Cannabis Banking Professional (CBP), a certified Digital Event Strategist (DES), and a Certified Meeting Manager (CMM). I also hold a B.S. in Marketing/Business Administration from Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania

4. With the years of expertise you bring to the table, what are your future plans?

I’m really excited about the future and the potential opportunities in the cannabis industry. One area that has my attention is cannabis banking. As the industry continues to grow, there is a vital need for legitimate and secure banking solutions that cater to cannabis businesses, which still face many financial challenges due to the legal complexities surrounding the industry.

As the cannabis industry continues to expand and evolve, there is a growing need for education and resources. Infused Banking has created a comprehensive learning platform that brings together professionals, researchers, and enthusiasts from across the entire industry. Our platform offers a centralized hub for knowledge sharing, networking, and collaboration.

5. A word for budding entrepreneurs?

I always give the same advice, because I truly believe it has been critical to my success. Do not hire friends or people who think like you. Hire someone who pushes back and challenges ideas, especially yours. My business partners and I are very different, but we share the same work ethic and desire to make the company the best it can be.

6. If your life story was a book, what would it be called, and why?

“Zero Sum Game” because being an entrepreneur is about balancing gains and losses to stay afloat. It requires a lot of flexibility and things often don’t go the way you hope. You have to evaluate losses and mistakes quickly and move on.

7. How has your education helped you to shape your enterprise?

That’s a thought-provoking question, I attended college at a time before the internet, email, social media, and widespread use of computers. Over time, I have adapted and embraced the latest technological advancements with enthusiasm. Additionally, my college years predate the ubiquity of cell phones, which fostered a different mode of interpersonal interaction. I consider myself fortunate to have struck a balance between harnessing technology and maintaining strong people skills.

8. How have your personal life experiences influenced the entrepreneur in you?

I believe that our experiences shape our perspectives and drive our decision-making. As I move forward with Infused Banking, I will continue to draw on the lessons I’ve learned throughout my life, both as a single mother and as an entrepreneur. My father was a high school English teacher who worked three jobs to keep our family going. He taught me the importance of perseverance, creativity, and a strong work ethic. I learned from the best and I’d be honored if my kids learned from me.

9. Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self? 

If I could share some wisdom with my younger self, there are a few key pieces of advice I would offer.

First, I would emphasize the importance of believing in yourself and your capabilities. Self-confidence and trust in your own abilities are crucial for overcoming challenges and achieving success.

Secondly, I’d encourage my younger self to seek out mentorship and support from others. Building a strong network of mentors and supporters can provide invaluable guidance, encouragement, and opportunities. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to navigate your journey alone.

Next, I’d advise my younger self to prioritize self-care and maintain a healthy work-life balance. As a single mother and entrepreneur, it’s easy to get caught up in the demands of both roles. But taking time for yourself, setting boundaries, and focusing on your well-being is essential for long-term success and happiness.

Finally, I’d tell my younger self to embrace change and be open to new experiences. The world is constantly evolving, and being adaptable is a key trait for any successful entrepreneur. Keep an open mind, stay curious, and don’t be afraid to take risks.

10. What was the one piece of advice that has had an impact on your leadership?

One piece of advice that truly resonated with me and has made a lasting impact is “Don’t be afraid of making a mistake”. This advice has been transformative to me because it’s helped me embrace challenges and approach setbacks with a more constructive mindset. Instead of fearing failure, I now view it as a stepping stone to success. By learning from my mistakes and applying those lessons to future endeavors, I’ve been able to grow both personally and professionally. 

11. When was the company incepted?

Infused Banking was incepted in 2022 with the mission to help bankers navigate the complex landscape of the cannabis industry by ensuring compliance through education, research, and expert witness services. Recognizing the unique challenges and legal intricacies that financial institutions face in this rapidly growing sector, Infused Banking provides comprehensive resources and specialized guidance to empower banks and other financial entities to operate safely and confidently within the cannabis market while adhering to all relevant regulations. 

12. What were your initial challenges and how did you pave your way through those?

In its early stages, Infused Banking faced several challenges, including navigating the rapidly changing legal landscape, establishing credibility, and gaining the trust of financial institutions in a highly regulated and often stigmatized industry. Our company successfully overcame these hurdles by consistently delivering up-to-date, accurate, and reliable information through in-depth research and collaboration with industry experts. By developing targeted educational programs and resources, Infused Banking demonstrates its commitment to addressing the unique needs of financial institutions in the cannabis space.

13. What was the vision of your company when you started?

The initial vision of Infused Banking was to revolutionize the online cannabis banking industry by creating a secure, transparent, and compliant financial ecosystem tailored to the unique needs of cannabis-related businesses. Recognizing the existing gaps and challenges faced by both financial institutions and cannabis businesses, Infused Banking aimed to provide a comprehensive platform that would facilitate seamless transactions, promote regulatory compliance, and foster greater collaboration between the banking sector and the burgeoning cannabis industry. 

By focusing on education, research, and expert guidance, Infused Banking sought to break down barriers, dispel misconceptions, and ultimately contribute to the establishment of a more inclusive and sustainable financial landscape for the cannabis sector.

14. How would you further your services? 

Infused Banking plans to broaden its scope of services by extending its expertise beyond the banking sector and offering training to cannabis-related businesses on a diverse range of professional topics. By leveraging their industry knowledge and experience, the company aims to provide comprehensive educational programs and resources to help cannabis businesses navigate the complexities of their industry, including regulatory compliance, financial management, marketing strategies, and operational best practices.

This expansion of services reflects Infused Banking’s commitment to fostering the growth and development of the cannabis industry as a whole, empowering businesses to operate more efficiently, responsibly, and successfully in an increasingly competitive market.

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