From Engineer to Cannabis Beer CEO

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From Engineer to Cannabis Beer CEO

March 20, 2022 | Jim Baudino | Blog

March 20, 2022 by Jodi Villa, CEO of Ceria Brewing Company

It’s funny. When your kids are small they think you know everything. Then they become teenagers and they think you know nothing. Finally, as adults, you get a little bit of creditability back. That’s how it was with my now 28-year-old daughter, Catherine. It wasn’t until she taught me how to use a vape pen that I discovered she knew more than I did when it came to cannabis.

After I received my B.S. degree in Engineering from the University of Colorado (CU), I spent 30 plus years in the male-dominated engineering industry. There were many more men than women in my graduating class at CU and more men in the engineering world. I remember after one of my first professional meetings as an engineer, sometime in the late 1980’s, one male engineer came up to me, threw his business card in front of me, and asked if I could make copies of my notes for him. In addition, at one point during my tenure, I confronted my supervisor about getting paid the same as my male coworker, who held the same position as me. Yes, it was a man’s world.

So, after three decades as a Civil Engineer, I became the CEO of a cannabis beer company – Ceria Brewing Company. We sell alcohol-free beers infused with cannabis. This is a partnership with my husband, Keith Villa, who created Blue Moon beer, a billion-dollar craft beer brand launched in 1995 (when Catherine was just two years old).

Catherine graduated from the University of Colorado’s School of Engineering 30 years after I did with her Mechanical Engineering degree. After graduation, she decided that the cannabis industry might be interesting, so she came to work with her parents at Ceria. Now you may have heard of the father/son dynamic in beer: the father starts his brewery and builds a legacy, then passes the torch to his son. Or better yet, the father and son build their brewery together. Ceria’s legacy will be the father/mother/daughter dynamic.

The cannabis industry is male dominated, as is the brewing industry; but, truthfully, while CEO of Ceria I have not personally experienced the discrimination that I did as a woman engineer in the 1980’s. I have found the cannabis industry to be respectful and welcoming. This could be a result of the cannabis industry being a nascent category founded in a time where people are being made aware of their past discriminatory faults. Or, perhaps I’m fortunate and my experience and entry into the cannabis world are unique.

However, the recently released Women in Cannabis Study is an extensive report that details women in cannabis and their struggles, as well as some successes, as they break into and work within the industry. An interesting chart noted that women are not so concerned about being discriminated against nowadays as much as they are about finding “the right” position for themselves or fear of failure. While I personally have found the cannabis industry more accepting of women than the engineering world of the 1980’s, I do acknowledge that women, especially young women like Catherine, face various types of barriers to success working in cannabis. That is why support is so important.

I would not be where I am without the support of my family; and I’ve found that the broader cannabis community is available to lean on while navigating the ups and downs of these green waters. The good news is that there are plenty of ways for women to follow their passions, contribute their expertise and apply themselves to this exciting industry; and while it’s important to recognize the inequities in the cannabis (and brewing) industry, I’m optimistic. When I think about the future of this industry, I think about how the young, intelligent women of today, like Catherine, will be a force to be reckoned with as the industry grows and matures.

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