Published on March 24, 2023

The winners of the Green Market Report 2023 Women’s Leadership Awards were announced on March 23 at the Women’s Summit held in New York City. We congratulate all the winners.

The 2023 Winners of the GMR Women’s Leadership Awards


The winner of the Trailblazer goes to Janet Matula of Gelato Canna Co.  Janet Matula has played a significant role in the development, launch, and daily operations of Gelato Canna Co., one of California’s fastest-growing cannabis brands. As a C-suite executive, Janet’s involvement at the company is not limited to one particular role. Since launching Gelato in March 2022, Janet has been in charge of compliance for three separate facilities, overseen Gelato’s graphics department, managed product development of over 100 SKUs and is currently organizing Hall of Flowers’ afterparty, which is hosted by Gelato. Before her time at Gelato, Janet was a senior executive at Platinum Vape, which was sold for $70m in 2020.


The winner of the legal award goes to Rebecca Rutenberg of Vicente LLP. At just 32, Rutenberg – a Boston Business Journal 2022 40 Under 40 Awardee and Vice President, Northeast Markets /Business Intelligence for Vicente Sederberg – has clinched approvals for the northeast’s most lucrative cannabis locations. She provides mentorship services to over a dozen social equity clients.

Science & Research

The winner of the Science & Research award goes to Angela Pih of  StateHouse Holdings (OTC: STHZF). Angela created and launched CannaCraft’s first wholly-owned, cannabis-infused beverage brand, GEM + JANE, a line of micro-dosed botanical beverages created for women by women that remains the only cannabis-infused beverage brand to be acquired by a nationally recognized, publicly trading company in the wine and spirits industry. Angela led a dynamic team across marketing, research and development, and scientific affairs, she launched two new brands, introduced 70 new products and directed an existing portfolio of 12 brands at Canna Craft. She is now head of marketing at StateHouse.


The winner for Cultivation is Rachel Edwards also from StateHouse. She works as a Research and Development Manager at StateHouse Holdings, but her desire to improve product quality and trial new plant varieties dates back to her days as a Floriculture Research Assistant at Clemson University. With two degrees in horticulture science and horticulture operations, Edwards has gone on to work as a propagation specialist at SunMed Growers and a propagation section grower at Altman Plants. In these roles, she was responsible for propagation space and acclimation zone with additional finishing plants for a total growing space of 65,000 square feet. Additionally, she managed labor, plant performance, hard goods inventory, production planning, transplant line coordination, and entered inventory movements and plantings.


The winner for Activism is Shanita Penny. Shanita Penny is the director of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR)’s Center of Excellence. Prior to her time at CPEAR, Shanita served as president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) where she advocated for social equity policies in the industry, such as increasing diversity, expanding equal access, and promoting economic empowerment in communities most impacted by the war on drugs. In addition to lobbying on Capitol Hill with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) to help reform federal cannabis laws, Penny also founded a boutique cannabis consultancy, Budding Solutions, to help clients establish and scale compliant, successful cannabis businesses, and co-founded DocHouse, a craft cannabis cultivator and manufacturer acquired by Ayr Wellness. Penny currently serves on the board of directors for the Alliance for Sensible Markets and the advisory board of Regennabis, and Shoki Beverages.


The winner for Ancillary is Renata Serban. Renata is the vice chair of the cannabis committee of the NYS Society of CPAs. She has developed accounting and tax curricula for Cannabis Compliance Training and Mentorship program with the NYS Office of Cannabis Management and currently is the mentor to cannabis license applicants. She is always volunteering her time in educating the general public about cannabis and the importance of qualified CPAs within the cannabis industry. Renata is also part of an initiative of being a mentor to young kids wishing to pursue the accounting profession. Renata is one of the principal writers of the comment letter to NYS Adult-use proposed regulations. She is a nominee for the Outstanding Young CPA Award with AICPA and a prominent supporter of women in cannabis.

Tech & Data

The winner for Tech & Data is Mikaela McLoughlin. Mikaela is a dynamic change agent that has played an integral role in SpringBig Holdings’ (NASDAQ: SBIG) growth for the last five years. Transitioning from the role of business development manager to director of strategic growth and eventually, vice president of business development, she has shown an incomparable ability to contribute in any position. Along her career path, she has assisted many of the largest multistate operators and highest volume retailers in reimagining their loyalty programs and their relationships with their customers and patients. With her leadership, SpringBig has also established partnerships with leading cannabis POS and e-commerce platforms like Flowhub, COMBASE, Shopify and Kind+. McLaughlin’s ability to expand the company’s business endeavors propelled SpringBig to complete its business combination with Tuatara Capital Acquisition Corporation and go public.

Social Impact

The next award is for Social Impact and there are two people receiving this award but from the same company: Mary Pryor and Kassia Graham of Cannaclusive.  Cannaclusive is a dynamic catalyst for change that is dedicated to providing fair representation of marginalized communities within the cannabis industry.  Under Pryor and Graham’s leadership, Cannaclusive created The Accountability List. Launched in 2020, the list offers a comprehensive look at racial justice initiatives from cannabis and hemp companies via behavior and action. Rather than call out cannabis companies for their lack of inclusion efforts, the list calls in cannabis brands and challenges them to find solutions to the diversity issues that plague the industry. Another Cannaclusive creation, Cannabis For Black Lives, is a coalition of cannabis companies that challenges the broader industry to uplift and amplify Black voices, benefitting numerous community-focused organizations, including Supernova Women, The Hood Incubator and Copper House Detroit. Kassia Graham also co-founded the Black X Film Festival to support marginalized content creators and holds a board position with the Cannabis Workers Coalition.

Public Relations

The winner for Public Relations is Rosie Mattio of Mattio Communications. Whether she’s participating in a bodybuilding competition or leading a meeting, Rosie exhibits an air of confidence and determination that is infectious. Under her leadership, MATTIO Communications has evolved to include several communications services, ranging from investor relations to influencer marketing. Managing a portfolio of more than five dozen clients, MATTIO has ushered in a new era of cannabis communications that challenge antiquated media biases and stereotypes against cannabis businesses.

Woman-Founded Brand

The winner of the Woman-Founded Brand is none other than Nancy Whiteman, the co-founder and CEO of Wana Brands, which she helped launch in 2010.

Nancy leads Wana with a majority-female executive team that includes women in the positions of COO, CFO, vice president of expansion, and director of CSR. In October 2021, Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth Corp. purchased the option to acquire Wana Brands for an upfront cash payment of $297.5 million, which was supposed to be triggered when cannabis became federally legal in the U.S. But Canopy tired of waiting and is now in the process of exercising the option through the creation of Canopy USA, a roll-up of its U.S. assets. With proceeds from the deal, Nancy established The Wana Brands Foundation, an organization working to enhance the world by supporting a wide variety of nonprofits in Wana’s communities.

Woman of the Year

Jill Ellsworth accepting the Woman of the Year Award at the GMR Women’s Summit in New York

And finally – the Woman of the Year award – Jill Ellsworth of Willow Industries.

In 2015, Jill founded Willow Industries, the first cannabis decontamination company in the country. Her organic, ozone-based technology, WillowPure, breaks down harmful microbes living on cannabis while protecting the plant’s medicinal properties. With the widespread adoption of WillowPure machines in cultivations worldwide, Jill has become a trailblazer for quality assurance and clean growing practices.

In 2022, she was named on the Forbes Cannabis 420 list as one of the top change-makers in the industry, as well as Entrepreneur and Innovator of the Year for the Titan Women in Business Awards. In 2022, Willow ranked #50 on the Financial Times list of the Americas’ Fastest-Growing Companies, was named a Gold Winner for Achievement in Product Innovation for the Titan Business Awards, and ranked on Inc. 5000’s Fastest Growing Companies for the second consecutive year.

Congratulations to all the winners.