By HANNAH BEAUSANG
A historic brick building that once housed the bustling Penngrove Hatchery has transformed into an incubator for entrepreneurs in Sonoma County’s budding cannabis industry, using a business model lauded as the first of its kind in the evolving field.
In recent weeks, the stately structure on Old Redwood Highway in unincorporated Penngrove has been converted into a “cannabis business solutions center” dubbed the BRIC Hive — short for building relationships in cannabis. The venture, co-founded by Sonoma County entrepreneur and former Petaluman James Hartwick, offers a buffet of professional support and virtual office services, as well as spaces for meetings, events and classes for “cannapreneurs.”
“This place will probably never be a dispensary — that’s where the money is at, but that’s not our goal,” Hartwick, a Casa Grande High School graduate said. “Our goal is to provide a safe place to do legal cannabis business. We want really a networking site, a physical location where these people who are producing these great products can have their office space so that they don’t have to maintain a full office and they can focus on what they’re good at: making great products.”
The Jan. 1 launch of the business comes in the wake of the November passage of Prop. 64, which made it legal under state law for people 21 and older to possess, cultivate and use a limited amount of recreational marijuana. Local governments maintain the power to regulate cannabis-related activities in their jurisdictions.
Hartwick described the BRIC Hive as a work in progress that will evolve with those shifting regulations. The focus now remains on fostering nascent businesses, with no cannabis sold on site, allowing for the circumvention of permits necessary for a dispensary, he said. Future “pipe dreams” involve a “cannaspa” with cannabis-infused salves and oils, adding in a brew pub and using the large-scale commercial kitchen as a space for baking edibles.
He hopes to serve as many as 300 clients, offering packages of services ranging from $45 to $450 a month, including secretarial services, a mailing address and storage space for product.
“It stands alone on what it is,” said Hartwick, who operates the business with his wife, Jenny Hartwick, a Sonoma County teacher and his cousin, Joey Hartwick, a former aerospace engineer. “It’s a business solutions center — it’s wanted and needed and sought after. I think we’ll be just fine as that, though we do have a lot of space here and we’re toying with different ideas.”
He said he’s obtained a business license and is working with county officials to apply to rezone the property from its current general commercial designation to a limited commercial district zoning, which has specific references to cannabis.
Hartwick, a Marine veteran who owns several other auto-related businesses in the county, said he was inspired to create the BRIC Hive after his own experiences helping a friend establish a nonprofit to cultivate and sell medical marijuana.
“It didn’t have to be as stressful as it was,” Hartwick, 38, said. “That’s when this whole idea in my brain started coming with what we were going to do about BRIC Hive. It really was to solve a major problem.”
Hartwick said the venture provides a way for growers and producers who have long operated underground to define themselves professionally in an evolving open market. For Bonnie Pearl, who recently launched her Salvarae business to sell a cannabis-infused “healing balm,” the BRIC Hive is a “pretty major dream come true” that allows her to expand the reach and capacity of her venture.
“Since the Hive and I have joined forces, the inertia has definitely picked up some speed,” said Pearl, who has spent several years working from her Sebastopol home to develop her product to combat joint and arthritis pain. “It’s all really exciting, the vibe there is so good. Everyone is there for the same reason. It’s really special.”
More than 20 clients have signed on with the BRIC Hive, including Etinterra Solutions, a nonprofit mobile medical marijuana dispensary.
The public reception area at the BRIC Hive boasts a prominent display case packed with various strains of marijuana and edibles, including cannabis-infused chocolate-covered marshmallows, gummies, dips and coffees that can be ordered for delivery.
Hartwick said he’s reached out to neighbors to allay potential concerns about odors, noise or crime. A 24-hour security team will be on site, with metal detectors at the entrance of the conference room and office space. Clients’ product will kept in locked vaults with humidors, Hartwick said.
Moving forward, Hartwick plans to team up with a women’s cannabis business development group, a veterans cannabis group and the Sonoma County Growers Alliance while also engaging the broader Penngrove community.
Tawnie Logan, the executive director of the growers alliance, said the BRIC Hive could provide a boost for the local cannabis sector.
“With over 9,000 Sonoma County residents working within the cannabis industry today, there is certainly a need for more business services,” she wrote in a text message. “An incubator can be a great starting point for small businesses to develop their brand and expand into larger suites over time.”
Though he’s not a cannabis user, Hartwick said he’s grateful to be a part of what he described as a welcoming community.
“People in this business are so loving, they genuinely truly love each other and want to take a care of each other — that is something that aligns very well with a personal life goal to love everywhere,” he said.