A Son’s Health Struggles Lead to Advocacy and Several Business Firsts
Sometimes you have to help yourself to be able to help others, and for Adriane Polyniak, a member of NAWBO Kentucky and executive director of Bluegrass Hemp Oil and Kentucky Cannabis Company, that’s been the root of her family’s advocacy efforts and business success.
This serial entrepreneur worked for her dad’s business while earning her accounting degree in Texas, which gave her a taste for the strategic decision-making that can happen when you run your own business. She went on to work as a real estate agent, and then her husband’s sales job took them from Texas to Kentucky.
A new mom at the time, Adriane stayed home with her kids for a few years, but found that while she loved spending time with them, she longed to have a career. This led her to open a Stretch-n-Grow franchise—the first in the bluegrass region of the state—where she taught children between the ages of 2 and 12 about fitness, nutrition and wellness.
During this time, Adriane’s son, Colten, had recently turned 3 and went from being perfectly healthy to having as many as 100 seizures a week and a diagnosis of Idiopathic Generalized Epilepsy. It was devastating and scary, but gave Adriane and her husband, Bill, a purpose that ultimately led them to advocacy and entrepreneurship.
“We went through the pharmaceutical roulette to try to help him,” shares Adriane about the next few years. “Then we started looking for natural options to treat him and came across what people at the time were calling ‘marijuana that doesn’t get you high.’”
In fact, many families were moving to states where they could legally access medical marijuana to treat various health conditions. Adriane and Bill didn’t want to uproot their family, so instead, focused on advocating for its legalization in Kentucky, and in 2014, were awarded one of the state’s original six pilot programs to cultivate hemp.
By that time, Colten was 9 and had already been on pharmaceuticals with horrible side effects for six years. “It was really a horror story to be living through,” shares Adriane. However, she says, “When we produced our first bottle of CBD, we began adding it to his daily routine, and he’s been seizure- and pharma-free ever since.”
During the first four years of what are now Bluegrass Hemp Oil and Kentucky Cannabis Company, Bill and a partner ran the business, while Adriane sold her franchise and went to work in corporate America to access the health insurance they needed to afford their son’s medications. But she missed the freedom and autonomy that comes with being an entrepreneur.
Today, Adriane heads up the company’s marketing and accounting, while Bill oversees the lab and extraction sides. They have two other business partners as well, who head up production and cultivation, respectively.
“We started with just $1,000, so that really says a lot about the growth,” Adriane shares. “It’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears and just really trying to build and reinvest in ourselves—our manufacturing, lab and land.”
All that hard work has paid off in several business firsts. They were the first company to open a CBD retail store in the United States. Now they have two retail stores, plus an online store that ships to all 50 states.
“I think the key to our success is our work ethic and integrity compared to others that are in this market,” Adriane says. “We’re driven by the health of our son and have been able to make a difference in his life, but also in the lives of so many others.”
As Adriane and her partners now focus on breeding plants that are proven to help with specific ailments, from inflammation to trouble sleeping, NAWBO will help propel this success as well. Adriane recently joined after a friend, the current president of NAWBO Kentucky, told her about the sisterhood and mentorship opportunities.
“I had really been missing the mentorship,” she says. “It’s a fantastic part of corporate America if you can find a good one, and as an entrepreneur, it’s good to look outside at other businesses that are experiencing the same or similar issues. NAWBO is such a great group of ladies with diverse backgrounds who I can learn so much from.”
Communicating a Business That Often Faces Censorship
Having a hemp oil and cannabis company definitely has its unique challenges—for one, marketing communication. They’ve experienced censorship on social media and television, so have turned to radio and outdoor advertising, plus email marketing and public statements to the media around issues related to their business, to reach current and potential customers. They work to not only educate these customers on the health benefits of a quality medicinal program, but also doctors and legislators so they can make more informed decisions.