Inside L.A.'s First Co-Working Space for the Cannabis Industry
'Amazing Race' alum and Paragon CEO Jessica VerSteeg shows off the four-building complex in Hollywood, which offers an affordable launching pad for cannibusinesses: "In order to welcome the rest of the world, we need to show that those stoners also have jobs."
It looks like any of the dozens of co-working spaces that have popped up around L.A. in recent years — a cluster of long tables with easy access to electrical outlets, a whiteboard next to a comfy couch, a fridge stocked with boxed water. But there's something that makes ParagonSpace a little different. When the Hollywood spot opens its doors to members Sept. 1, it will become the city's first shared workspace for the cannabis industry. Look a little closer and those angular green chairs in the cafe do resemble marijuana leaves.
"I wanted to create a space that a soccer mom could feel comfortable in, an athlete could feel comfortable in," says Paragon CEO Jessica VerSteeg as she shows off the four-building complex (on a 4,300-square-foot lot on Tamarind Avenue, just off Sunset Boulevard) that she purchased entirely with cryptocurrency earlier this year. "I'm thankful to those who stuck with their stoner image and helped pave the way. But in order to welcome the rest of the world, we need to show that those stoners also have jobs."
VerSteeg first hit on the idea for ParagonSpace when she was searching for an office for her last startup, San Francisco-based medical marijuana subscription business AuBox."The only places that were willing to rent to cannabis companies were in very bad neighborhoods," she says. "As a girl, knowing I may go to the office late at night, I didn't feel safe or comfortable in that situation."
By keeping rates in line with what WeWork charges in L.A. — monthly memberships range from $449 to several thousand, depending on the size of the team and space — ParagonSpace offers an affordable launching pad for cannibusinesses, which are often subjected to notoriously high rents. Though members won't be able to buy or sell any of their products on site, it's a weed-friendly work environment, as long as people limit their toking to the outdoor courtyard. "It's teamwork. It's building. It's networking. That's what this space is about," says VerSteeg, a 30-year-old former beauty queen (Miss Iowa 2014) and reality TV contestant (The Amazing Race, season 28) who has tapped into Hollywood's weed scene, posing for selfies with VIPs like Snoop Dogg. "The only difference is if you want to show someone your [pot cigarettes], we're not going to kick you out."
The space is an outgrowth of Paragon's primary business as a technology platform for the cannabis industry that uses blockchain to track products from farmer to dispensary. VerSteeg, who says she tries to exclusively shop and eat out at establishments that accept crypto, runs both businesses alongside Egor Lavrov, 37, her Russian technocrat husband who sold his first business — a digital magazine — for $2 million at age 16. (They married on 4/20 last year.)
The pair raised $70 million in 2017 by selling their own virtual currency, ParagonCoin, to investors in an initial coin offering that rapper The Game promoted to his 1 million Twitter followers. The company has come under fire for the ICO, which some say overvalued ParagonCoin, and one investor sued Paragon for not registering the currency sale with regulators. But VerSteeg defends the move, saying that though "there definitely need to be rules" for cryptocurrency, the SEC has not clearly defined policies in the emerging field.
While ParagonSpace is leading the weed-friendly co-working trend, it won't be L.A.'s only such facility. A seven-story building in downtown's Jewelry District is being converted into Green Street, a cannabiscentric workspace set to open in November; the property's co-owners say it has signed up more than a dozen members. And even with the unorthodox requirement that members pay rent in ParagonCoin, VerSteeg says ParagonSpace is near full capacity with 80 tenants — a mix of writers, startups and beauty businesses. VerSteeg considers the Aug. 30 launch party — for partners including Dank City, Aurora Elixirs, Green Helix and the podcast Casually Baked, along with Hollywood and sports pals — something of a coming-out event for her dual ventures. "I've taken it upon myself to teach as many people as I can about how to use crypto and keep it safe," she says. "The cannabis industry should no longer be in the dark and left behind."
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.