Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

Karli Miller-Hornick ’12 shows off some of her companies' products during a press conference on the opening day of William Jane dispensary, located on the Ithaca Commons, on March 16, 2023.

March 29, 2023

Hotel Alumna Karli Miller-Hornick ’12 Fulfills Entrepreneurial Path Through Cannabis Business

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When Karli Miller-Hornick ’12 first attended Cornell, she never thought she would end up founding a cannabis business here in Ithaca. Now, 15 years later, she is a licensed cannabis cultivator and manufacturer with four cannabis brands, as the cannabis market continues to grow.

In 2008, halfway through her freshman year, Miller-Hornick transferred into the Nolan School of Hotel Administration. Though she first pursued a culinary career, Miller-Hornick soon realized this was not the path for her. She started to explore other careers, spending a summer making flatbread pizzas at the Ithaca’s Farmers Market.

Miller-Hornick appreciated the community spirit the farmers market fostered, as she said she has always admired the way food brings people together. Working at the farmers market led her to consider becoming a farmer, but after taking a six-month course in sustainable agriculture between her junior and senior year, Miller-Hornick realized she was not cut out for farm life. 

Still, Miller-Hornick said she gained valuable knowledge about farming and the agricultural industry from these experiences. 

“These farms had no training or interest in branding and sales,” Miller-Hornick said. “While they were growing veggies, they were having a really hard time finding sales outlets for them.” 

Due to difficulty achieving sales, many farmers with which Miller-Hornick worked struggled to support themselves and their families financially. Witnessing these hardships demonstrated to Miller-Hornick the importance of building sustainable business models for farmers. 

Miller-Hornick had always envisioned that she would one day build her own business. Her entrepreneurial spirit prompted her to solve this problem, and she began searching for jobs within agribusiness. 

“[I] literally found my dream job on my last day of classes, and [I] applied for it,” Miller-Hornick said. “The job was remote, and it was for this brand-new startup that had created a software to help community-supported agriculture farms.” 

Miller-Hornick began working for Farmigo, an online farmers’ market platform. Although she initially planned on starting her own business straight out of college, she decided to gain experience in the industry first. 

“Before starting your own business, go learn on somebody else’s dime first, and then take those learnings to start your own business,” Miller-Hornick said.

Miller-Hornick worked for Farmigo for six years. The experience taught her fruitful lessons in entrepreneurship — she learned about business models and software and worked with more than 350 farms nationwide. 

With this knowledge, Miller-Hornick started a test farm with Allan Gandelman, whom she met through the six-month sustainable agriculture program at the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming in Ithaca. Miller-Hornick and Gandelman co-founded the Farmer Group, a licensed New York cannabis cultivator, in 2017, along with multiple brands — including Head and Heal, Florist Farms, Blotter and Tune Seltzers

When she first started her business, hemp and CBD were not on Miller-Hornick’s radar. Her and Gandelman’s initial goal with the test farm was to double the size of their Community Supported Agriculture, which delivers locally-grown farm products on a subscription basis. In their first year, they increased membership from 100 to over 350 members. 

The pair’s business thrived until Gandelman was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2017. 

Though Gandelman visited doctors in attempts to cure his illness, they initially had difficulty determining what was making him sick. Eventually, Gandelman began doing at-home cannabis extractions to make himself medicine.

Around the same time, the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets made the first licenses available for individuals and businesses to grow and process cannabis. The hemp licensing program presented a perfect opportunity for Miller-Hornick and Gandelman. 

The pair started off selling CBD products at the Syracuse farmers market. Over time, their business gained popularity, and Miller-Hornick and Gandelman even had regular customers.

“People [were] coming back and telling us their stories about how well the product works for them and telling all the strangers around them about their experiences,” Miller-Hornick said. 

Miller-Hornick and Gandelman two were invited to present at Rev — an Ithaca-based business incubator that offers companies mentorship, networking and other tools for success. After their presentation, Miller-Hornick and Gandelman were invited to sell their CBD products at Wegmans. 

Reflecting on her Cornell years, Miller-Hornick has seen how her education in hospitality plays an important role in working with a dispensary. Miller-Hornick emphasized customer satisfaction as ensuring each customer feels valued helps businesses build trust with their clientele. 

New York continues to see more cannabis dispensaries pop up across the state — recently, a new dispensary opened in downtown Ithaca.  Miller-Hornick said hospitality continues to be a key factor to the success of these businesses. 

“I think a lot of people forget that in the cannabis world, that level of service is really needed — and even more so needed because it’s a product that’s been stigmatized for so long,” Miller-Hornick said. 

Miller-Hornick also expressed surprise at how her current career path turned out to be so different from her expectations in college.

 “If you had asked me my freshman year if I thought I was going to live in Ithaca, I would’ve been like, ‘no, no way,’” Miller-Hornick said. “If you had asked me my freshman year if I would be the CEO of a cannabis company, [I] wouldn’t have believed you.”

Dunia Matta ’25 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].

Correction, March 30, 10:28 a.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Karli Miller-Hornick owns a dispensary, and that she met her business partner at Cornell. The article has been corrected to reflect the fact that Miller-Hornick is a licensed cultivator and manufacturer of cannabis and met her business partner at the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming.