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HVADC CDFI Advisory Group: John Gilstrap

Nov 15, 2022

As the Founder of Awaken.Space and Ravenscourt Partners, among other titles, John Gilstrap has been an ally of HVADC for a decade on a number of projects going back to his time working as an Executive Vice President for the New York State Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

As the Founder of Awaken.Space and Ravenscourt Partners, among other titles, John Gilstrap has been an ally of HVADC for a decade on a number of projects going back to his time working as an Executive Vice President for the New York State Economic Development Corporation (EDC). His work both on the regulatory and commercial sides of the medical and recreational cannabis industry has made him a leading voice in the burgeoning industry. HVADC is pleased to have Gilstrap on board as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Fund Advisory Group member.  

“HVADC is extremely grateful for the years of support and guidance John has given us over the years. His experience in finance, state regulations, commerce, agribusiness has made him an invaluable partner and resource to us all,” said Todd Erling, HVADC Executive Director. “John’s ability to recognize and build on market potential is incredible and is a true asset to the CDFI Advisory Group.” 

The CDFI Fund, a program of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, plays an important role in generating economic growth and opportunity in America’s historically neglected communities. The fund offers tailored resources and innovative programs that invest federal dollars alongside private sector capital which is administered by institutions that take a market-based approach to supporting economically disadvantaged communities. These CDFI certified mission-driven organizations, including HVADC, are able to inject new sources of capital into neighborhoods that lack access to financing and provide Business Technical Assistance to small businesses. The advisory group and its members are tasked with assessing funding applications and seeking potential program recipients.  

Gilstrap grew up in Harlem, where, now, after a long career, he’s based out of again. He attended Dartmouth College. He says he had wanted to study history but figured he needed a business degree. When he started working in banking he found everyone had philosophy and art history degrees. He later attended Columbia Business School but was always influenced by historical context and his roots, even when working on the cutting-edge.  

In 1991 he worked in global marketing for Warner Music, with major artists like Madonna and Seal. At that time he became excited by the possibilities provided by the birth of the Internet. Gilstrap left the music industry, still obsessed with the radio, for the tech space, consulting for the Financial Times, and Wolters Kluwer the Dutch information services company, where he built an online curriculum.  

“I’ve always been drawn to pioneering activities,” Gilstrap says. “I always went into new organizations or new departments.”  

He lived in London for three years as an investment banker, building a telecom’s presence for JP Morgan Chase. After that he came back to New York and worked in real estate until 2013 when he took a job in the Cuomo administration as EDC Executive Vice President of Business Attraction and Expansion. It was in this position that Gilstrap first interacted with HVADC and Erling.  

“That’s when I met Todd,” Gilstrap said. “I credit him for teaching me the agricultural lay of the land.”  

While with the EDC, Gilstrap was again pioneering – working on the state’s plan to legalize hemp production and the medical cannabis industry. Gilstrap traveled the country, researching legalization rollout in other states. He says he learned a lot about what works as well as what mistakes to avoid.  

When he left the EDC he took his knowhow to Claremont New York where he became a founding member of Hudson Hemp, an association of farmers focused on regenerative agriculture and soil science to produce hemp. Shortly after, he founded Ravenscourt Partners, a public strategy consulting firm. Again he traveled the country and the world to study the industry, now from the perspective of an operator, rather than a regulator.   

Not to sit idle, Gilstrap is also a Founding Board Member of Upriver Studios in Saugerties, a production and post production facility; an Executive Board Member of True Green Global, a near-field communication technology firm; an Advisory Board member of the New York State Cannabis Workforce Initiative, a collaboration between the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University and the Workforce Development Institute; and of course Founder of Awaken.Space, a CBD products company.  

This summer, Gilstrap co-hosted The Business of Cannabis Webinar, co-presented by HVADC, Awaken.Space, Seasoned Gives and Women Grow.  The session provided hours of vital content on the operational specifics and economic ecosystem of New York’s recreational cannabis industry.  

“We need to get people into the game,” Gilstrap said. “You have got to get in now so they can rise with the tide. There are going to be a lot of big players but the innovation in this industry is going to come from the small guys.”  

Now, with his robust knowledge of the industry from both the governmental and business sides, Gilstrap consults with New York cannabis startups attempting to get a foot hold in the industry, under his company Ravenscourt Partners.   As a member of the HVADC CDFI advisory group Gilstrap’s experience provides the team with invaluable insight and perspective when evaluating investment opportunities.  

“I like working with HVADC and I also think the function of CDFI is crucial. Access to capital is the bane of everyone’s existence. I wanted to be a part of helping entrepreneurs reach their potential. CDFI is a good tool.”  

Gilstrap says he’s optimistic about the CDFI’s ability to increase equity in diverse communities. “There’s a historic disconnect between the black and brown community and the agricultural community. Hopefully we can start making the reconnection. We are fighting hundreds of years of history it’s not going to change the culture overnight but the change has to occur and I want to help pioneer that change.”  

Additional information about the loans and Business Technical Assistance provided through the HVADC CDFI program may be found at and funding information at

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