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Cannabis Equipment News

Author: David Mantey

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Cannabis Equipment News is an interview series with growers, processors, manufacturers, distributors and other professionals who work within the legal cannabis industry. We provide answers to the challenges cannabis professionals face every day and discuss the industry as it continues to develop.
24 Episodes
This week, Jim Higdon discusses his evolution from journalist and author to co-founder and chief communications officer of Cornbread Hemp, a company dedicated to manufacturing USDA organic-certified, whole-flower CBD products.
This week, Rob Sechrist, president of the Pelorus Equity Group, discusses his role leading one of the cannabis industry's largest commercial real estate lenders. Sechrist has focused on the cannabis industry for more than four years, but the company has been in business for more than two decades. Since 1991, Pelorus has participated in more than $1 billion of commercial real estate investment business across 5,000 transactions.The company is an asset-based lender that focuses on value-add transactions, which means a portion of each loan is held back to be used for property improvements. Sechrist says that getting a cannabis business off the ground doesn't stop with buying a cannabis-use property, but rather the tenant improvements to the building to configure it for cannabis use and the equipment. Until Pelorus came along, industry lenders were solely focused on acquisition or refinance lending. As a result, lenders weren't concerned with how they would get paid back -- or stabilizing the business for cash flow -- even though tenant improvements and equipment are typically more costly than the property value.Sechrist sees cannabis real estate as a tremendous opportunity, with cannabis properties generating 10x to 15x more than non-cannabis tenants. Pelorus limits its scope to experienced operators and performs a feasibility review of every element of a project before they ever get off the ground -- they want to make sure the tenant will be able to make the payments. There are very few value-add lenders that are solely dedicated to cannabis. Federal law prevents most traditional lenders from financing these projects. Even when financing is obtained, it's a complex process with multiple stages that can take several months to complete. These financing delays are widespread and often cost businesses millions.  Since joining the industry, Sechrist has noticed that the cannabis borrowing community is different than any he has experienced. However, because every cannabis operator has fought through similar struggles, competitors have a sense of community resulting from surviving through similar issues that have created mutual respect. Pelorus prides itself on being faster than institutional lenders. The team uses its extensive experience to understand an opportunity rapidly, structure a logical solution and execute a timely close (approved construction draws in 1-3 days). 
This week, Colin Ferrian, co-founder and analyst at MJResearchCo, discusses why, as an investment analyst, he is working to generate more empathy for the cannabis industry. Empathy in the cannabis industry is rare, especially among the investment community. According to Ferrian, the industry has two types of people: those with money — investment capital — and those with experience. Ferrian works as a hybrid that can steer capital investment in the right direction while understanding of how systems and other capital projects should be run in the cannabis industry. With a background that includes work as both an investment analyst and in cannabis operations roles, Ferrian is uniquely suited to help investors predict the sustainability of larger companies and gain a better understanding of what's under than hood, rather than just gleaming information off filings and press releases.Ferrian founded MJResearchCO to provide institutional analysis for cap allocators in the investment industry. Typically, these are smaller, family offices and institutional funds that want to put money to work in the cannabis industry.Ferrian was drawn to the industry because he saw it as the secular growth industry for his generation. Secular growth happens when something fundamentally changes within an industry to create a wave of new demand. Ferrian says cannabis is a "generational opportunity" with demand proven by the illicit market for centuries. Last year's market conditions also proved that cannabis is recession-resistant.Ferrian founded MJResearchCo about seven months ago, and he offers deep quantatative research paired with detailed operational evaluation for those looking to invest millions of dollars in the industry. To paint a full picture of operators in hyper-growth mode, he looks at everything from unit economics to turnover and organizational structure.Cannabis investment remains a relatively small market with a need for deeper research into the industry. However, the market will grow with the de-scheduling of cannabis.Cannabis businesses require an extensive amount of capital. Since there are less institutional folks in the industry, it makes it difficult to find the right dance partner — investor — with similar goals. Ferrian hopes to accomplish just that.
This week, Zach Pitts, CEO and founding partner of Ganja Goddess, discusses graduating during a recession and stumbling into a cannabis career that has now spanned more than 13 years.When Pitts graduated from college, he pursued a career in urban planning, but he failed to find regular work. In 2007, developers weren’t hiring and he was at a loss. Around the same time, Tara Wells, Ganja Goddess’ co-founder, was cultivating and manufacturing edibles for the legal medical market — traditional products like brownies and gingerbread. She needed help getting the startup off the ground, and Pitts came onboard as a way to make some money and survive.But the partnership outgrew his temp job and slowly built a career. In 2011, Pitts and Wells started a California-based delivery business in an effort to make their products available to more patients. The decision to create a delivery startup was driven by two factors:Consumer demand from areas that didn't have access to dispensaries. Creating a safer, more comfortable experience for customers, particularly women. At the time, Wells found medical dispensaries to be unappealing. They were dimly lit, shabby buildings with bars on the windows and security guards at the door, and they were typically staffed by young men. The experience made her uncomfortable — like a criminal. She wanted to create an experience that spoke to her and why she used cannabis. Pitts and Wells carefully crafted Goddess Delivers as a delivery business and website that was more open, accepting and feminine. They wanted to serve the non-traditional cannabis user in pop culture.Soon after the delivery business launched, the Ganja Goddess edibles brand was unified with Goddess Delivers under a single brand. The delivery service took off and the edible business took a back seat. The duo eventually put the edibles division on hiatus to concentrate on delivery, but they continue to maintain the proper licenses and plan to resume manufacturing as soon as possible. Although confusing and turbulent at first, the COVID-19 pandemic caused enormous growth for the company. At the beginning of 2020, the company was on pace for 30% growth. As the pandemic closed storefronts, demand for delivery exploded, and Ganja Goddess experienced more than 100% growth. The surge caused a few logistical headaches and growing pains, but Pitts and Wells were able to navigate the increase while planning for the future. Pitts is currently working on raising investment capital and hopes to land $5 million to expand the company’s manufacturing capabilities and restart the edibles brand. The fundraising effort is a new one for Pitts, but he welcomes the challenge. The company is also interested in expanding the business model — not just in California, where it covers more than 94% of the population, but in New York and Virginia as those states join the recreational market.Pitts and Wells emulated e-commerce strategies to make a website that is easy for consumers to navigate and create hubs that enable next-day delivery anywhere in the state.Before the pandemic, many companies — not just in cannabis — were already being pushed into delivery by the Amazon phenomenon, but the pandemic permanently changed the mindset of the consumer.Ganja Goddess is designed to appeal to people 35 and older, and about 45% of its customers are women. Pitts hopes to further expand the market, taking the cannabis-curious and turning them into cannabis loyalists. Some 94% of Ganja Goddess sales are from existing customers; 75% are from customers that have been with the company for six months or longer. Ganja Goddess was uniquely positioned when the pandemic hit. While it was tough in the beginning, the company's forward thinking helped adapt to rigorous new safety protocols and set it up for a successful year.
This week, Jill Ellsworth, founder and CEO of Willow Industries, talks about her transformation from running a successful cold-pressed juice company to creating startup Willow Industries, a manufacturer and service provider dedicated to cannabis decontamination.Ellsworth is a registered dietician with a Master’s degree in food science nutrition. About seven years ago, she started a cold press juice company in Santa Barbara, California, with another location in Denver. She pivoted the company to a beverage distributor based in Denver, which she eventually sold. An entrepreneur, Ellsworth was looking for her next move. At the same time, cannabis had become legal in Colorado and she found that many of the food safety regulations that shaped her previous venture didn't exist in the nascent industry. While cultivators were required to test batches of flower for potential contaminants, they lacked the resources to remedy any potential problems. Ellsworth saw a need and decided the time was right to found Willow Industries and develop a system for cultivators faced with contamination. The move was also a consumer safety play. In food, the technology is called the kill step, and it’s typically the final stage in the food manufacturing process — during which potentially deadly pathogens are removed from a product before it reaches a customer. She wanted to create a kill step for cannabis. Testing requirements have become more robust in the past five years, yet they remain very siloed and state-specific. The kill step remains optional, but Ellsworth says cultivators should expect it to become required with federal legalization. The team at Willow created a system that uses ozone to safely clean cannabis flower and trim without sacrificing quality, flavor or effect. The technology was designed specifically for cannabis. Ellsworth could have adopted technology from other industries and tried to make it work for cannabis, but she wanted to make a system that was appropriate and applicable for cannabis. The result is an organic, gentle solution that doesn't alter terpenes, cannabinoids or structure, and extends product shelf-life.Ellsworth sees her product as an insurance policy that protects companies against product recalls. Recalls can be a brand-killer, and Willow offers companies the ability to market “clean cannabis,” not unlike the USDA organic and Non-GMO verified labels found in the food and beverage industry.The WillowPure system is a plug-and-play machine that cultivators can rent or lease; the company also provides onsite processing as a service. Ellsworth prefers a leasing model to traditional sales. As they continue to innovate at Willow, leases make it easier for customers to upgrade to keep pace with the industry. The system processes 10 to 15 pounds per run, on average, but the amount of product and treatment time depends upon the type of product and amount of contamination. For companies using WillowPure as a kill step, treatment times range from one to four hours. Serious contamination cases can take up to eight hours to process. According to Ellsworth, the ROI turns from service to leasing at about 10,000 square feet of cultivation. At such volumes (and higher), a long-term lease agreement is ideal, but it depends on the market. For example, Oklahoma has many licensees with small batches and plant counts, so Willow’s services business does well in the state. In Michigan, Massachusetts and Florida, it makes more sense for huge cultivations to bring a WillowPure system in-house. 
This week, Andrew Lange, president of Ascendant Management, discusses his work designing more than 1.5 million square feet of indoor cannabis facilities across more than 56 projects. When he started out, he primarily saw smaller projects of less than 20,000 square feet, but as the ‌industry has evolved, he now rarely works on anything less than 50,000 square feet.Lange started off in Washington state building fully automated aquariums that ranged from $30,000 to $80,000 installations. He made some connections with people who had medical licenses and helped install aeroponic/hydroponic setups. He found similarities between the cannabis market and high-end aquariums, including controls and LED lighting integration. However, the cannabis operators were often paying a lot of money for under-performing equipment. In 2010, he founded Ascendant Management in Olympia, Washington, and it has grown into a boutique — but highly sought-after — firm with eight employees.Over the past five years, Lange has noticed an uptick in the amount of equipment designed and manufactured specifically for the commercial cannabis industry. A few years ago, manufacturers were still manufacturing equipment to run on 120-V or 240-V, because that's typically what you had to work with in home grows. Only recently have OEMs started designing for industrial facilities.  Lange embraces new technology, and he is selective when it comes to new clients. He strives to increase efficiency and decrease labor costs using automation, but until recently, startups didn't want to do anything new. He’s transitioned away from $400,000 facilities operating on a shoestring budget and now works with sophisticated investors who are open to using new tech in $20 million facilities. In 2015, Lange started working with Onyx Agronomics. Onyx set up shop in an old warehouse that was in rough shape. Lange wanted to work with Onyx because the company wanted to build an extremely efficient, aeroponically operated facility that was LED lit and 60% more energy efficient than its nearest competitors. Now, the company provides 10,000 to 12,000 pounds of the most consistent, cleanest and “greenest” Cannabis in the state of Washington every year -- and the company is currently working on a new expansion. As the industry emerges from the pandemic, supply chain issues persist. Costs are high, lead times are long (if materials are available at all) and timelines are getting pushed out, sometimes due to availability of basic materials, like piping. Lange used to tell people to take their time buying equipment, but now he’s telling clients to order anything, particularly anything metal, as soon as possible. Ascendant Management offers design and engineering services as well as general contracting. Lange says he is driven to show companies how to “do it right” for cannabis. The Cannabis Equipment News Podcast is an interview series with growers, processors, manufacturers, distributors and other professionals who work within the legal cannabis industry.Please make sure to like, subscribe and share the podcast. You could also help us out a lot by giving the podcast a positive review on Apple podcast or whatever platform you use. Finally, to email the podcast or suggest a potential guest, you can reach David Mantey at David with “Email the Podcast” in the subject line.
This week, Jesse Elkins, founder of Grow Industries, discusses how he became one of the most sought-after designers of cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facilities.Much of Elkins' story is being at the right place at the right time. When he graduated high school in Washington State, he enrolled in refrigeration school to become an HVAC professional. At the same time, the state legalized medical-use cannabis. A few of his friends started small home grows, and he helped them off with HVAC as side jobs. However, he soon began receiving referrals, and the side job snowballed into a business. In 2007, he founded ClimaGrow, a company that specialized solely on climate control for indoor cannabis gardens. By 2015, the company grew to more than 20 employees. In 2014, when the recreational cannabis market was legalized, Elkins was perfectly positioned as the only expert in the market. He landed every job, and his business transformed from a basement grow specialist to managing industrial grows.In 2016, Elkins founded Grow Industries. While ClimaGrow focused on climate control, Elkins wanted to design and build the entire cultivation factory. He landed some of the biggest names in the state and went on to create some of the most envied facilities in the state, including operations at Wonderbrett and Bountiful Farms.After 20 years in the business, Elkins has seen many changes as the industry has evolved and fine-tuned his approach to facility design. Elkins wants to be the Henry Ford of the cannabis industry. While Ford didn't invent the car, he essentially created modern manufacturing and put out a better product faster, using automation. Four years ago, nearly half of his business was retrofitting new buildings designed and built incorrectly. The jobs included complete tear-outs at dozens of facilities, mounting up to much wasted time and money because fledgling companies hired mechanical engineers without industry experience. The other half of Elkins' business was retrofitting old buildings to suit cannabis operations. With old buildings come a legacy of problems. Elkins recalls one client who purchased an old shop from around the 1930s. His calculations were correct, and the dehumidification set, but during the last few weeks of flower, the facility experienced huge humidity spikes, and Elkins was flummoxed. He discovered that the slab under the building was only two inches thick. Side note: The slab should be six inches thick, at minimum four inches. As a result of the shotty slab, the facility pulled groundwater through the concrete and ruining the grow. Elkins says that it is always better to build a facility from the ground up, but he understands that sometimes you have to make an old building work. For any retrofit, he advises ripping the building down to the studs, sealing the concrete floor and sanitizing the entire facility -- it's impossible to know the contaminants, insects and mold that remain from the previous owner. While Elkins started in Washington, he now lives in Arizona. He has built facilities from Washington to Boston and around the country, including 18 months in California. Last week, Grow Industries was acquired by GCorp, a small management and consulting services company owned by the Gilder family in New York. Elkins says the acquisition will help him grow the business by taking day-to-day business operations off of his plate. He also plans to work on cannabis-industry-specific new product development.
This week, Bryan Wilson, co-founder and president of Environmental Living Industries (E.L.I.), discusses his journey from an overseas government contractor to the driving force behind an industrial hemp fiber processing startup. Wilson's wife, Candice, was a pediatric emergency nurse. A few years after the couple was married, Candice became incredibly ill, suffering from several autoimmune disorders. At the time, Wilson was working as a paramedic and a firefighter.The couple consulted more than 30 physicians, but none could provide a diagnosis for his wife's condition. During this time, Candice became pregnant and had a full-term pregnancy; tragically, their son Eli was stillborn.After nearly eight years, the couple finally found a doctor who tested Candice for a mold infection, and the family finally had some answers. The Wilsons had toxic mold in their house, which created her health problems and contributed to the tragic loss of their son.When his wife received the diagnosis, Wilson was contracting overseas, but he decided that it was time to come home and find work stateside. He wanted to be closer to his wife and make wholesale life changes.The toxic mold had permeated everything. The Wilsons had to sell their house, clothing and furniture, and started again from square one.The couple moved into a modest home, and Wilson sought new business opportunities — particularly in something sustainable. As part of his wife's treatment, she switched to a diet of healthier, clean food. It was helping her heal, and Bryan started to pursue a farm-to-table food business when he stumbled upon the hemp industry.Initially, he considered CBD processing, but the industry was overwhelmed with new CBD manufacturing startups. While he was pursuing the CBD business, he found that many in the industry boasted of the wide-ranging uses for hemp, including sustainable building materials and bioplastics. Although the industry praised the plant for its versatility, he found few companies were processing industrial hemp fiber, the raw material required to manufacture those products.He also discovered hempcrete, a building material that is mold-free, fireproof, pest-resistant and vapor permeable. At first, he wanted to manufacture hempcrete, which he saw as a potential cure for sick building syndrome (SBS), but he ran into a massive bottleneck in hemp fiber.SBS stems from poor indoor air quality and is caused by mold, fungus, pesticides, formaldehyde and other compounds found in construction materials or cleaning supplies. It causes a host of ailments and illnesses, and is found in some 30% of new and remodeled buildings. Wilson hooked up with Jeremy Luciano, CEO of GHS Industries, a company that manufactures and sells industrial hemp processing equipment. Luciano told Wilson about a new piece of equipment that processes 10 tons of material per hour; it's well-engineered, highly automated and a cornerstone of E.L.I.'s business plan. Wilson is now working with financial management firm QuantumCFO to help raise capital, and he has aggressive first-year expectations.E.L.I. will be headquartered in Austin, Texas, and Wilson is scouting a few different locations for his first facility.Fiber is in the immediate future, but Wilson doesn't rule out expanding into manufacturing of hemp-derived building materials or bioplastics. Either way, he hopes to provide the highest quality fiber and material from the "most versatile crop on the planet."As Candice healed, the Wilson family has continued to grow, and the couple now has a daughter, Ellie, and a son, Jack.
This week, John Davis, CTO of Entexs, discusses his move from the oil and gas industry to the helm of an engineering and fabrication company focused on end-to-end extraction systems. Entexs (pronounced "en-techs") was founded with the sole purpose of providing custom engineered extraction solutions for the cannabis industry. The company assembled a team of machinists, fabricators and engineers with decades of experience building breweries and food manufacturing plants — who were well-versed in sanitary processing equipment.The company set up shop in Diamond Springs, California, outside of Sacramento, to focus on cold ethanol extraction. Davis works with ethanol not just because of his past experience, but, he says, because it's easier to scale on a system level.The team started providing systems to companies processing 500 to 1,000 pounds of biomass per day. According to Davis, the industry was piecemeal-ing the various parts of the extraction process to make a system. Entexs sought to make one system, with each disparate subsystem integrated into one, removing inefficiencies, human error and other bottlenecks in the process. At the same time, they noticed the opportunity in the emerging hemp industry, where companies were trying to process millions of pounds of biomass to make CBD products. The result is two different product lines: a smaller system for the cannabis industry, and a much larger one to meet hemp industry needs. Each removes manual processes with automation that yields repeatable, high-quality end products. Davis and his team wanted to design extraction systems that were more realistic from a processing perspective. While many competitors make valid claims about throughput, when you factor in process bottlenecks, it's tough to achieve the published numbers. With his oil and gas background, Davis had about a decade of experience designing and building systems that moved fluids, petroleum and other hard-to-move vaporizing fluids, such as carbon dioxide and propane. He found that the extraction industry was “just moving fluids."Entexs products are designed and manufactured in-house from raw material. The team of about 12 employees works together very closely from concept to development and production to delivery. The company runs lean, but manages to deliver equipment tuned to meet each extraction processor's needs. It’s a welcome change for customers who are trying to make things work with systems that don't always work well together. Entexs products include an easy-to-use interface that runs routines in the background using automation and controls that the company developed in-house. The idea was to make sure clients could get everything going by hitting a couple of buttons, loading the machine with raw material, and unloading the final product. According to Davis, it’s not only easier, but requires fewer labor resources. Although the company’s roots are in cannabis, most of its business is in hemp. Last week, the company launched a new THC remediation system, the RMD-T Series, which has been under development for years. THC remediation is a common pain point for hemp-derived extract and product manufacturers. Basically, the CBD extract comes out “hot,” since it has concentrated THC. The new remediation system removes THC from hot CBD. And as more states join the ranks of those with legal cannabis, Entexs is preparing for expansion in both industries. The company will soon move into a new, larger facility about five miles down the road from its current location. With legalization comes more regulation, as well as a greater focus on quality, documentation, and creating a high-quality end product with full traceability — which Entexs has worked tirelessly to provide.
This week, Jeremy Luciano, founder and CEO of GHS Industries — formerly Global Hemp Solutions — tells the incredible story of his journey to the cannabis industry. GHS conceptualizes, designs, builds and installs everything from buckers and drying systems to harvesters and extraction systems. Although the company works in the hemp sector, it is a food-grade manufacturer that also serves other industries. Luciano founded the company about 2.5 years ago, including a manufacturing facility in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, east of Louisville. He likes to analyze situations, see a problem, and try to solve that problem. Luciano is a veteran who was injured while on active duty. He is a Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) graduate, a training program that military personnel go through to make sure they can protect information abroad. During the training, Luciano suffered a spinal injury that caused lifelong damage to his back. After the service, he entered the medical field and spent 10 years as an orthopedic trauma surgical assistant. Eventually, his injury caused him to lose feeling in his appendages and bladder control. He soon became addicted to pharmaceuticals and entered a dark phase of his life that led to a suicide attempt. He put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, but he believes divine intervention saved his life that day. Luciano, an avid shooter and military-trained marksman, says his firearm had never malfunctioned except for that day in that specific moment. He found no mechanical explanation for the malfunction. He says he has lived a devout life ever since. Luciano started using cannabis regularly when he was around 14 years old. He says it helped him control his overactive mind; about a year ago, he was diagnosed with a high-functioning form of autism. As he looks back on his time as an adolescent, he says that he wasn't a "stoner," but that cannabis helped him focus. Through some trial-and-error as an adult, he figured out how to make cannabis work for him, and he began reaching out to other troubled veterans who could use some help.Luciano was introduced to cannabis cultivation about 10 years ago in Washington State in an effort to grow his own medication. Eventually, he began growing for other patients, and he soon spearheaded large, licensed grows of medical marijuana for local dispensaries.  Unfortunately, his injury complications persisted, and the labor-intensive nature of cultivation can be incredibly taxing on the body — so he switched to manufacturing equipment instead. Luciano first ventured into industrial hemp because he was drawn to the plant's sustainability. He says the industry has too much fear: farmers are scared of losing everything, and lies and misinformation can be found throughout the sector. He describes numerous run-ins during his time in the industry, including bad actors trying to make a quick buck by selling prototypes/early generation equipment as market-ready — and marking them at a premium to prey on farmers entering into unfamiliar territory. About a year ago, Luciano was also challenged by a retail company with a similar name: Global Hemp. He is currently negotiating with the company, but it's also resulted in a recent name change. Luciano says the experience is a warning of things to come as larger corporations get into the industry; mom-and-pop shops could find themselves in contentious situations with companies possessing larger war chests. The pandemic has been a challenge for Luciano, mostly because he's not the type of CEO who likes to sit behind a desk — he wants to be out in the field. His outspoken belief also presented some issues.His spirituality even influenced the new name, he says: GHS doesn't just stand for Global Hemp Solutions, but also God Hates Sin.
This week, Ash Ganley, CEO of GrowRay Technologies, discusses his collaborative manufacturing R&D effort to create patented LED lighting solutions for cannabis cultivation.Ganley is the former CTO of NOBO, a small, vertically integrated multi-state operator based in Boulder, Colorado. During his time at the cultivator, he observed the fractured, isolated nature of cannabis cultivation product development, particularly in lighting, and figured that he could find a better way of doing business. Cannabis lighting lacked research and development (R&D) and efficiency, mostly because non-cannabis technology vendors were marketing to a space coming out of a pre-legal growing culture. Essentially, operators didn’t know what they didn’t know, and lighting manufacturers took advantage of the situation. It created a lack of trust and transparency that caused a lot of waste in the industry. Early generation LEDs didn't work because they were essentially rebranded warehouse and commercial lighting fixtures. Called "shoebox fixtures" they offered a bad form factor and a non-uniform cone of light. Early LEDs generated a flashlight effect -- too much light directly underneath, and not enough on the edge, which led to conical grows. The fixtures were also being cooled by off-the-shelf computer fans, which caused them to fail thermally. While LED technology was a hard sell two years ago, times have changed and the technology is being embraced by cultivators to increase efficiency, productivity and sustainability. Cultivators are more willing to embrace LED as well as the associated standard operating procedures (SOPs) to get results equal to or better than legacy products, with the added energy savings. GrowRay recently received a new patent for its Triangular Extrusion Shade Bar. Specifically designed for greenhouse cannabis cultivation, the shade bar delivers a uniform footprint of light. It’s addressed traditional problems with shading profiles by using a highly polished angled aluminum surface to reflect light from the sun. Other manufacturers have attempted to fix the shading problem by shrinking fixtures, but that has only sacrificed light uniformity.The shade bar has been under development for a couple of years, but came about as a common sense answer to a common problem: a simple sun reflector concept that they proved through R&D at their assembly shop in Colorado.However, product manufacturing is costly and GrowRay is launching a highly engineered product as cannabis light fixture costs are racing to the bottom with companies flooding the market with poorly designed products. To remain competitive, Ganley had kept the company lean, adding strategic partnerships, and taking a grassroots style of marketing. For example, GrowRay works as a partnership with NOBO.Ganley has recently set his sights on taking a more holistic, systems approach to cultivation. Soon, GrowRay will not just be a lighting technology, but an end-to-end technology solutions provider. The company recently ran a program to look for ag-tech startups via mentorships and proof of concept tests. The result uncovered a few candidates GrowRay hopes to pull into its portfolio, be it with full or partial ownership or strategic partnerships. Still, Ganley looks to the future of cultivation, and believes that the next generation of cannabis cultivation technology is actionable data.
This week, Ben and Vinnie Celani, co-founders of High Life Farms, discuss their operations in California and Michigan — and continued expansion.The brothers take a divide-and-conquer approach to operations, with Vinnie overseeing sales and marketing and Ben leading the cultivation side of the multi-state operator (MSO).High Life primarily conducts cultivation, manufacturing and distribution in California, while its Michigan operations are more vertically integrated.Upon founding the business, High Life grew rapidly. In Michigan, the company grows flower and produces edibles, working closely with partners at Wana and Kiva on product development. The company currently has 150 employees and plans to add more than 50 more jobs by the end of 2021.In California, cultivation is the focus, with another 75 employees working toward the company’s white-labeling and contract manufacturing efforts.According to Ben, most of the equipment in Michigan and California is the same, with a few differences as a result of climate variations: the weather in Chesaning, Michigan, is a bit different than in Desert Hot Springs, California.Vinnie admits that High Life tried to expand too quickly. The company previously had operations in Colorado, but they decided to leave the already established market for better opportunities in California and Michigan. While they were selling in Colorado, they were ramping up in California and Michigan, and Ben admits that they bit off more than they could chew. However, the growing pains helped the brothers become more methodical, building the business piece-by-piece.Many of the early challenges were solved by trial and error, and many late nights fixing problems with HVAC systems and irrigation. Cannabis leaves very little room for error. High Life remains privately held and self-funded. Although making things work is more difficult on their own dime, it allowed the brothers to stay nimble and make quick, strategic decisions. Ben describes the Michigan side of the business as “medium” vertically integrated as a result of a 50/50 partnership with Joyology dispensaries. High Life has big plans for the Michigan market, including 30 new dispensaries by the end of this year and 60 within the next 24 months. The big opportunity in Michigan is edibles. The company saw seasonal trends with the flower market that haven’t translated to edibles. High Life is currently producing 80,000 gummie 10-packs every day, all hand-mixed and handmade over two shifts. The company is also cultivating about 50-55 pounds per square foot over 250,000 sq-ft of grow space, hand trimming about 80% of the crop. So far, the record harvest has been about 290 pounds, but new greenhouses coming online in Michigan (with the first harvest scheduled for April) will reach 450 to 500 pounds per harvest, with 15 harvests expected per year. The market opportunity will only continue to expand, particularly with the onset of federal legalization. Vinnie optimistically predicts legalization at the federal level within the next 24 months, although he admits that it faces many hurdles.The company will also continue to expand white-labeling efforts and strategic partnerships in California. For Vinnie, it’s a point of pride to be able to walk into a dispensary and see High Life’s flower sold under five to 10 different brands. As for the future, Ben argues that "Big Cannabis" is coming, and large operators like High Life are necessary to keep quality cannabis in the game — and make sure that consumers receive a quality product.The Cannabis Equipment News Podcast is an interview series with growers, processors, manufacturers, distributors and other professionals who work within the legal
This week, Josh Malman, vice president of cultivation at Jushi Holdings, discusses how he fell into cannabis.As a student, Malman studied international horticulture, and even spent a semester abroad building systems to provide cheap water to local farms in Africa. His focus on greenhouse production horticulture eventually led him to a position with The Clinic in Colorado as it was starting up in 2009. When he first started with The Clinic, his first harvest was around 50 pounds. Over the course of 10 years, he helped grow the business into three cultivation facilities and six retail stores in Colorado. In 2019, Jushi Holdings bought the consulting arm of The Clinic, and Malman’s expertise was an important part of the purchase. Two years ago, Jushi didn't have much of a cultivation footprint, but through acquisition, it now operates facilities in Nevada, Virginia and Pennsylvania — and each is undergoing expansion projects in 2021. Malman stresses that while cannabis is a weed and grows very easily, it's not a very hearty plant and is susceptible to many problems. He says, “you need eyes on the crop and eyes on the facility at all times,” which can prove difficult when overseeing cultivation operations in three different states. The expansion projects also present a challenging puzzle as Malman works with construction firms to add space without disrupting current operations. It’s also difficult to try and recreate a facility, state-to-state, without the ability to move any product across state lines. His role keeps him on the road frequently despite the pandemic. The past two years included many planes, site visits and manager hires, along wit implementing cloud-based data collection systems and cameras at each facility. The only downside is that a camera doesn’t really allow him to monitor the plant's true health. He can see if the lights are on, but it’s tough to tell if drippers are down or if there are any signs of wilt or pest infestations. Currently, Malman's cultivation operations are exclusively indoors. He recently made the decision to make a wholesale change to go vertical, with double- and triple-tiered cultivation. Despite his efforts, he insists that the future of sustainable cultivation is greenhouses and outdoor farms. The move to go vertical wasn’t without its challenge; it was difficult to get the correct environmental conditions, particularly air movement across the canopy at each level. Now, Jushi is harvesting weekly in Pennsylvania and Virginia, and monthly in Nevada. With an average of 60-65 grams per square foot, harvests have ranged from 200 pounds at the smaller facilities to up to 1,000 pounds.The company has grown significantly in the last two years, with much more in store for 2021. According to Malman, the cultivation staff is around 50 right now, but could grow to 200 by the end of the year.The Cannabis Equipment News Podcast is an interview series with growers, processors, manufacturers, distributors and other professionals who work within the legal cannabis industry.
This week, Donna Wamsley, Director of Research and Analytics at SōRSE Technology, discusses her role at one of the leading emulsion technologists in the industry, as well as the many difficulties in working with cannabinoids in the food and beverage industry.Cannabinoids (like THC and CBD) offer a sensory experience that can vary. Dosage control is difficult to make reliable and repeatable, as well as onset and duration, which presents challenges for edible and infused-beverage manufacturing and labeling.Wamsly brings an interesting perspective to the industry as she is close to becoming a certified flavorist -- there are only 200 certified flavorists in the world.SōRSE’s technology allows products to be produced for a better, more consistent experience. It is a water-soluble formula that limits sensory properties like taste, odor, and texture, which is a major step up from the oily brown emulsions familiar in the industry.The Cannabis Equipment News Podcast is an interview series with growers, processors, manufacturers, distributors and other professionals who work within the legal cannabis industry.
This week, Dr. David Cunic, CEO and founder of UCS Advisors, discusses his life as a medical professional and serial entrepreneur. In the industry, he's known as "Dr. David," and he's been a cannabis advocate since 2009 — "before it was cool to be in cannabis."As a doctor of physical therapy and pain management, he is an advocate for the benefits of medical marijuana. As an entrepreneur, he has started seven cannabis businesses in five different states; overall, he's founded 13 companies in the last 18 years.He says he decided to enter the cannabis industry due to the misinformation surrounding cannabis as a treatment. He believes that physicians are ethically bound to show patients every possible treatment — and, until recently, most doctors were not only prohibited by states from prescribing cannabis as a medicine, but they were shunned by their medical colleagues. It wasn't until the last two to three years that the medical industry became more receptive to the benefits of medicinal use, particularly when compared to opiates for pain management.Dr. David also believes that all 50 states should legalize medical marijuana before recreational use is approved. He insists that if our culture is to truly view cannabis as a medicine, we need to focus on the that side first. At UCS, Dr. David focuses on investment in the cannabis industry. For companies that are just starting out, his company helps secure capital investment and trains new business owners on everything from how to create a pitch deck to how to approach investors. He says many startup founders don't know how to talk to an investor. An estimated 65% of business owners in cannabis and CBD are first-time business owners, and they have no idea where to start — not only when it comes to raising money, but how to run the business from an operational standpoint. Dr. David teaches strategy and helps map out a business plan.Although business owners don't know how to start, even fewer have an exit strategy, he says. Many harbor vague ambitions of acquisition, but less than 13% of cannabis companies get acquired — and Dr. David says it will become even less common after federal legalization. The other side of UCS's businesses helps individuals invest in the cannabis industry. He says the average person is "screwed by the system when it comes to investing." It's not just a cash problem, although most people don't have $150,000 sitting around to invest. Some people, due to on their profession or a criminal record, are restricted from investing in cannabis companies. He helps them get into the industry by providing return-on-investment expectations up front, with a relatively low bar to enter — many clients start with a $5,000 investment with a 30% return in 15 months or less. If anything, investment provides an easy way to learn about the cannabis industry. Dr. David has been in the healing business his entire career, and his advocacy for medical marijuana has played an important role in educating a misinformed public.
This week, Bella McCreary, president and CEO of High Maintenance Trim Co. talks about her transition from the banking industry to leading a company that provides onsite harvesting, bucking, trimming and packaging services.McCreary has several years experience working with cultivators of all sizes. She's overseen trimming operations for harvests as small as 12 pounds as well as clients with rolling 500-pound harvests. Cultivators often have difficulties staffing trim teams. While some operators are harvesting every week, some operations only need help every eight to 12 weeks, which is typically when they call in Bella. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, trimming has only become more difficult, mostly as a result of social distancing restrictions. In an effort to keep both her client's staff and her own employees safe, McCreary has had to cut down the size of each team sent to cultivation sites. For example, to harvest 500 pounds, she would typically send a team of 18 to 20 people. Now, she can only send ten. McCreary sees her business as a service for cultivators that have had problems staffing the positions in the past. Traditionally, the part-time/seasonal work lacks a decent wage, which also results in dips in both professionalism and product quality. McCreary has not only served as a bridge for staffing, but when a client has found a good trimmer and doesn't want to lose the employee, High Maintenance Trim will offer the worker a job in the interim. Unlike a staffing agency, McCreary's workers are full-time employees with perks that include productivity bonuses. McCreary sees her staff not just as trimmers, but as trichome preservers. While some clients have semi-automated harvesting and bucking, many still ask for 100 percent hand trimming. There are many differences between a machine-trimmed and hand-trimmed bud and though machines pump out a lot of product, McCreary says that quality is sacrificed. High Maintenance has stayed busy throughout the pandemic and has even had to turn down work, particularly at facilities under construction or those that don't provide a safe working environment. She often finds herself dealing with quality issues as well. A little bit of mold or a bug here and there isn't necessarily a bad thing, but her teams have run into moldy products. She’s had to leave jobs in the past because they were not only a risk to her staff, but she's had to tell some clients that they shouldn't even sell the product. Currently, High Maintenance only trims in California, but McCreary has consulted in other territories and is looking to expand her business model into other states. She thanks that one day her trichome preservers could become a franchise, like the Molly Maids of Weed.
Hosted by David Mantey.This week, Mike McDonald, president of Ammonite, discusses his fascinating path to the cannabis industry following careers in cycling and outdoor adventuring, as well as stint in Taiwan, where he moved after college just to learn Mandarin.Ammonite was spun out of Jetty Extracts, one of the largest concentrates and vapes companies in California. Jetty’s product development department had created a new device they called the “Dablicator,” an oil application product designed to replace syringes and other messier, unreliable alternatives on the market. While it was conceived as an in-house product offering, Jetty received interest from Surterra Wellness. The large multi-state operator (MSO) wanted to white label the Dablicator, and the initial order called for more units than Jetty have ever sold. As a result, McDonald established Ammonite to focus on Jetty’s hardware and intellectual property inside the cannabis and CBD markets. The Dablicator was initially invented for a specific cancer patient who was unable to smoke or consume edibles for treatment. While its roots are in the medical side, it is an emerging category in the adult-use/recreational space. McDonald says that the oil application category is still developing, and its trajectory could lead to disruption similar to the emergence of vapes in the industry. Instead of simply white labeling the Dablicator, Ammonite offers a turnkey program that provides filling, packaging, manufacturing, assembly and marketing advice as well. The hardware is manufactured at the company's factory in China, and the packaging is made of recycled materials by All Packaging in Colorado.The devices can be filled through various methods: manually with a syringe, semi-automatically with a device such as Fisnar's dispensing equipment, or with automatic cartridge fillers, like those manufactured by Thompson Duke Industrial and ATG. Basically, if you have the equipment to fill a vape cartridge, you can fill a Dablicator, which is enticing to clients who don’t want to invest in new capital equipment to manufacture a new premium product. Typically, the products are filled with cannabis concentrate (RSO) and broad-spectrum CBD. While interest in new markets is difficult because operators usually have trouble keeping any products on the shelves, companies in mature markets are looking for innovation and new products as a differentiator. The company started in August 2020 and has already partnered with established brands, including 710 Labs, Neptune Wellness and Ancient Roots.Right now, McDonald only wants to deal with established brands. The partners don’t have to be big, but he wants to deal with good people with a good reputation who are focused on scaling up the business. He’s not afraid to turn down business. The company is about six months old now and McDonald is predicting hockey stick growth. He also believes that federal legalization is possible within the next eight years, and remains hopeful that other measures, including the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act are passed in the very near future. 
This week, MCR Labs President Michael Kahn and Director of Business Development Jonathan Wani discuss how they protect cannabis consumers and help manufacturers improve — and protect — their businesses.The company started in 2013 when Kahn left his role as a chemist in the pharmaceutical industry to create a public health-centered lab that provides accurate cannabis data.Kahn wanted MCR to be more than a traditional lab, which often operate like a “dark box'' where samples come in and data goes out. For Kahn, it's not simply a transactional relationship with clients; they often help manufacturers contextualize data to gain a better understanding of what is happening in the facility. As the industry continues to evolve and mature, the company's mission of public health has not wavered: create an environment in which fewer contaminants are found in cannabis products. In samples, MCR finds everything from microbiological contaminants — bacteria and mold — to heavy metals and pesticides, as well as residual solvents and concentrates. What's encouraging, however, is that more products are passing through the lab, which saw a more consistent pass rate over the last three to four years. MCR Labs is based in Framingham, Massachusetts, but recently opened its first lab outside of its home state. In January, the company began accepting and testing cannabis product samples for Pennsylvania-based medical marijuana licensees at its Allentown facility. MCR was the first independent cannabis testing lab certified in Massachusetts, and the company says data accuracy and integrity will remain a top priority as it expands into additional markets.
This week, Sannel Patel, the senior vice president of engineering at Ozone Solutions, discusses how his company designs and manufactures custom products that use "lightning in a box" to sanitize cannabis operations.The company started in odor remediation, primarily targeting hog farms — which have a pretty notorious scent. The company has since gone on to create more than 400 ozone generators, monitors and injection systems that eradicate viruses and bacteria while providing odor control, air treatment, surface and piping sanitation, and water purification.Although the technology is popular overseas, primarily in Europe and Asia, it unfamiliar in the U.S. In the cannabis industry, companies use ozone solutions to purify reused water and sanitize the water supply, which prevents bacteria or viruses from reaching the plant. It's the equivalent of feeding the plants high-quality bottled water, and the plants grow faster.Cannabis businesses are also using ozonated gas treatments for odor remediation in grow rooms. It not only treats the smell, but it prevents any molds, viruses or bacteria from growing in the rooms.Some companies also use ozonated chambers to treat buds, which leads to a better quality, cleaner and more pure product. Ozone Solutions manufactures the systems on location, and each one is "tuned" to suit the operation.
This week, Lezli Engelking, founder of the Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards (FOCUS) discusses why she left her successful career running a dispensary to create an organization dedicated to developing cannabis-specific good manufacturing practices. As Bloom Dispensaries went from single-digit employees to a staff in the triple digits, Engelking realized that the Arizona company desperately needed business help. If her vertically-integrated company suffered from turnover, training and operational problems, it was very likely that her industry cohorts were experiencing the same dilemmas. In one example, the air conditioning went out in a grow room, and with no standard operating procedure (SOP) in place, no one was notified and the company lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory. Engelking sold her shares and started a nonprofit health and safety foundation in 2014. FOCUS writes standards and provides third-party certification to those standards, as well as assistance with consulting and applications. She is driven to promote integrity in the cannabis industry. FOCUS standards cover everything in the industry, top to bottom. They build a plan for companies to protect themselves by creating a management system for documentation and processes. The standards identify risks and offer plans to mitigate them, as well as an SOP for when they happen anyway — everything from hiring and training to operations, waste, and health and safety. Engelking says, “people are drinking out of a firehose in the industry, all the time,” moving from one emergency to the next. Beginning in 2014, Engelking took two and a half years and worked with 300 volunteers to identify the shortcomings in quality, safety and consistency to develop the initial standards. Engelking based the FOCUS business model on methadone clinics at the onset of the heroin epidemic in the 1990s. As clinics popped up around the country, they operated under different state, city and county regulations, without any federal oversight or GMP standards to guide the industry. In 1997, the Commission on Accreditation of  Rehabilitation Facilitates (CARF), a not-for-profit organization, emerged to serve all organizations (local, state, and federal) and develop voluntary-consensus standards, training, and a third-party certification program for methadone clinics. Cannabis is in a similar spot, and Engelking hopes that her unified standards will be ready to answer the call if and when federal legalization becomes a reality. 
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