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Industry Innovators

Cameron Forni: How to Build a Billion-Dollar Cannabis Empire

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Cameron Forni

Cameron Forni knows a thing or two about building a billion dollar cannabis company. The CEO of Cura and founder of Select Oil has always been an innovative thinker. In 2015, he identified and developed the need for an organic cotton wick vape pen, providing a healthier consumption method. From there, he set his mission to be the leading provider of cannabis oil to both consumers and premium brands in legal markets, both in the U.S. and internationally.

We spoke to Forni about his entrepreneurial journey, Cura’s record-breaking success in the cannabis industry, and his predictions for the future of cannabis.

Cannabis Aficionado: Tell us a little bit about your journey through entrepreneurship and how you ended up in the cannabis world.

Cameron Forni: I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life and have had many incredible mentors. Entrepreneurship was in my blood; I did everything from selling flowers on the side of the street in Milwaukie, Oregon as young as four-years-old, to managing a car detailing business in high school, to building an event company in college. I have always been interested in business and entrepreneurship.

Right out of college, my goal was to create jobs, not to take a job. I started my journey in entrepreneurship when I co-founded TextNoMore, an app designed to reward drivers avoiding texting while driving. From there, I co-founded TryEco LLC, which holds a patent on a starch-based, biodegradable super-absorbent polymer used primarily in agricultural applications. I always had a focus on building businesses that helped people live better lives and achieve more and that’s what led me to cannabis.

With both a medical card and a caregiver card on hand, I started looking at what the future of cannabis would be. I knew that combustion wouldn’t be a long-term option for most cannabis consumers, so I started focusing on safety and vaporization. I started taking apart every vaporizer pen in the market and learned that silica fiberglass was commonly found in most cartridges, so I built a new cartridge, innovated with organic cotton and unique absorption systems.

That’s when Select was born. It’s been quite the journey!

Over the last 18 months, Cura has seen record-breaking success in the industry. You became the first cannabis company to appear in INC. magazine’s annual top 50 companies in 2018. Now, your billion-dollar deal with Curaleaf Holdings is said to be the largest ever among American companies. How does it feel to be behind one of the industry’s golden unicorns?

Wow, what an incredibly cool question to hear. It’s often difficult for me to pause and reflect, so thank you! I’m thankful for the team who has helped build this incredible company with me every day. When you are relentlessly working and traveling (on pace for 300 flights this year alone) because you are so obsessed about something, it’s hard to turn it off. It’s been more than four years of hard work, but in cannabis years, they say that for every one year you multiply by seven because it’s moving so fast!

Sometimes it’s really hard to step back and look at what the work has become. People think that achieving milestones like the Inc. 500 placement or our billion-dollar acquisition must be all we think about, but it’s not always straight forward. We face federal regulatory approval, state licensing approval, audits and regulatory change in each state so often that it’s difficult to master balancing it all. That’s why you need an incredible team.

Cameron Forni (left) started his entrepreneurial path at a young age.

Cura is widely respected in the industry for innovative extraction techniques and its focus on setting high standards for quality products. How has it evolved from its beginnings into the industry leader it is today?

First of all, it’s always been about building the best team possible and taking care of people along the way.

Our evolution over a short period of time is due to our constant focus on innovation, setting best practices and our never-ending pursuit of better.

Senate Bill 582 will allow Oregon to import and export cannabis products across state lines — but only if the federal government changes its policies. What are your thoughts on this?

The main hurdle is the federal Controlled Substances Act which bans interstate shipments of cannabis. That would have to change. Otherwise, the states that attempt to implement this are subject to crackdown by the Federal Government. There is much work to be done here before this becomes a reality.

Which international markets do you think are really leading the charge right now?

The industry is in the first of a nine-inning ball game. With now 11 states with adult use policies, 33 states with medical cannabis laws and 62 percent of Americans in favor of legalizing cannabis (according to PEW), I expect the industry to have massive growth and significant consolidation.

Canada is the leader from the standpoint of the financial market because it came in early, established policies and amassed significant capital to deploy into international markets. However, the leaders in medical cannabis and cannabis research is still Israel who has been making significant investments into research and development in cannabis science.

Will vape pens replace flower? Why or why not?

There’s a nostalgia and ritual to consuming joints and using flower. With baby boomers and longtime cannabis users that will undoubtedly continue. However, U.S. consumer preferences always gear more towards convenience. The closer we can create the experience of vaporizing unique cannabis terpene and oil formulations, the closer we can get to replicating the experience to that of flower. Long term you will see vaporization pass combustion of flower and in the end, it’s safer.

What new challenges will the industry face going forward?

Banking, taxation, legislation and real estate have always been the major challenges facing cannabis operators. We are the most heavily taxed industries in the world. We are also one of the most heavily tracked — meaning track and traced — industries in the world. In every legal state we use RFID chips on each product case that goes to stores in order to track the product from seed to sale.

Last but not least, cannabis companies achieving profitability is becoming critical to survival in this space. With large gluts of products in states like Oregon, it makes it very hard to run a profitable business under incredibly high taxation.

What trends are shaping cannabis in 2019?

I expect unique terpene profiles and oil formulations to become more popular. Additionally, innovative, discreet and more elevated devices will be the main drivers for 2019.

What demographic do you see having the most growth?

We’re seeing more and more young professionals 25-35 come on board to cannabis at a quick rate. Millennials are seeking cannabis options that suit their own personal needs and they’re becoming more willing to share their interest in cannabis publicly.

What are your one year, five year, and 10-year predictions for the cannabis industry?

1 year: More states will continue to come on board and legalize adult-use cannabis. With that, we’ll also see an uptick in normalization around the country.

5 year: Ideally, the STATES Act will pass, providing more people with access to cannabis, jobs and business opportunities around the country.

10 year: Cannabis is treated by society and regulated by the government like alcohol and will become mainstream.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?

The biggest piece of advice I’d offer to new cannabis entrepreneurs would be to surround yourself with people who fill in your weaknesses early on.

It’s important to be agile and never get stuck to a plan. The plan is always changing because the regulatory environment is always changing. You can’t work in this industry without being agile and nimble with decision-making.

Finally, what are the three things people don’t know about being a cannabis entrepreneur?

  1. Time commitment: If you want to be successful in this business be prepared to give up your social life. I find myself traveling 48 weeks a year. Having a very understanding partner is critical as well!
  2. The regulatory environment WILL shift beneath your feet. Expect to order one million boxes of packaging and 2 weeks later that package is obsolete in one of the states you operate in because they need a new sticker
  3. Cost and funding: Traditional capital is not readily available to the cannabis entrepreneur, you need to make sure your business can survive and thrive. It’s very expensive to handle all the taxes and fees that accompany a cannabis business. For example, in California we face 44% supply chain tax, 12% excise tax, 11% sales tax, 5% gross revenue tax, 35% 280E tax, along with licensing fees and higher-than-normal rates for real estate… just because we’re a cannabis company.

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Industry Innovators

Jade Proudman: On a Mission to Break Down Barriers

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Jade Proudman

More than 1.3 million people use CBD on a regular basis in the U.K. Jade Proudman is working tirelessly to bring access, and education to those consumers in England and beyond.

CBD oil is sold legally in the U.K, according to the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to research, policy and education.

A study recently conducted by the CMC found that therapeutic use of the cannabinoid is growing rapidly; “The U.K. CBD market is currently growing at double digits and expected to be just short of £1B in 2025. This would be equivalent to the entire U.K. herbal supplement market in 2016.”

But, many of the cannabis-based products on the market aren’t all they are cracked up to be.

In the same CMC report, researchers tested 30 different CBD products available on the market. They found only 11/29 had within 10% of the advertised CBD content. Another 11 products (38%) “actually had less than 50% of the advertised CBD content. One product had 0% CBD,” the CMC concludes.

The results expose regulatory gaps in the CBD market. Jade Proudman, a champion for premium products, transparent brands, and educating the European marketplace about cannabinoids, is an advocate of the work being carried out by the CMC.

Proudman and her husband, Leslie, founded Savage Cabbage in 2016. The storefront in North Yorkshire draws visitors from all over the U.K. to sit on the L-shaped couch for a cuppa and cannabinoid-chat.

 

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Savage cabbage HQ 🌴🌴

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“As you walk in, the first thing you see is our beautiful seating area which does encourage people to take a seat and enter into conversation with us, enabling questions to be asked and answered,” says Proudman. The shop often hosts discussion panels or events like cannabinoid awareness sessions and open house coffee mornings.

Savage Cabbage has become well known for such services, which are free.

“I’m proud of that element that we achieved,” she says. “This is not about a sales transaction – it’s about people improving their own wellness through natural means and education.”

This is Proudman’s ethos; she’s a problem solver who is not driven by the bottom dollar, but by the need to share her story in order to help others.

Savage Cabbage is an official U.K./E.U. retailer of Myriam’s Hope, and Charlotte’s Web whole-plant hemp extracts — the same product that changed Proudman’s life.

In 2012, Proudman fell “very sick, very quickly,” she says. “My entire life changed in a very few short space of time. I ended up in a hospital fighting for my life.”

Proudman suffers from fibromyalgia and spinal myoclonus epilepsy, bowel disease, in addition to a host of other conditions, which once left her bedridden, and reliant on medications including morphine.

“I was very much dependent on pharmaceutical options to exist because I couldn’t manage,” she explains. “I spent a year in and out of hospitals. I had 10 very big surgeries, and had some internal organs removed.”

Proudman’s health struggles left her housebound and with permanent disabilities — it also cost her her job with Children and Young People’s services in North Yorkshire.

She became depressed. “I just didn’t want to be here anymore.”

Little did Proudman know, her life was about to take another drastic change.

One night, Proudman and her husband — who she credits for keeping her going — watched the CNN documentary, Weed, with Sunjay Gupta. That was Proudman’s first introduction to Charlotte’s Web.

The film follows the stories of patients including Charlotte Figi. “Charlotte suffered from a severe form of epilepsy called Dravet’s Syndrome. She suffered over 300 grand mal seizures a day and by the age of five had failed all pharmaceutical options,” according to CW Hemp, and the Stanely Brothers, who developed the now globally sought-after strain.

“The Charlotte’s Web products were created for her, her seizures have since drastically reduced, quality of life has improved, and the rest is documented history,” adds the Stanely Brothers’ site.

Because Proudman also suffers seizures, she wondered whether CBD oil “could help me in any shape or form.” Although it wasn’t easy — they managed to acquire some CW Hemp Oil. Within 48 hours of using it for the first time, Proudman was morphine free.

“At the time, I didn’t know how it worked or why it worked, or what the endocannabinoid system (ECS) was… any of those things.” she says, “I took a very steep learning journey.”

Today, Proudman is a prominent advocate for CBD in the U.K. Her company reaches customers in approximately 60 different countries.

Proudman no longer takes any pharmaceutical medications. “I stopped 14 different medications — I just use my CBD and a host of other vitamins and minerals.”

“That’s how Savage Cabbage came to be,” Proudman says, “I knew there were other people like me who felt lost, who felt really kind of is this it? Is this my only option?”

“When I started this, I had no idea really what I’d be doing… I just knew I needed to speak to people and help people get ahold of something that was difficult to get ahold of,” she explains. “That brought its own challenges which I worked through,” by building a strong relationship with CW Hemp, and eventually, Myriams’s Hope — the two products she uses.

 

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#SpreadTheLoveTour #2018#WhyCW #betterthancbd

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“I never came into this space as an advocate for cannabis,” she explains, “I always thought drugs were bad. As soon as I discovered the health that I had so desperately missed for so many years, I was like… I get it now.”

That gave her the drive to tackle negatives and misconceptions head-on. “I come from a place of understanding. I can relate to people who are scared, who think this is a drug… I once felt the same way,” she says.

She is the first to admit that she isn’t a medical expert. This us why the Savage Cabbage team guides customers to organizations like the Realm of Caring, a nonprofit committed to research.

Proudman knows the industry is plagued with misinformation and questionable businesses that prey on patients in need for the sake of a sale.

“There have been a lot of times when I’ve been at a show, and someone will come to me and say, “I’ve got this problem, and I got this product off the internet. It makes me feel a little bit sick, but I’ve been told it’s good for me,” Proudman explains.

She keeps an “amnesty” bin handy for these instances. ”I just let people throw their stuff in if they don’t know exactly where it came from, what’s in it, or haven’t got a certificate of analysis.”

Proudman will, in turn, swap their product for a certified brand. “I say, let’s try something of quality, and If you feel a positive effect from that, then let’s have a conversation, and see how we can help you,” Proudman explains. “If somebody makes something rubbish in their bathtub, shoves it into a bottle and gives it to somebody,” it can cause a bad experience, and turn someone off from CBD altogether.

“It’s all about the source, origin, and quality,” Proudman adds, ”If you’re helping someone with the learning experience, they become a really big ambassador of their own.”

Her approach is holistic and based on a style of shared or joint learning — a topic in which Proudman earned a Master’s degree in.

Proudman works with legislative and regulatory bodies, including the CMC, to advocate for research and education for the millions of consumers in the U.K.

She is a representative member of the CMC, this membership allows her to discuss and create ideas with other industry leaders.

The CMC works with government and nongovernment agencies to build a regulatory framework for the medical cannabis and CBD industries. The organization recently joined forces with the award-winning consultancy group Global Regulatory Services (GRS) to develop the framework needed for the U.K. government, and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The EFSA recently classified cannabinoids as “novel foods,” or foods “that had not been consumed to a significant degree by humans in the EU before 15 May 1997.” The classification requires foods containing CBD to meet certain standards to be fully legal.

Although reactions to the classification of cannabinoids as novel foods are mixed, Proudman believes it’s a positive step toward ensuring quality access.

There are millions of registered daily users of CBD in this country, Proudman explains. “That’s a significant portion of our population. It will only get bigger. It would be nice to see a regulated, accessible, professional industry that can spend money on [awareness] so we can start educating the populous.”

Proudman has made major strides in access to CBD for U.K. residents. As she moves forward, she will pass the torch to her team at Savage Cabbage, and resign her role as CEO of the company by year’s end.

She’ll transition into her new role ‘Brand Advisor and Consultancy’. The position will allow her to expand her reach and continue to advocate for the same products that changed her life.

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Industry Innovators

Mathew Gerson: Bringing Women Pleasure & Pain Relief with Cannabinoids

Mathew Gerson is the founder and CEO of Foria, a company that produces non-psychoactive cannabis products for women’s sexual health and pleasure.

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Mathew Gerson
PHOTO | Courtesy Foria

Five years ago, Mathew Gerson launched Foria, a new category of non-psychoactive cannabis products for women’s sexual health and pleasure. In the few years since, the company’s formulations have won numerous awards and earned global notoriety, all while innovating solutions for women’s wellness and inspiring a Harvard researcher-led study on the efficacy of cannabinoids for menstrual pain relief.

The company develops THC and CBD-infused products, which include suppositories, vape pens, and sensual oils. By re-introducing cannabis into the sex lives of many, he found that he had stumbled upon an age-old therapy, one that proved beneficial to millions in modern society.

Prior to becoming a social entrepreneur, Gerson spent 10 years studying Buddhist meditation in Asia and throughout North America. His first venture after leaving the contemplative life was a project dedicated to responsible, pleasurable sex, founding Sir Richard’s Condom Company, which produced all-natural, vegan-certified condoms and more. Gerson describes the enterprise as a “conscious condom company, sort of like Tom’s shoes for condoms.” Sir Richard’s helps to address the unmet need for condoms globally with a “buy one, give one” business model.

THC for TLC

After that, Gerson continued his dedication to positive change by addressing another unmet need: women’s pain and pleasure. He founded Foria in Venice Beach, CA in 2014, and the brand is credited with bringing the first cannabis-infused intimacy oil to market — a process which, he explained, started in 2011 as a kitchen experiment.

After learning about the medicinal properties of cannabis, Gerson realized, “There was so much more to (cannabis) than THC. Turns out there’s actually a long history of cannabis use in birth and gynecology, from the Victorian era to the ancient Egyptians, from the oracle at Delphi to ‘broom-riding witches’ (medicine women who applied herbals salves via a wooden dildo to achieve euphoric visionary states, a.k.a. ‘flight’).”

Inspired by the historical celebration of cannabis as an aid for intimacy, Gerson cooked up a blend of coconut oil and THC and shared it with a number of female friends. “All reported amazing results,” he says.

Those results, combined with a lack of products for women on the market, were the impetus for Foria. In 2014, the company officially released Pleasure, a first-of-its-kind sensual enhancement oil.

The product was formulated with a specific focus on female arousal. “The oil is ideally suited to the unique anatomy of women or anyone with a vulva,” said Gerson.

At the time of its release, “there were over 20 FDA-approved drugs for male sexual challenges and a total of zero for women,” Gerson noted.

Pleasure was created to address the “orgasm gap” between men and women. “The pleasure gap is an issue with wide-ranging causes,” says Gerson.  “Our culture and media view sexuality from an almost exclusively male perspective.” While Big Pharma offers countless Viagra-style drugs for men, there’s next to nothing for women’s arousal challenges—let alone menstrual or sexual pain, he notes.

Each ingredient in Pleasure — and all Foria products — is organic or grown to organic standards, and rigorously tested for purity, which is especially important due to the intimate nature of the products. Also due to the product’s nature (a topical), effects are non-psychoactive. But as some users report, the application might cause a mild, euphoric body high.

Foria clients experience heightened or renewed pleasure and orgasm with Pleasure. But many of them also experience profound relief from conditions like endometriosis and vaginismus, says Gerson.

While Foria initially set out to harness the power of cannabinoids for intimate pleasure, customer reviews quickly revealed the oil to host therapeutic benefits for pelvic pain and discomfort. Foria listened and in response, invented a separate product, Relief, the first cannabis-infused vaginal-suppository for menstrual cramps and discomfort.

The CBD-only version of Relief will soon be the focus of a first-of-its-kind observational study at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, says Gerson.

In the meantime, Foria continues to push the boundaries of health and wellness for its customers — thanks to user feedback, an integral part of their business model.

“All of our research and development comes as a result of a dialog with our community of clients to better understand both their experiences and their needs,” Gerson explained.

Going Global

So, when people from around the world inquired about shipping Foria’s products overseas, the company developed THC-free versions of their dispensary-only products, made with broad-spectrum CBD from organic, U.S.-grown hemp.

Included in Foria’s line of CBD products is a THC-free version of Relief and an arousal oil named Awaken. Awaken combines CBD with eight other plants for what Gerson calls “the ultimate, multi-botanical entourage effect.”

The primary ingredient in Awaken is a proprietary kava kava extract, which Gerson says stimulates the same receptors as THC. The formula also incorporates cardamom (an anti-inflammatory); ginger (antispasmodic and warming), peppermint (cooling), vanilla (soothing) and cacao (which also affects the endocannabinoid system).

Close communication with their consumer base also motivated Foria to create Explore, anal suppositories (which come with both THC and CBD). “We’d heard from clients who were freezing Pleasure in ice-cube trays to make rectal suppositories,” Gerson explained. “Now, there are a lot of different reasons people take cannabis rectally, but their goal was to enhance anal play.”

Both THC and CBD influence nerves and blood vessels, says Gerson, and they really work well together for pleasure and pain relief. “But we formulated Explore with a lot of CBD because that really helps to relax smooth muscle tissue,” he adds.

The feedback about Awaken and Foria’s new CBD suppositories is deeply moving, says Gerson. A week doesn’t go by where the company isn’t hearing from women, some “who no longer need to take massive doses of Ibuprofen every month,” and others who “are finally able to experience pain-free sex for the first time in their lives—and this inspires us to continue developing new formulas and delivery formats based on this feedback.”

Foria’s THC products have proven so effective that gynecologists and sex therapists in California and Colorado recommend them to patients. Gerson looks forward to a future where doctors nationwide can do the same — but in the meantime, Foria will continue to push the boundaries of modern medicine.

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Industry Innovators

Cody Alt: How to Gain an Edge in the Cannabis Industry

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Cody Alt
PHOTO | Cody Alt

The legal cannabis industry is becoming an increasingly competitive space for entrepreneurs these days.

Valued by experts at $66.3 billion by 2025, it can be daunting for someone looking to make their name in the cannabis industry and distinguish themselves from the competition.

As the founder of three successful cannabis companies, Cody Alt knows what it takes to build a successful brand from the bottom up. We spoke to the industry innovator to see what he thinks it takes to stand out in such a crowded space.

Cody Alt: An Innovator and Visionary in the Cannabis Space

Growing up in the tiny town of Maxville, Montana, a town of thirty people, ten houses and a single bar, Cody Alt has overcome the odds to reach his dreams at every turn.

Alt always had an aptitude for business. Alongside his father Paul, he started his very first company Mon-Dak Oilfield Services, a company that specializes in reclamation work for oil rigs and hauled crude oil from the rigs to the refineries.

That work helped establish and form his uncompromising work ethic, one that took him to eleven different cities in four years of “following where the oil was.”

In 2015, he switched gears away from Mon-Dak and onto his newest venture, BodyFuel.

Alt poured his blood, sweat and tears into the business, handing out flyers from his car and barely being able to afford rent. Just like his role model Mark Cuban, Alt kept his work ethic up and went on to found five companies so far who’s revenue combined exceeds $60 million.

One of those companies is Kushly. Originally thought of as a cannabis delivery platform, Kushly eventually evolved into what it is today — a one-stop-shop for consumers to pick up a massive range of cannabis-based products from CBD gummies to CBD oils to a CBD skincare line.

Alt founded Kushly after seeing the benefits of cannabis products for himself. Always dealing with insomnia and sleep issues, he exhausted his options when it came to over-the-counter sleep aids. A friend then gave him some THC syrup that opened his eyes to the potential of cannabis products.

“I slept like a baby and woke up feeling amazing,” said Alt. “So that was pretty much all she wrote for me.”

From there, he used his experience as a marketer and passion for cannabis-based products to build Kushly into something special — a company that would provide the same help to others as it did for him.

Alt took his experience from the oil business and applied it to the cannabis space, focusing on becoming the one-size-fits-all destination for anyone interested in cannabis-based products.

“If you can make yourself a one-stop-shop, you have the edge over the other guy,” he said.

Advice for a New Generation of Cannabis Entrepreneurs

It’s clear that Alt has what it takes to make it in the ultra-competitive legal cannabis space. And you might be wondering if you have that ‘X Factor’ as well.

Well, thankfully, he has shared some advice for all you up-and-coming cannabis entrepreneurs.

Authenticity is a driving force for Alt and his businesses. He believes the key to success in the cannabis industry lies in the decisions you make. If you’d use the product yourself, then there are potential customers out there who feel the same way.

“Be authentic,” said Alt. “There are too many fake people who are trying to jump into the marketplace. You have to be different from other people. You have to know branding, you have to hire the right marketing team that is aligned with what your vision is, with the company you want to build.”

At the end of the day, Alt says that while there are countless important factors to building a booming business, the key difference needs to be your passion for serving customers the best quality product.

“(Focus on) actually wanting to help customers instead of worrying all about the money,” said Alt. “I created these products to try and help people solve issues like me. That was my goal from the beginning.”

When asked for one piece of advice he’d give to anyone looking to create a successful business, Alt stressed the importance of focus, drive and dedication to one’s customers.

“Keep your eye on the prize, keep striving to try and help people day in and day out. That’s what it’s all about.”

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