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Industry Innovators

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

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Cameron Forni
PHOTO | Select Oil
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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

Jason Washington: Creating a Global Cannabis Kulture

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Jason Washington
Jason Washington. PHOTOS | Supplied

Jason Washington is a successful entrepreneur both in and out of the cannabis industry. He is also the second person in U.S. history to face a jury trial proceeding on a state-licensed medical marijuana case. His story is a powerful reminder that the most dangerous thing about the cannabis plant is the grey area that surrounds its legal status.

In 2011, Washington’s Big Sky Health dispensary was the largest legal operation in Montana. And despite medical marijuana being legal in the state since 2004, the Feds raided him. At trial, he was found guilty of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute cannabis and possession with intent to distribute. His judge deviated from the mandatory minimum sentence guidelines of 10 years, instead sentencing the former University of Montana Grizzly quarterback to two years in federal prison. In October 2014, his original sentence was reduced from 24 to 21 months, with the judge ordering Washington’s immediate release.

Washington returned to his home state of California where his natural aptitude for business saw him start several successful companies, including Ignite with Matthew Morgan and Dan Bilzerian.

Fueled by his desire to help those who had been wrongly incarcerated like himself, Washington went on to found Kulture, a full-service cannabis agency with a twist — you have to have a proven legacy with the plant to make the cut. The company has cultivation, extraction and manufacturing operations in five different states: Arizona, California, Oklahoma, Michigan and Missouri.

Cannabis Aficionado spoke to Washington about his loyalty to legacy operators, his advice to newcomers to the industry, and his plans for a global cannabis network.

CA: What sets Kulture apart from other cannabis agencies?

Jason Washington: One of the mandatory stipulations for being accepted or invited into the Kulture family is that you have to be a legacy operator. And a legacy operator suggests basically that you have a proven track record of 10 plus years in the cannabis space. You’re someone that was in this when it wasn’t just the latest “cool” business venture for Ivy League grads.

My directors of indoor cultivation are Bill and Jeff Levers aka the Beard Brothers, who are legacy operators. We’ve been running together for over two years — longer than Kulture has been established. Our philosophies and ideologies align. In fact, their commitment to helping veterans inspired the backpacks in our new clothing line; these are based on tactical gear as a salute to our veterans.

Jason with the Beard Bros Bill Levers (far left) and Jeff Levers (right) and Eric Brandstad at the Arizona facility.

Why is this so important to you?

The pioneers of this industry have not been able to participate in the new legal market. A lot of people have made a lot of money off the backs of those who are now deemed criminals. Guys like me — those with weed felonies or federal felonies — aren’t looking for handouts. To be honest, I don’t know how to solve the problem. I just know that the problem exists.

Tell me more about your new clothing line and how it’s helping to change the stigma around cannabis?

Some very successful brands started with clothing in emerging markets just for brand awareness. For me, it’s about establishing normalcy like any other brand. In California, Prop 64 means we have been able to normalize the use of cannabis as a recreational drug. And as a very beneficial medical alternative to pharmaceuticals and other forms of pain management. Cannabis is becoming more and more acceptable, and it’s one more facet of people’s lives.

I’ve been in the cannabis game for a long time, so for me, the clothing line is new and exciting. Normalizing cannabis is the main reason I’ve launched it. The style is influenced by what my cultivators wear when they’re in the facilities. It ties into the Kulture lifestyle and appeals to a lot of different demographics.

One of the backpacks from Kulture’s new apparel line.

What are your expansion plans for Kulture?

Here’s the thing, cannabis doesn’t only help people in America. There’s a whole world of people that need this plant and our help and expertise. We have to focus on more than just America and more than our little micro-environments. I see Kulture as a 300-person global agency with offices in America, South America and somewhere in Europe or Africa. I see it as a combination that brings together the best cannabis talent in the world. Where the brightest minds come together under one roof to provide the best cannabis for everybody to enjoy.

What’s the most important thing that needs to be addressed when people are talking about cannabis legalization?

The conversation around inclusion needs to be further expanded upon. There’s still a lot of people that are in jail for this plant.

Another problem is people riding social equity but did not serve a day in jail or have never been prosecuted or raided. People get pushed to the front because they say, “I grew up in this neighborhood or I grew up in that neighborhood.” But those who were affected or who served time are not able to obtain a license. For example, I live in California, but my charge is federal, is in the state of Montana. So I can’t get an equity license in California because my charges did not originate in California. I’d have to go back to the state of Montana to participate or to be a license holder.

Look, I understand why states have said that in order for you to be an equity applicant the crime or the charge has to have been committed in that state or jurisdiction. I totally get that. But it’s keeping guys that went to federal prison for cannabis-related crimes shut out. They’re kept from participating from a licensing standpoint because their charge originated in a different jurisdiction than where they reside. Most federal indictments are brought in different jurisdictions than your home state.   

Jason with son Jaxon taken at Taft Federal Correctional Institution.

How do you think the cannabis industry can be better?

The biggest thing is if all these new executives and people coming into the space entered with more knowledge. They can’t get the experience, I get it. But at least the knowledge and understanding of what so many people have sacrificed for so long and went through. Understand the culture. Don’t completely strip cannabis of everything it’s been for so long and turn it into spreadsheets and mass production. Because that’s not what it is.

I get bringing a more professional business environment to the space; more legitimacy, more scientific data and more research-based products to market. But at the same time, don’t forget those who have given you this opportunity. Don’t forget how you got here and the sacrifice that was made to allow you to participate in this industry.

What do you wish you knew when you first started out in cannabis?

The power of the federal government and what substitute asset forfeiture meant. Haha.

What are the three qualities you need to be a successful cannabis entrepreneur?

I think perseverance is one of the biggest. I’ve been in it for 12 years and I’ve seen people come and go who don’t have the character and the stamina to fight through all that you have to fight through — whether it’s local municipalities, competition, or failed crops. You’ve got to be an innovator. You’ve got to be someone who is a survivor and a fighter.

At Honeydew farms

Do you have a career highlight?

There’s one thing that really sticks out to me to this day and it was when we opened the first Montana dispensary. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t 100% sold on the medical benefits of cannabis at first until one particular firsthand account from a mother. I was her son’s caregiver; her son was 13 or 14 years old and was epileptic. She came in one day and broke down crying because she didn’t have to go to the streets for cannabis anymore. She said, “You have no idea how much I admire and respect your courage and how much you helped my son. You guys being here and taking care of us has been like God answering my prayers.” It was very heavy and very emotional.

Hearing those kinds of stories and testimonials gave me the strength to stand up for what I was doing and believed in at the time. It still does to this day.

Believe it or not, I don’t look at federal prison as the worst thing that ever happened to me. It gave me the opportunity to sit back, reflect and learn from the choices and decisions that I’ve made. Maybe mistakes, maybe not mistakes.

Any advice for anyone that’s thinking of getting into cannabis?

If you’re thinking about getting into it now, you need to position yourself and prepare yourself for the long haul. You’re only warming up after five years in the space. This is a daily education. Cannabis is unique in a sense, it’s not like any other businesses. You can apply past experiences from other businesses ventures. But the hands-on education that you get on a day to day basis is like no other. 

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Industry Innovators

Casey Georgeson: Setting a Higher Standard for Clean, Green Beauty

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Casey Georgeson

Casey Georgeson is the CEO and Founder of Saint Jane, a luxurious, 100% clean CBD beauty collection that has taken the CBD beauty category by storm since its launch in January 2019.

You could say entrepreneurialism is in her DNA. Coming from the Ernest and Julio Gallo wine family dynasty, Georgeson has spent her career developing beauty brands for Sephora, including Marc Jacobs, Disney for Sephora as well as the hugely successful wine brand, Cupcake Vineyards.

Georgeson is passionate about the powerful benefits of CBD and whole plant science. I spoke to her about her journey to becoming a cannabis entrepreneur, the importance of transparency and the story behind Saint Jane.

CA: Tell me about your journey through entrepreneurship and how you found your way to cannabis.

Casey Georgeson: My family has a history of entrepreneurship. My great-grandmother was a mail-order bride from Italy (yes that was a real thing!) who came over in the 1900s. She and my great-grandfather grew grapes in the San Joaquin Valley with their seven children. At the end of The Prohibition, still in the Great Depression, she saw an opportunity to use their vineyards for winemaking. She took out a $10,000 loan, using the farm as collateral. She gave $5,000 to her sons, the Franzia brothers, to start a winery; and $5,000 to her son-in-law, Ernest Gallo, to start a winery with his brother, Julio.

Essentially, a 4’10” mail-order bride started two of the largest wine companies out there. That story always resonated with me and even though I never had the chance to meet her — I’ve always admired the confidence it must have taken to do that as a woman in the 1930s. My uncle was also an entrepreneur and I learned a great deal from him throughout the years, watching him create a business.

I started my career as a producer for CNN and got into the wine industry as a brand creator where I developed a brand called Cupcake Vineyards. I went to business school at Stanford and interned at Sephora. It was there that I had this extraordinary training in the beauty industry and in product development and formulations. Once I graduated, I worked at Kendo, Sephora’s brand incubator. My role was to sit as the liaison between the brands we partnered with — Marc Jacobs, Elizabeth and James, Disney, Hello Kitty, Kat Von D— and articulate their vision in the world of beauty and that would ultimately lead to the building of their brands.

I had been creating brands for many years and thought I want to create my own brand at some point. It might be beauty. It might be wine. I just knew I wanted to do something on my own, but it had to be a really big idea.

When I discovered CBD in 2017, I first began really thinking about creating my own brand. It all started when I read a PopSugar article on CBD. The headline was, NATURE’S XANAX MEETS ADVIL. I was like, what is this natural miracle molecule? I immediately went to the dispensary and said to the budtender, “Show me everything you have that’s high CBD, low THC.” They showed me all these products that were really crunchy and hippie. Some formulated for the skin, some ingestible. This was in 2017.

Next to all these products that the budtender put out, was a list of all the things CBD was purported to do. You know that list, it’s very impressive and kind of shakes you to your core. Inflammation. Pain. Sleep. Anxiety. Gut health. Sleep. I thought, ‘If CBD does even one of these things, it is truly one of the most powerful skincare ingredients of our time.’ For topical use, most of the products dealt with pain management and were paired with MCT oil, because it was the easiest and it’s what was most commonly used for ingestibles. But, at the time, nobody was formulating with true skincare ingredients that would be at the level of something you would find at a luxury retailer.

That’s when I saw the opportunity. I would pair CBD with other really potent botanicals, that support the CBD mission for the skin, I knew it was an incredible idea. I went deep into learning about CBD and botanicals and Saint Jane was born.

What a journey! Can you tell me a little about the name Saint Jane?

Saint Jane has two meanings.

One, it’s the innocent side of Mary Jane, because CBD will not get you high.

Two, Saint Jane was an actual person in 1500s France. She was anointed into sainthood for healing people. Specifically, healing women, which society would otherwise never touch: the old, the very sick, unwed mothers. She dedicated her whole life to healing. Her story has been very inspiring to us because our products focus on nurturing, healing and we have a very authentic female empowerment story, as well. I have three daughters and the company is comprised of all women.

It’s truly a gift to have Saint Jane’s legacy as a foundation for the brand. Our approach is healing-centric and the way we’ve expressed that through the brand feels very authentic.

How amazing that you can pay homage to somebody who otherwise would’ve been forgotten in the mists of time, that’s beautiful.

The idea of reimagining this woman who was so important to society and culture for her to devotion to helping people, through this modern lens, is really inspiring. I had 16 years of Catholic school, yet I’m not religious. But this has inspired a renewed faith for me… in our own mission for women as Saint Jane.

What makes Saint Jane different from other CBD skincare products on the market?

I think the biggest difference is the way we’ve crafted the products. It’s about the whole plant story and other botanicals that we pair with CBD. It’s not just CBD for the sake of it. We thoughtfully match CBD with botanicals that support the cannabinoid’s mission of calming, soothing and nurturing the skin.  The botanicals work in concert.

We’re also passionate about full-spectrum CBD — the whole plant extract — because we believe in the entourage effect. Rich endocannabinoid receptors in the skin benefit from those minor cannabinoids found in full-spectrum products.

We also believe in higher concentrations of CBD. When we started, there were a lot of debates around topicals and dosages. It felt so instinctual to me that a higher concentration would be most efficacious for the skin. My background in beauty taught me about performance and the end benefit. If your product works, you’re going to have people come back to you. I believe that our results-driven formulas really express that.

We’re also 100% clean. Our philosophy around clean is also non-negotiable. My second daughter was born very small, underweight. It’s called ‘Small for Gestational Age’ (SGA). We were terrified by that because my older daughter had been born at a normal weight. Juliet was shockingly tiny. We kept trying to figure out why and one of my doctors asked if I had been exposed to any chemicals while pregnant.  At the time, I was developing fragrances, nail polishes. So, I flashback to those windowless offices where I was developing those products and I couldn’t tell anyone I was pregnant yet — it was my first trimester. In the end, we’ll never know; it was inconclusive if there was a correlation. But since then, clean has been non-negotiable and if I was going to create my own product line and collection, it needed to be as clean as it gets. My daughter is amazing and thriving today, but I never would want someone else to go through that. Clean is essential to our ethos.

Transparency and testing are the last ones. Trust is important to us. It took me a long time to get comfortable with the vendors and suppliers that I chose when I started Saint Jane. Back before the Farm Bill, it was really like the Wild West. I didn’t know who to trust as I was getting these packages of white powder delivered to my home. Or these full-spectrum extracts in syringes. I went through my own vetting process with vendors. My mission was to find the best of the best. I retested everything myself with third-party vendors and was shocked to see what I received was often different from what the paperwork stated.

That integrity of testing has stayed integral to the brand since we launched. We test four times during the supply chain to make sure everything is matching up and that we can stand behind everything were putting out there. Every batch is different and we have to stay true to that dedication to the integrity behind it.

Saint Jane has just been stocked by Sephora stores. Congratulations on such an amazing achievement. Can you tell me about that process?

Sephora has been an amazing partner, they’ve been incredibly insightful about our brand, they see our potential, so it’s been really rewarding to work with them. Being in Sephora stores is a huge validation. We’re still so small, still so indie and we are just getting started. Even though I had Sephora experience, I didn’t think they’d take a little brand like ours within our first year. It’s very full circle for me and we’re so grateful for their partnership.

The retailers we work with have been incredibly supportive across the board, too. As a CBD brand, we can’t operate like other normal indie skincare brands with Facebook, Instagram and Google advertising, so our retailers have been our storytellers. They’ve been our platform for brand awareness. We feel so grateful.

You recently announced Dr. June Chin has joined the team as your Chief Medical Advisor. Can you tell me about what that means for Saint Jane?

Dr. Chin is a recognized name in the cannabis space. She’s a longtime advocate of CBD and its healing potential — and not just in skincare. Because we pride ourselves on clean clinical-grade formulas, it made sense to partner with a doctor who shares our passion. She’s just been next level on understanding the power of the plant and has a background in plant-based medicine. CBD is one of the many plant-based ingredients that she’s passionate about. It’s been extraordinary to see the product through her eyes and getting it right as we don’t want to take a misstep on information. We want to make sure we’re architecting the narrative of CBD’s efficacy in the right way.

Who is Saint Jane aimed and why?

I would say we hope to reach people who want to transform their skin, with the powerful benefits of CBD. People are becoming more and more aware of CBD’s potential and we have an extensive range of customers who use it and are loyal to us. Luxury Beauty Serum is our hero product and it’s focused on skin condition and treatment. It has 20 botanicals that all focus on reducing irritation, balancing and detoxifying the skin. We have customers in their twenties through to their seventies who are all using our products and seeing results.

If you’re having a bad moment with your skin, it can impact on your confidence. It must be amazing to have made something that has an impact on someone’s life.

Hearing from customers has been the most rewarding thing since starting the brand. I talk about it a lot with my team. That’s why we’re doing it, to help people. And that’s the legacy of Saint Jane that we’re trying to honor.

What’s next for Saint Jane?

We have so many things coming up on the horizon. I have more ideas than I’m allowed by my team to bring to market. It’s really about staying focused and disciplined on what we bring to market, to make sure that everything we introduce meets our standards.

How do you think the cannabis industry as a whole can be better?

For one, there is a lot of product out there that is not being produced and marketed responsibly. The products that work and are responsibly crafted are going to rise to the top and gain customer loyalty. I think as an industry we are architecting transparency and how brands communicate integrity. As an industry, we need to make sure we can have standards that ensure quality, education, transparency and as much consistency as we can with a highly botanical product. I want founders, I want companies, other brands to rise to the occasion, to honor the potential of CBD.

As the saying goes, “the rising tide will lift all ships” and that’s what I believe will happen.

What trend do you predict for the CBD and cannabis skincare market in the next five years?

My biggest hope is that CBD is regarded as a skincare ingredient like Vitamin C or Peptides. That’s number one. It deserves a place in that roster.

Number two, there are so many benefits to the minor cannabinoids found in the plant, like CBG and CBN. I think we’re just getting started in terms of understanding the benefits found in the entire plant. As a brand, we’re looking deeply into that. There are benefits that have not been fully explored yet. It’s exciting and in the next year, the next five, we’re going to learn a lot about the minor nutrients in the whole plant.

People like you are setting the standard of this next generation of cannabis products.

Thank you, we’re trying. And, we are willing to put in the work to accomplish this.

What do you wish you knew when you started out in cannabis entrepreneurship?

I think there’s entrepreneurship and then there’s cannabis entrepreneurship. I would say with entrepreneurship, you have to be so comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. Becoming a founder is committing to a lot, essentially a new life.  You’ve got to be ready to ride the rollercoaster, get used to not sleeping. The cannabis side is its own endless roadblocks, with payment processing issues, advertising headwinds, which I didn’t expect. I wish I’d know some of the challenges we were going to be up against.

Any pearls of wisdom that you’d like to bestow to other women who want to enter the cannabis industry?

Do it. Do it! Do it! Do it! There’s a fabulous group of women as leaders in the cannabis industry. There’s a real sense of community and I think that is unique. It’s very unique in beauty, certainly – which as an industry is comprised of mostly men. There’s so much opportunity out there. It is like post-Prohibition. Think about how many wine brands, alcohol brands, spirits, beer, have launched since prohibition. This is a new time, a new era. I think CBD benefits women so deeply. There’s something about the molecule and women that’s so powerful. It’s a very unique combination. I would say yes….  if you see an opportunity, go for it!

Finally, what are three things it takes to be a cannabis entrepreneur?

Patience. Agility. Integrity. I would say these are the top three. It has to go deeper than just being a market opportunity or a buzzword.  In cannabis, you have to be doing it for the right reasons in order to break through and to endure the saturation that’s coming.

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Brett Stevens: Lighting the Way for Indoor Cultivators

Brett Stevens of Fohse is on a mission to make his company’s name synonymous with hi-tech LED grow lights for the cannabis industry.

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Indoor Cannabis Cultivators
PHOTO | Brett Stevens, CEO of Fohse

At Fohse, meeting the challenges faced by indoor cannabis cultivators with superior lighting solutions is the prime directive. It’s a niche that co-founder and CEO Brett Stevens says is rife with opportunity for those with the talent to innovate. A serial entrepreneur with several successful exits in new and emerging markets under his belt, Stevens is now firmly focused on the cannabis industry.

“I originally got into the farming side of it, and I could definitely see where at that time, five or six years ago, there were so many holes that needed to be filled. It was kind of like, pick a side and go with it,” Stevens told Cannabis Aficionado.

The sector he believed had the most potential to impact the cannabis industry was engineering, and Stevens had kept his ear to the ground for tech opportunities, specifically for cannabis. So, when an engineer friend shared his design for advanced LED lighting, he saw a chance to bring value to a nascent industry.

Unapologetically Pro-Cannabis

For Las Vegas-based Fohse, the vision is to continually expand the tech in the cannabis industry, and Stevens is proud and unapologetic about the company’s focus.

“We’ve pigeonholed ourselves into the cannabis industry. We didn’t create the light for any other plant,” he explained. “We are sold on the plant. We’re sold on the medical purposes of the plant, and we really want to be there as the plant is more readily explored.” 

In order to be true innovators, Fohse doesn’t settle for the services of outside engineers. Instead, the company has its own in-house engineering team creating cannabis lighting solutions from the ground up. Stevens touched on SolidWorks, a 3D computer-aided design (CAD) program, that Fohse’s engineering team uses for their technical drawings. 

“We do all our material science, and we do all of our material engineering to make sure that the materials we’re using to dissipate heat or to project that photon where it needs to go [are sound]. We’re doing all that in-house.” he explained.

A Company Driven by the Question, “What If?”

Stevens noted that he’s not one to micromanage his executive team though. Instead, he said that his leadership style is to assemble a solid corps of professionals and let them go to work. And as inspiration, he encourages his engineers to continuously ask, “What if?”

“What if we could do ten pounds a light?” he wondered aloud. “What if we could do four micromoles per joule? How would we do that?” 

“We’re consistently thinking, ‘How can we be more efficient, and more powerful?’ And I think that’s what drives me,” he added.

According to Stevens, the combined talent and drive at Fohse are producing the most advanced LED lights available to cannabis cultivators. And that’s not just an assertion. It’s a claim that is backed by the company’s research.

“We are literally the most powerful and the most efficient light in the world right now,” Stevens said, adding that Fohse has done grow ops where they have bought and tested every single competitor’s light.

“There’s no question,” Stevens states confidently. “We will outgrow anything on the market.”

Creating an Industry Standard for Indoor Cannabis Cultivators

When his company entered the business, Stevens says the light manufacturing industry was racing to the bottom, with everyone trying to produce the cheapest lamps that would still grow cannabis. But Fohse took a different approach altogether.

“We looked at it more like, ‘What if we put massive power supplies and 5,000 diodes in a light?’ and ‘What if we could replicate indoor sunlight?’” he explained, adding that they focused closely on grams per square foot. 

“Because in the end, that’s what it comes down to, right?” he asked. “If you have a finite amount of space, the more you can grow in that area, the more productive and the more successful you’ll be.”

Constantly striving to increase productivity and efficiency for indoor cannabis cultivators is what the team at Fohse is all about. And that drive, Stevens says, will become increasingly evident when the company’s products are known as the industry standard.

“I think that we’re hungry, that we’re always advancing. We will not stop until we will reach the absolute pinnacle,” he pledged.

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