SVI, Canopy, Software and Cannabis.

From February until June of this year my Solutions Vending International Co-Founder Richard Okorie and I spent 14 weeks in Boulder, Colorado participating in the Canopy Boulder program. Canopy is a venture fund and business accelerator for companies developing ancillary products and services for the legal cannabis industry.

Once people heard that I was a part of a cannabis accelerator I was flooded with questions:

  • Are you getting into the cannabis industry?”
  • What does cannabis have to do with SVI?”
  • How can I get into the fast growing industry?”

I answer those questions and more on my video blog. Click HERE to check it out.

What is Canopy About?

Canopy is not ALL about cannabis, although the companies in the program serve the cannabis industry, the program prepared us to build, launch and scale our companies. Many of us went into the program with an idea and left with traction! The mentorship and guidance of the Canopy Boulder team — Patrick Rea, Micah Tapman, Mason Levy, and Meghan Grabow was invaluable. The Canopy mentor network spans the country and we had the opportunity to hear from and speak with many of the cannabis industry titans and subject matter experts.

Typical Week in Canopy

Every Monday started with a stand up meeting where each team reported our progress, successes, challenges, and asks from the group. Everyone is always eager to help…it is truly a team environment. The rest of the week is filled with mentor presentations, meetings with the Canopy team, and focusing on our individual business tasks. Every other Wednesday Canopy hosts a happy hour in the office for the community and investors to come network with the co-hort. Like all true start up offices, there is beer on tap and pizza on deck which resulted in great vibes, great people and great conversations.

Life in Boulder

We did not have much free time, the schedule is pretty intense and the nights are long, especially in the first half of the program, but when we weren’t working we were out enjoying the beautiful scenery in Boulder. One of the things I love most about Canopy and the city of Boulder is the culture. Laid back, open minded, friendly, and progressive. The city is beautiful, the sun is always shining and the views from hiking are breath taking.

Getting to the Finish Line

After weeks of intensive pitch practice, refinement of business models, and miles logged meeting cannabis businesses around the country, the cohort “graduated” on Demo Day, where each company presented their business to an audience of potential investors, cannabis business professionals and the local community. We held two demo day events, the first one in Boulder on May 15, and the second one in Denver on May 25 as a part of the Canopy Jumpstart Conference. Both events were packed and all of the teams in my co-hort KILLED it! I was so proud of them and of how much we were able to accomplish during the program.

CLICK HERE to watch my pitch

My key takeaways from Canopy

1. Be present! Maximize the short time you have in the program. The weeks fly by and there are so many amazing speakers, presenters and mentors you don’t want to miss a single opportunity to learn. It’s important to focus and follow the program schedule, don’t schedule outside meetings or calls that will conflict with the program.

2. Connect with the network! When mentors and presenters visit make sure to take notes, ask questions, follow up.

3. Perfect your pitch! Take the time to know your numbers, your customers, understand valuations, create a fundraising roadmap and have your due diligence tight!

4. Test! When in doubt, or even when you are sure make sure to test your product and get feedback. A/B testing is a great way to get feedback and perfect your product.

5. Learn the market! Cannabis is not legal on a federal level and laws vary state to state, barrier to entry is education. For SVI, we realized that it will take time and resources to introduce our software in each market so we have to go state by state. We interviewed several mentors and did our research to determine the best place to start.

What’s Next for SVI?

After demo day we connected with investors and potential customers. The Canopy team was like proud parents watching the teams pitch and then they set us free to continue the work on our own. We are no longer in Boulder but Patrick, Mason, Micah and Meghan are always a call (or Slack) away and happy to help as needed. They are our investors so it is important for us to keep them in the loop.

We left the program with a clear vision on how we can work with the cannabis industry and several dispensaries interested in using our technology. We are now focused on launching our software solution and executing pilots in a few legal markets. It does take time, especially in a regulated market where the rules vary state to state. In the meantime SVI is working with several retail brands, vending manufacturers and operators (non cannabis related) to bring our technology to the general retail market, where we will debut our technology.

How can you get involved?

After graduating from Canopy I get at least 2–3 calls a week from people wanting to get into the industry. The cannabis industry is projected to reach $20 billion by 2021, 60% of U.S citizens support legalizing marijuana so now is the time to explore your options. I am no expert, but my suggestion is to start by doing your research! I believe the best way to invest in cannabis to invest in companies that have developed technology, ancillary, and lifestyle products to support the industry. Don’t know where to find them? Attend once of The Arcview Group conferences to learn about the latest investment opportunities. The Arcview Group is responsible for a number of groundbreaking ventures in the cannabis industry. The Arcview Investor Network includes more than 625 accredited investors who have invested more than $91 million behind 135 companies, including funding the Canopy Boulder program. They hold 4 conferences a year in cities across the country. Go network! Subscribe to industry blogs and podcasts, I list some of the top ones below. Want to start a cannabis business? I have learned that the farther away from the plant the more access you have to investors…marinate on that for a bit.

Check out the 10 AWESOME companies in my class and get to know them. We are not the first co-hort, there are five other classes before us with amazing companies and founders who were taught by the BEST in the business.

  • Snapp Digital provides ad control for digital networks. Snapp’s platform allows advertisers to buy ad space and manage content from a simple dashboard, solving the problem of buying and managing ad space in a simplified and cost-effective platform. Founded by Dustin Lato and Ron Warner of Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Solutions Vending believes smart vending machines aren’t smart enough. SVI utilizes facial recognition software to convert standard vending machines into an intelligent data collection kiosk, collecting valuable purchasing information. Founded by Dawn Dickson of Miami, Florida.
  • Who Is Happy connects cannabis consumers around the globe with an international geo-location based social network. Launched in 2016, the app quickly grew to 170,000 users and has almost 1M check-ins to date. Founded by Joao Paulo Costa and Henrique Torelli.
  • Cannabis Big Data integrates with data sources such as POS and accounting to publish critical business management reports that identify areas for improved efficiencies and revenue. Founded by Henry Finkelstein of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
  • Sana Packaging believes current packaging solutions are wasteful, don’t store efficiently, and don’t allow space for branding and compliance labels. Sana offers rectangular, stackable cannabis containers made from biodegradable hemp-based plastic, resulting in a reduction of their carbon footprint by eliminating traditional petroleum-based plastic from the equation. Founded by Ron Basak-Smith of Easton, Connecticut and James Eichner of Montagnola, Switzerland.
  • Bloom Automation provides robotics for the cannabis industry. A solution for the high cost of manual labor, Bloom creates high-tech robotics that allow for tasks within a cultivation setting to be automated. Founded by Jon Gowa of Boston, Massachusetts.
  • CannaZoning is a platform that provides visualization of state and local marijuana zoning laws, helping businesses understand the lay of the land, filter the noise, and avoid costly pitfalls associated with cannabis business zoning. Founded by Ben Livingston of Seattle, Washington.
  • Firesale uses geo-mapping technology to provide real-time information on cannabis deals in any location. Its user-friendly search functionality allows consumers to find flower based on potency, strain or price. Founded by Damien Payne and Clay Nutting of Sacramento, California.
  • Estrohaze is a cannabis-focused media outlet designed to break the stigma surrounding women and minorities. The platform includes resources, career opportunities, and lifestyle content that focuses on women of color benefiting from the cannabis plant. Founded by Safon Floyd, Kali Wilder and Sirita Wright of Brooklyn, New York.
  • Croptimize provides technology to drive efficiencies for growers, encouraging energy savings and conservation. They optimize demand profiles and reduce operating expenses through machine learning to leverage rate structure management and utility incentives. Founded by Kevin Mayer of Boulder, Colorado.

Until next time…