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Jefferson University Cannabis Innovation Competition Accepting Submissions

By Aaron G. Biros, Aaron G. Biros
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Thomas Jefferson University’s Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp announced recently that it is co-sponsoring the third annual JAZ Tank Challenge: CannaVATION Edition.

Jefferson Innovation’s 2018 JAZ Tank Challenge: CannaVATION Edition is currently accepting submissions of innovative business models for a chance to compete on October 3, where finalists will each present their business ideas in a 10-minute pitch. Winning submissions could get one free provisional or utility patent application and business and clinical consulting services. The competition will be accepting submissions through August 20, 2018.

Finalists will compete for a $10,000 grand prize, legal support and business consultation services.  According to the announcement, in addition to the grand prize winner, up to two other teams could win $5,000 in financial support, one free provisional or utility patent application and consulting services as well.

to Zoe McKinley, director of entrepreneurship and social impact initiative at the Lambert Center
Zoe McKinley, director of entrepreneurship and social impact initiative at the Lambert Center

According to Zoe McKinley, director of entrepreneurship and social impact initiative at the Lambert Center, the competition is designed to have a national focus, not just on the Pennsylvania cannabis industry. “We are excited to shine a spotlight on Pennsylvania, and Thomas Jefferson University specifically, as a hub for research in medical cannabis, but like the competition, the Lambert Center has a national and even international focus,” says McKinley. She says this is also the first year that the JAZ tank is exclusively focused on cannabis.

Jefferson’s Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Rose Ritts, notes “the competition is about creating a platform for emerging concepts to get a toe-hold on the path to potential commercialization. Anything that will improve patient access or outcomes …or improve the industrial hemp market in the U.S. is definitely of interest,” says Ritts. “We welcome companies to jump into the Challenge, and we also welcome investors or anyone thinking about getting into this space to be in the audience for our event on October 3.”

Dr. Rose Ritts, Jefferson’s Chief Innovation Officer
Dr. Rose Ritts, Jefferson’s Chief Innovation Officer

The challenge is an annual healthcare startup competition, where new businesses with particularly innovative ideas and technology solutions for the legal cannabis space submit their business models to a panel of judges for review. “This event will bring together the most inventive minds to pitch their solutions to stakeholder problems in the still-emerging medical and medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp industries,” reads the announcement. The Lambert Center is seeking applicants in a wide variety of business areas, including patient access, product design, plant science, information management, horticultural technology, sustainability, transportation, security, workforce training, community outreach, banking and public education.

Lambert Center Director Charles Pollack, MD sees the massive growth potential of the legal cannabis industry. “At our Center we are dedicated to identifying new approaches to developing cannabinoid-based therapies that help patients with various debilitating symptoms and diseases,” says Pollack. “Our JAZ Tank Challenge may identify the next great idea in medicinal cannabis.”

CannaVation logoThrough the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp, Jefferson is the first major university in the US to provide a comprehensive academic resource for the medicinal, medical and industrial applications and business of cannabis and hemp. The Lambert Center, the first of its kind in academia, provides “expert-developed, unbiased information to clinicians and patients about medical cannabis and cannabinoid-based therapies,” according to their website. They want to “support the development of entrepreneurial and socially responsible business and clinical approaches within the emerging medical cannabis industry and explore and develop new ways to use hemp in medical, industrial, and consumer products,” reads the website.

McKinley mentions they are looking for creative approaches to solving problems in the medical cannabis and industrial hemp industry. “These could be anything from new products or supply chain innovations to patient support tools to energy management systems that lower the environmental impact of grow facilities,” says McKinley. “We are hoping to see companies that have already launched, or are ready to very quickly.” The third annual JAZ Tank Challenge: CannaVATION Edition is accepting submissions through August 20. Click here for more information.

Exploring Opportunities in Emerging Markets

By Aaron G. Biros, Aaron G. Biros
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This November 8th, voters in five states will head to the polls to decide on legalizing recreational cannabis and another three states have ballot initiatives that would legalize medical cannabis. If any of those five states pass a measure for recreational legalization, including Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Arizona and California, (which are all leading in the polls) they could potentially create massive new market opportunities for cannabis brands that have their eye on expansion.

Nancy Whiteman, co-owner of Wana Brands and chair of the Cannabis Business Alliance Infused Product Committee, sees great potential in capitalizing on those markets early. Whiteman has been working with Wana Brands since 2010 in Colorado, starting out in the young medical market there.

Nancy Whiteman holding a batch of cannabis gummies
Nancy Whiteman holding a batch of cannabis gummies

After expanding to the recreational market, Wana Brands saw its sales skyrocket. From January to August 2016, Wana had the best-selling candy brand in Colorado with 21% dollar share, according to BDS Analytics. Wana Brands has already expanded to Oregon and will launch in Nevada on November 15th, with agreements signed to expand in other states as well. “The model we are pursuing is a licensing agreement where we partner with existing or new license holders in their state,” says Whiteman. “In many ways they are doing the heavy lifting, but we are providing an enormous lift by licensing our intellectual property to them.” That model for growth is becoming increasingly common in some of the more established brands, like Steep Hill Laboratories, GFarma Labs, Dixie and others. Whiteman says that Wana Brands also has a partner in Illinois, Massachusetts and a number of other states they hope to reach.

Mark Slaugh, CEO of iComply
Mark Slaugh, CEO of iComply

According to Mark Slaugh, executive director of the Cannabis Business Alliance and chief executive officer of iComply, a compliance services provider, brands from Colorado expanding to other states need to ask themselves if their reputation is on the line with these new operators. “If you are licensing to companies that are not compliant, the penalties could be huge and they vary state to state- that could potentially hurt the overall brand image nationally,” says Slaugh. “People doing the licensing that are operating with full compliance really need to look at controlling that risk and mitigating that as much as possible.” With brand trust on the line, there are substantial risks that come with expansion. “We help clients ensure quality is consistent so, for example, an edible product would taste the same in Colorado as it would in Nevada or Arizona. They need to follow the intellectual property consistently but more importantly follow those specific regulations in that state to stay afloat.” Managing ongoing compliance in different states requires monitoring regulatory updates across multiple markets, which can get incredibly complex.

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Processing SOPs vary widely stae to state

“Six years ago, it was much easier to get into the market in Colorado,” says Whiteman. “There were no capital requirements, no limits on the number of licenses, but there was still a lengthy application and vetting process- as long as you met those minimum requirements you could get a license.” Other new states put stringent limits on the number of licenses granted and some have extraordinarily cost-prohibitive capital requirements, up to a million dollars, as is the case for New York. “Anyone who becomes a license holder in Massachusetts has to be prepared to embark on three separate business models, which is a massive undertaking,” says Whiteman. Massachusetts requires license holders to cultivate, process and dispense in a vertically integrated model.

In other states, Wana Brands is working with exclusive partners who will have the capabilities to manufacture and distribute throughout the entire state, but in Massachusetts that won’t be the case. “To cover the state, we need several partnerships; the partner we are working with is a little south of Boston,” says Whiteman. But all that could change if voters in Massachusetts legalize it recreationally, opening a much larger market than the current medical program. “With no legislation drafted yet, the regulatory environment is still up in the air in Massachusetts so there is no way of telling what the recreational market will look like.” In terms of ongoing regulatory compliance, Whiteman believes that Colorado still has some of the most stringent rules. The universal symbol printed on every individual edible product serving is one example. “Every state has different lab testing and licensing requirements, but Colorado looks like the most stringent currently,” says Whiteman. “Colorado requires a full gamut of lab testing including homogeneity, potency, residual solvents, contaminants and soon pesticides too.” According to Mark Slaugh, Nevada’s lab testing regulations are fundamentally different from Colorado’s with regard to sampling procedures, but the broader inconsistencies in lab standards need to be addressed. “The lack of laboratory standardization state to state with regard to methods creates a big challenge to get consistent, proficient lab testing across the board,” says Slaugh.

Wana's edibles come stamped with the universal symbol (THC!)
Wana’s edibles come stamped with the universal symbol (THC!) in Colorado, as required by law.

A big differentiator between Colorado and other states is that it was a first mover. “When Colorado came online there were not any established brands to speak of anywhere in the country- we were all pioneers,” says Whiteman. “Because it is so difficult to get a license in another state, either the organization or investor groups are looking to partner with established brands.” The advantages to this business model are many. Expediting your entry to market gets you the advantage of being a first mover. Working with an established brand also minimizes risks and the learning curve. “Bigger players understand that building a brand from scratch is time consuming and expensive so I think we will see a lot of these partnerships.”

As those new states come online, similarities in their regulations might appear in the form of standard operating procedures (SOPs) or good manufacturing practices (GMPs). “We might start to see a standardization from state to state that models FDA GMPs or USDA GAPs, [good agricultural practices] moving toward a framework that is more consistent with the possibility of federal regulation,” says Slaugh. Another commonality among a number of states is the implementation of a statewide tracking system. According to Slaugh, California has no such mandated system in place yet. “They will probably have one eventually but the market is so localized there- we will see if California will be ready with a statewide compliance system for tracking by 2018,” says Slaugh. “With such a weird patchwork of local governments allowing or not allowing certain operations to exist, it is a tough business to be in and it’s getting tougher every day.”