Transferring Ag Tech to The Cannabis Industry

gregg steinberg growcentia

Gregg Steinberg is the CEO of Growcentia. Together with his three co-founders, Gregg has created an additive called Mammoth that helps cannabis plants become more bioavailable to absorb nutrients.

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Key Takeaways:
– Ag tech coming out of Colorado State University in Ft. Collins
– Why most cannabis nutrients are locked up in the growing media or washed away
– How to make your cannabis plants more bioavailable to receive nutrients
– How to increase your plant yield with additives

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Matthew: What happens when three Colorado State University soil microbiologists with PhD degrees that share a passion for enhancing soil health and promoting sustainable agriculture get together and create a bio-stimulant that can help cannabis growers? We are going to find out today with our guest, Gregg Steinberg, CEO, and one of the three founding partners of Growcentia. Gregg, welcome to CannaInsider.

Gregg: Thank you Mat. Much appreciated being here today.

Matthew: Gregg, give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?

Gregg: Well, it depends on how we look at that question. Physically, I'm in Colorado in Fort Collins, which is where our company is based and where we were founded. And we can talk more about where our product is and where our global landscape is as we get into this.

Matthew: Okay. And Elon Musk might say you're not even really there and you might be a simulation. What do you think about that?

Gregg: I'm sorry. Say it again.

Matthew: Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla thinks we might be living in a simulation and we might not even really be here to begin with. Have you heard that?

Gregg: I have heard that and it's...He's a unique individual for sure, but our simulation seems to be pretty real every single day. We got lots of people running around, we're building a company and we're living in the moment. Definitely, not a simulation. That's for sure.

Matthew: Okay. Well, Neo in the Matrix thought so too, and then look what happened to him. That's a different podcast. Okay. So tell us what is Growcentia? What is that in a high level?

Gregg: Growcentia is a leading biostimulant company where we produce an additive and an amendment that helps to enhance the yield and help plants. It is an organic product and we're a tech transfer from Colorado State University as you mentioned are three co-founders, are soil microbiology research scientist at CSU initially, and that's where technology comes from. We took that technology off campus. In March of 2015, we raised our first piece of capital with an intent of bringing the technology to the market to help biological solutions, make the win in the marketplace reduce chemical inputs in agriculture in general, and think about a sustainable way, organic way to be environmentally friendly and to help feed the world. That's where we started with our research on campus. And then as we got started and thought about what we would do for business perspective, we pivoted and took a hard look at the cannabis and hemp space, and this is where we find ourselves in the world today.

Matthew: Seems like CSU's spawning a good bit of entrepreneurial activity. Are they doing a good job of helping businesses transition out of CSU? Is there a program for that or is it just kind of a natural organic process that's happening or are they actively encouraging it?

Gregg: There are actively encouraging it. We've had a great relationship with the tech transfer arm with CSU ventures, with the CSU foundation, with the entrepreneurship component of the university both on the agriculture side as well as on a business side. In addition, we're an alumni of the Ionosphere, which is an incubator in Fort Collins, the largest incubator in Fort Collins. And we've had the benefit of many resources at CSU throughout our various components of our business whether it's on the fundraising side, on the business development side, thinking about IP portfolio strategy, thinking about our agriculture inputs and our research and development there. We still maintain labs for research at CSU. We still use resources at CSU for our genomic sequencing for much of our QC work and QA work. We also keep greenhouse space at CSU which we leas from them for plant trials and the product development, etc. So we have a great relationship in university and they've been very supportive in many ways.

Matthew: Maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background and the background of your founding partners so we can get a sense of kind of the expertise at play here.

Gregg: Sure. So three founding members all engaged heavily at CSU. Two co-inventors within that group of our technology, both PhD in soil and microbiology research scientists. Matt Wallenstein share the company currently, still on faculty at CSU, and one of the leading folks in the world on his specialty in terms of soil ecology and soil health. Rich Conant also on faculty and still at CSU, and another sort of core global leader. I'm thinking about environmental health and soil health, etc. And then Colin Bell, the third person of the co-founding team who is both co-inventor on the technology, he was the lead. He was the lead investigator for the grants that we were under at CSU to do an initial technology discovery. And also left the university in March of 2015 when we handle the tech transfer and to get the company started. And Colin is also sort of well-respected and well peer reviewed person in the soil ecology and soil health environment.

Matthew: Okay. And so you have a mission to bring biology back to ag. What does that mean?

Gregg: Well, we think about how to think about reducing...I'm sorry, I'm getting some noise. We think about how to reduce chemical inputs in terms of enhancing yield. Obviously, the last or the first green revolution, if you will, was really driven by chemical solutions to enhance crop yield and to reduce pesticide, and so reduce pests and diseases. And it's served us well to get us to where we needed to get through the feed the world in the population that we have today, but it's had some negative impacts as we all know, to say the least. And the next green revolution really needs to come out of biology rather than out of chemistry. And so we think about using biological solutions naturally occurring bacteria that live in the soil that we extract and isolate to do certain things, driving around a core functionality and utilizing those to really enhance yield and enhance health of the plants and find a way to have those bring nature back to agriculture.

Matthew: Gregg, if you were to sit down and have lunch with a cannabis grower or a cannabis business owner, and help them get the most of the information that you know about plants and plant health, and your product Mammoth and how it can help them, what would you tell them to bring their information level up from where they're at to your level?

Gregg: We're very discovery-based. I think we can start with a couple of questions whether it's to a hobbyist grow, medical care giver or to large-scale commercial grower, really trying to understand what their current methodology is, how they're currently growing, whether they're inside or outside, whether in hydroponic system, what kind of media they are using, how they think about their cloning process, what their cycle is in bench through bloom, etc. And then understand the inputs that they're currently using. What's their recipe? What's their formula that they're currently abiding by? And then have a discussion around how adding a biological solution, such as ours, into that regime, having that additive be a component of that, how that might modify what they're currently doing.

Typically, we suggest not to change anything that they're currently doing, just to add our product on top of everything that they're currently doing. They already have a baseline. Most people are pretty dialed in, they know exactly what they're getting and based on the strains that they're growing, and by adding our product on top of what they're currently doing and seeing what that differential is, at least creates then a new baseline of understanding what that impact is. And then after that, if they wanna play or modify other things that they're doing, we can work with them on thinking about that relative to those core baselines. But we, for sure, wanna have a baseline of where they're at and then a baseline of how you're utilizing product is gonna impact them in a positive way both in terms of the health of the plant as well as in terms of yield enhancement.

Matthew: So if I were to walk into a hydroponic shop and I see all bunch of soil nutrients, and then I see Mammoth, tell us how Mammoth is different and what it can do different than a typical nutrient. And if it's a nutrient at all, or how we should categorize it.

Gregg: For sure. Yeah. And we're actually not a nutrient. Thanks for asking it. We're actually an additive. So we help to cycle the nutrients more effectively and efficiently.

Matthew: Okay. So, an additive is...How is that different than a nutrient, just so we can understand that a little more clearly?

Gregg: For sure, for sure. So you think about nutrient is having a core NPK, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium type of components to them as well as other micronutrients, magnesium, iron, calcium, etc.

Matthew: Okay.

Gregg: And most of the time, it doesn't matter if it's in cannabis or in a corn or wheat or tomatoes. Plants in general are absorbing these nutrients to enhance their health and to enhance their growth cycles. However, many of those compounds don't actually end up in the plant when they're put into the soil or into the substrate or into reservoir, etc. They're not in quite usable form, they're not in a manner that the roots can actually absorb them. They end up binding to substrate or to soil, etc. And this happens in general agriculture as much as it happens in cannabis. And so, these are the impact that you see of things like heavy leaching of phosphorus into the Çeşme Bay and ending up with [inaudible [00:11:05] and things like this as this is heavy phosphorus buildup over decades of phosphorus binding based on fertilizer inputs and nutrients input into soil.

And so what biology does in general, what Mother Nature does is she has bacteria in soil thousands and tens of thousands and millions of different bacteria in soil to help cycle these nutrients. Over time though, especially outdoors, we've seen a breakdown of that natural component because of all the chemicals we've put in. And in the indoor systems some of these biological solutions and cycles aren't there. So by adding a biological solution and additive and amendment such as us into that nutrient cycle, it actually helps to cycle the nutrients more effectively and more efficiently. It breaks them down and puts them into more plant usable form. And so we have 50%, 60%, 70% of the nutrients aren't always absorbed by the plant, it helps to break those nutrients down so you get much greater nutrient use efficiency of the inputs that somebody is putting into their system, before you end up with much more of it up in the plant and as the plant absorbs more of those nutrients, it's gonna be healthy and obviously increase the yield.

Matthew: Okay. So it makes the plant available to receive the nutrients, more of a bio available situation, and maybe even catalyzing the process of getting the nutrients into the plant instead of them washing away when the plants water the next time, just going through the bottom of the soil or whatever media you're using.

Gregg: Yeah, either washing away or just staying bound up in the substrates and the media that are being used and creates the bioavailability of those nutrients for the plant to absorb.

Matthew: Okay. And then what kind of effects have you seen on yield in terms of the clients you work with that have started using Mammoth as an additive?

Gregg: We've had pretty impressive results. We've seen fairly similar results regardless of media being used, cocopeat, etc, with deep water culture, very essential the hydroponic systems or outdoors in soil, various type of soil types around the country, and actually around the world now. Where we've seen an average about a 16%, the one 6% increase in yield across all these different types of methodologies and grow environments that people find themselves in.

Matthew: Okay. Is there bacteria in Mammoth?

Gregg: There is, and this is the core functionality of our technology. So there's four key strains of bacteria in the Mammoth currently. These are strains that we isolated in our work at CSU in the labs during that initial technology breakthrough. It's for strains that sit underneath the patent that we currently have. And they're unique in the sense that we isolated them towards a very specific functionality of ones that would help to cycle phosphorus more effectively and efficiently. And so, these are proprietary strains to us in terms of our consortia, and they're driving towards this core functionality of unbinding phosphorus, releasing phosphorus, increasing the phosphorus uptake into plants as well as helping to breakdown other micronutrients, again, to have that impact on yield.

Matthew: Okay. So it sounds like phosphorous uptake is a bit of an issue and one you've addressed with Mammoth. Why are plants having this problem uptaking phosphorus, or cannabis plants in particular?

Gregg: It's not necessarily a problem with uptaking the phosphorous, so the plants naturally wanna absorb it. It's the bioavailability of that phosphorus in the environment that the plants find themselves. So again, with these nutrients that are put in to have phosphorous in them, even though those nutrients have phosphorus in them, that phosphorus isn't 100% in a form that the plant can actually absorb and take up through its rises and through its roots. And so our product helps to break that phosphorus down and put it into a format, if you will, that the plant can actually absorb through its roots.

Matthew: Okay. And so you mentioned before that you have a kind of lab setup to conduct research. Is that something that's going on like weekly or quarterly, or do you have kind of a test you're doing or what does that look like?

Gregg: Yeah, we actually have 13 people in our company that are full-time dedicated to R&D in our labs. We both have labs at the CSU as I mentioned. We do a sequence work there, isolation work there, extraction work there, etc., in terms of new product development that are in our quality control for current product that we're manufacturing. We also have lab space at our headquarters facility in Fort Collins off campus. And then we have members of our R&D team around the plash trial side. As I mentioned we have the greenhouse space at CSU that we do plant browse on. We also have another facility just outside of Fort Collins that's a farm that we also have greenhouse space as well as a large acreage to do outdoor testing on. And so this group is working diligently hard every day, looking for ways that we can now both bring new products to market as well as think about different methodologies to enhance yield and health of plants.

Matthew: How do you see your product line evolving over the next few years?

Gregg: I mean, we're really focused on bringing biological solutions to the market, and doing that in a manner that helps the grower, the farmer, the producer think through the entire life cycle of his grow. So all the way from clone all the way through harvest. And the products that we think about bringing to market have certainly maintain our view on biological solution, natural solution, and organic solution that's gonna help with this life cycle of the plant growth. So whether it's on clone and I think about products that are held with root growth and root mass and fast root development could be in terms of the early stage in terms of that cycle, obviously, as we think about the yield side of it and other ways to impact both yield enhancement as well as other cannabinoid impact that we might be able to have. So all the way through the life cycle is how we think about products that we can bring to market.

Matthew: Okay. And where are you in the fundraising process? Have you raised funds and where are you now?

Gregg: We have raised funds. We've gone through three different rounds of fundraising. We've been part of the ArcView community and have developed some very good relationships and friends through that community as well as a number of investors. We have some institutional investors that are involved in the cannabis space that have institutional funds as well as some large-scale of any offices that are also focused on both cannabis space as well as thinking of bringing biological solutions into the broader ag space.

Matthew: Okay, let's pivot to a few personal development questions to help listeners get a better sense of who you are personally. Is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you'd like to share?

Gregg: Well, there's two actually that I would mention. One is called "The Starfish and the Spider."

Matthew: It's a great book. Great book.

Gregg: By Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. So, this one's really interesting. It comes from a couple of different viewpoints in terms of hierarchy or non-hierarchal organizational structures, how to empower people in terms of moving an organization forward, and we've also sort of as we live in, especially in a world where so much is driven by social and digital, how those social webs are put together and how that sort of power of the network really drives opportunity and forward-thinking and innovation. And so that one is a book that is definitely giving me time to think about different ways to think about how to be innovative and creative and have our organization be forefronts and leader in our community for sure.

And the other book is "Legacy," it's by Dr. Barrie Greiff who was a professor at Harvard in the '60s and sort of was the father of psychology in the boardroom. And the book that he wrote, "Legacy," is based on a number of different L words and actually living your legacy, not waiting until you're gone to have your legacy be created around you. And the things that it talks about are loving, learning, laboring, laughing, lamenting, linking, living, leading, and leaving. And a lot of these have sort of personal implications to them. They also have implications across each of them in terms of how we think about an organization and creating community in an organization and team in an organization and connecting with community both internally and externally in terms of those people that we network with, our stakeholders, our customers, our partners, our vendors, our investors, our employees, etc. And so each of these core L words that Dr. Greiff talks about are things that we try and incorporate in the everyday component of our business and how we interact with our community around us.

Matthew: Okay. Sounds like a great book. Is there a tool, web-based or otherwise that you consider vital to your day-to-day productivity?

Gregg: There's a couple, and then obviously, as a startup I find myself definitely in engrossed in the day-to-day activities of the business 24/7. So in terms of staying connected to the world, I use two different things, one, is app called SmartNews which is sort of an aggregator of news and helps me understand lots of different places. Expresso is another one, which is the sort of a daily feed in the Economist Magazine, tell me and stay put in what's going on. That in terms of sort of operationally from day to day organizational things in terms of my own project management, I use Google Tasks as sort of a key way to keep me aligned with what I'm doing every day, not miss things. We use normal CRM from the and these types of things. But Google Task really helps me to stay on point.

Matthew: One question I didn't ask that I was just kinda curious about. You probably talked to a lot of different growers that have different skill levels, different size grows. Do you see a big spectrum or dichotomy in terms of the growers that are really planning for efficiency and that are gonna take big leaps in terms of being able to grow at scale for a reduced cost versus maybe smaller artisan grows that aren't prepared for that? Is there a big spectrum you're seeing?

Gregg: Yeah, and I think that's a spectrum that we're seeing a widening spectrum that we're seeing in various parts of the country, that was this divergence, if you will, between a large scale industrial institutional large fund backed type of grows with multiple licenses all over the country, and how they're diving in on a very specific regime really focused on cost, really focused on producing as a lower cost as possible, and the artisan grower. And I think that evolution is one we're gonna continue to see. I like and it's what we've seen in the beer industry, as an example with large scale, these large-scale breweries, etc., and then the artisanal micro brew. And I think we're gonna see exactly the same thing and that divergence and how one thinks about the quality and the ability to get one's hands on artisan products versus the large institutional product. So obviously, as we stay state by state but as regulatory environments change and we're able to come across state lines, I think we're gonna see even more divergence on that artisan grow versus the large institutional facility.

Matthew: Great points. And the artisanal growers and smaller growers have to really have a narrative and experience that pulls people in in terms of getting them to feel good about paying more for what herb that is, like, "Hey, is this part of a family grow?" Is this one that has zero pesticides and is doing something regenerative for the ecosystem it's in, or just something that really helps the person feel good about why they're paying more and then the experience of the cannabis expect itself because it's something I think about a lot. I have the same experience as you where there's this massive amount of money coming into automation and doing things at scale and bringing a price per gram down. And those folks will probably do fine because they're just kind of they're leading the change, but then everybody else that's kind of doing it the same way they were. I'm a little bit concerned about them, especially if they're not investing in that narrative or that experience that helps people feel good about why they're choosing their product at a higher price. So I guess just throwing that out there for listeners.

Gregg: Yeah, man. And we see this in terms of what's the value proposition that people are looking towards us in terms of why they're utilizing our product. I think in these large institutional grows they're really focused on the fact that they have the strong yield enhancement benefit, and so therefore, without a lot of that added inputs on many different components; labor, utilities, nutrients, etc., and are able to produce more with the same amount of inputs, and therefore obviously that reduces their cost of production. And the other side on the artisanal grower, it's less about the yield, it's more about the fact we're an organic input. We're helping with the health of the plant. We're helping to cycle other organics that they're using more efficiently and effectively And so therefore for the artisanal side, it's really about what that input component is.

Matthew: Okay, great. So Mammoth, again, is an additive, not a nutrient that helps the nutrients to be more effective and make the plant more bio available so the nutrients can get in and not be wasted.

Gregg: Correct. And make those nutrients more bio available to the plant. You can always think of it like a probiotic for plants to a certain extent where we help to cycle those nutrients more effectively and efficiently.

Matthew: Okay. Well, Gregg, as we close, how can listeners find out more about Growcentia and Mammoth?

Gregg: You can find us on all of the social channels, #mammothmicrobes, website, is full of information, lots of FAQs, lots of growing tips, lots of information about the product and our technology. You can find us up on Facebook, obviously, and Twitter and LinkedIn and all these things. So check us out at or #mammothmicrobes.

Matthew: Gregg, thanks so much for coming on the show today, we really appreciate it.

Gregg: Thank you Matt, I really appreciate your time.