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A critical component of any cannabis cultivator’s business is establishing best practices around breeding plants. Here to tell us how to create thriving genetic nurseries is Matt Gaboury of House of Cultivar.
Learn more at https://www.seattlecannabis.co/house-of-cultivar/
[1:04] An inside look at House of Cultivar, the largest cultivator in Seattle, WA
[2:03] Why Matt has shifted his focus from designing grow facilities to plant breeding
[4:51] Types of clients House of Cultivar works with, including I-502 licensed growers and processors
[7:24] A breakdown of propagation through cloning, mother plants, and tissue culture
[16:14] How House of Cultivar validates genetics to ensure they’re the best expression of the plant possible
[19:31] What it means to “reinvigorate” a plant
[24:11] The behind-the-scenes on how House of Cultivar delivers their clones to customers
[29:18] Where Matt sees the cannabis industry heading as it undergoes more specialization across the supply chain
[33:17] How large-scale nurseries will revolutionize cannabis from home growers to commercial cultivators
[34:16] How grow room technology has evolved and where Matt sees it advancing in the next few years
Matthew Kind: Hi, I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com. That's C-A-N-N-A-Insider dot com. Now, here's your program.
A critical component of any cannabis cultivators business is establishing best practices around breeding plants. Today I brought back returning guest Matt Gaboury to discuss how to create thriving genetic nurseries so you can create consistent quality harvests every time. Matt, welcome back to CannaInsider.
Matt Gaboury: Thanks so much for having me back. It's a pleasure.
Matthew Kind: Give us a sense of geography where are you in the world today?
Matt Gaboury: I am in my home base here in Seattle, Washington.
Matthew Kind: You're right in the dead center of the CH autonomous zone, correct? You're the warlord of that.
Matt Gaboury: Absolutely. We're broadcasting live from Chaz right now. Luckily, I've been up there multiple times, but not the best situation to take an interview. I decided to do this one from the office today.
Matthew Kind: I've been to Capitol Hill. That's a nice neighborhood, right?
Matt Gaboury: Absolutely. It's the thriving bars, restaurant, young nightlife area of Seattle.
Matthew Kind: Tell us about your business. What is House of Cultivar at a high level?
Matt Gaboury: House of Cultivar, we are actually the largest cultivator in the city of Seattle. That's our little claim to fame. We're a collaboration of multiple different hardcore medical growers and passionate enthusiasts for the cannabis plant, who all coalesced around this idea of bringing this thing mainstream to the recreational marketplace. We all started out in our basements 10, 15, 20 years ago and here in Washington had the ability to grow organically as the medical system grew. Then me and my other business partners coalesced when recreation was passed here in our state in 2013. We got this building in late 2014 and built out and we've been in the marketplace ever since as a top tier flower and concentrate cultivator and processor here in the state of Washington.
Matthew Kind: You've shifted your focus from a design of grow and extraction facilities to now focus on plant breeding. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Matt Gaboury: We had a consulting firm for several years that we started during that same process that I just mentioned back in 2014. Through word of mouth, we got to work in a lot of different states and help people with that design process, and I really enjoyed that as a trained architect myself, had the privilege of designing over 3 million square feet of production processing space. I really got to learn a lot about different marketplaces, different environments, different systems, and different crops. In that process, we were able to also build out our own facilities, which was our primary focus in our professional careers.
Bandwidth is one of those things that are starting to get limited so we had to really focus on what the core things that were affecting us as well as impacting our business. That really was, how do we make this be more efficient and work better. Since our main focus as growers really are the genetics that we cultivate, focusing on, how we do that and how we maximize that became one of my primary focuses. In that evolution, tissue culture really became one of the primary tools in order to accomplish that. Through those means, we had naturally amassed a very large genetic collection, we had perfected this tissue culture process of propagating it very effectively. We started to have an overabundance to be able to give out to the marketplace.
Following some trends that were very prevalent in other major agricultural crops, you can really see there's a differentiation between the people who make the genetics propagate the genetics and distribute the genetics and the individuals who grow those and fruit those and flower those for production. Our business we started to see evolved in the same way. This is something that was very integral to how we run our production facility, and we feel like we could aid the rest of the industry in that as well. We decided to try to pursue this more so.
Matthew Kind: Today we're going to talk about Plant Breeding, but you have a deep specialization as we talked about in designing growth facilities extraction facilities also around automation in those environments. At the end of the interview, I'm going to ask you a couple of questions about that for people that are really interested in that. For now, let's go back to House of Cultivar and plant breeding. What type of clients are you working with most now? If someone's listening and they're not sure, like, "Hey, can House of Cultivar help me or not." Who is your ideal client?
Matt Gaboury: Here in Washington, we primarily only or actually we only work with other i502 licensed growers and processors. That's the limitations of the law. We're in the process of trying to set up other facilities around the country. Currently, California as well as Massachusetts and Illinois, and our primary individually, we work with our large scale, commercial grows, looking to make their production more efficient, and/or acquire new genetics because we built such a large genetic catalog we've become a source for those hard to find rare genetics plus, we're constantly going through breeding and phenotyping exercises to expand that catalog. Being able to offer those to the general marketplace is one of our main services.
In addition, people like large scale outdoor grows or nurseries, who are looking to acquire their production starts, we've been able to provide them with either one time or periodic starts so that they can essentially eliminate that portion of the process from their cultivation facilities. Then I think lastly, individuals looking to store their genetics. That's been one of our most popular services is maybe, let's say your greenhouse and you don't have maybe the infrastructure for holding your mom plants throughout the wintertime. We provide the service of being able to take those, tissue culture those, clean them up through the sterility process and then hold them on our shelves until you need those genetics back. That could be the next season that could be two or three seasons down the road.
One of the great parts about it is we call it cloud storage. We have the ability to put these things into a state where they don't really metabolize very much and hence, they can stay in a suspended state for prolonged periods of time. It really aids in that genetic storage process.
Matthew Kind: It's really interesting to see, as the cannabis industry matures, that specialization services like yours emerged as part of this ecosystem where some part of the cultivation chain people either don't want to do or don't have the specialization to do. That's really cool to see start happening. We're starting to throw around some terms here that most people are familiar with, but people that are not, can you describe what propagation through cloning is, what a mother plant is and what tissue culture means?
Matt Gaboury: Yes, absolutely. Conventionally, most people understand the propagation method of having mother plants, and then you essentially cut-off a small branch off of that mother plants. Then you put that into a cloning process or several different forms of it that roots and then you have an exact 100% replica of that mother plant. Tissue culture is very similar, but at a much smaller scale and with more steps in the process revolving around sterility. In a TC process, there's many different ways you can do it, there's nodal tissue culture, there's leaf tissue culture, there's meristem. It depends on what you're trying to accomplish. Each one has its own pros and cons.
For instance, many people want to try to clean their plants. In that case, you would do something that was more of a meristem. If you're looking for quick propagation, you could do something that's more nodal, but essentially you're doing something similar where you're taking a portion of that plant, whether that's the node or leaf, or just that very, very tiny bit of cells of the meristem and then you are using a medium and some hormones, just like in rooting, to initiate either a shooting process, that's where the plant grows more shoots and leaves. Or a rooting process where it grows roots, and essentially creates that whole organism, that whole-plant in vitro, within a sterile vessel, whether that be a test tube or a jar. In that process, you're able to, like I said, mentioned earlier, and I'm sure we'll talk about further is do several different steps to it that go above and beyond what you can do to control a clone, mostly in the form of sterility.
Matthew Kind: Keeping mother plants alive and healthy sounds like a simple thing, but it's a specialization in itself. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Matt Gaboury: Yes, absolutely. That's probably one of the biggest benefit to tissue culture is that you get to remove a large amount of that mother stock, especially if you use tissue culture for your propagation. Mom plants, like any other plant in your facility, it needs water, it needs light, it needs electricity, it needs resources, it needs time, it needs labor. If you fail on any one of those, it can have very detrimental effects through different stresses. It can genetically change a plant, it can do little things to the plant, major things to the plant.
Even if you take something like time for instance, every plant gets older, there's no way to pause time, and eventually those mother plants will get root bound, they start to show their age, they start to affect the efficiency of how those clones perform as well. Because of all those things, in the lab you're able to reduce that and you can create mother plants within a jar. Then you can propagate off of those jars to create new plantlets as well. You can reduce the amount of mother stock that you have in your plant A in your facility, and hence the amount of time, labor, light, water and all of those things that I just mentioned.
Matthew Kind: Cool. If I were to walk into your lab right now with you and you were to point out a few things to me, what would I be looking at?
Matt Gaboury: The lab is a separate area of the building that we try to keep secluded mostly for sterility reasons. It's much more like a conventional lab space than it is a conventional grow space. All of its surface are antimicrobial, we use all sterile processes, aseptic processes, and that includes how you enter into the room. There is a HEPA air lock before you can get into the actual tissue culture lab itself. Then the lab is differentiated into multiple different zones depending upon what's happening there.
Essentially, you have spaces that go from less sterile, like where you wash your dishes and maybe where you do some of your prep, to areas that are more sterile, like where your flow hoods are, which are these large cabinets that create a laminar flow with HEPA-filtered air so that anything you perform inside those hoods is done in a completely sterile space. That, for instance, is where we take the plantlet and put those into the in vitro jars. Then there's another area where there's storage. The storage is primarily in the form of stainless steel racking with lights. It looks like a bunch of test tubes essentially piled in rows on these stainless steel shelves.
Matthew Kind: Now, talk about the stages of getting a cutting from the mom plant. What do you do right after a cutting? Or I should say before the cutting you're probably putting that cutting device, dipping it in alcohol or something to make sure it's sterile, and then right after there's a steroid involved, maybe for rooting. I'm not sure exactly how you do it. Can you just walk us through that?
Matt Gaboury: Yes, absolutely. In particular, for our tissue culture, there's a couple of different things, as I mentioned earlier, that you can do. Tissue culture gives you the ability to take various different parts of a plant and be able to propagate off of that. For our sake of this example, we're going to use what we do pretty much on a day-to-day basis for a micropropagation, which is we take nodal tissue culture samples. Essentially, we're going to be getting our gear all prepped. In the garden you don't have to be as sterile as you do in the lab.
The first step of the process is really inoculation, where you're going to be cleaning all of those things in the lab. You're going to be taking clones of the plantlets, let's just say off the mother plants, in a very similar way that you would clones, only these are going to be much, much smaller cuttings. We make up a mixture in a pyrex jar, a sealed pyrex jar that essentially has some very mild sterility agents, stuff that you could basically find off the shelf. That provides a suspension for those plantlets after we cut them off the mother plant while we transport them into the lab. So they're in this sealed vessel.
Then when we go back into our lab we're able to spray down that bottle really we with lysol, and make sure that's completely clean, as well as change all of our clothes that we were wearing within the garden, put on our lab coats as well as the rest of our PPE. Then take that sterile jar into the lab, into the next area. In the next area, we essentially run it through a sterility process. There is both some physical agitation that's involved through micronization as well as some sterility agents that we use. Again, nothing that's would be deemed crazy, most things can be purchased at your local grocery store.
Then from there we go through a rinsing process, which is really important, and with very sterile water. After that, the plants get trimmed and manicured to the right size. That happens underneath the flow hood. We also then will autoclave all of our consumables now, you're going to need it throughout that process. We also clean and sterilize all the glassware. All that's going to be under the flow hood, ready to go as well.
Then the technician is going to, essentially plantlet by plantlet, dissect that down to just the nodal area that's needed. Then with forceps, in a very sterile manner, place than within the in vitro vial, which then contain some of our media. There's different media for different phases of the plant process. Then from there it's capped, and then once that sealed plant is in that test tube, it can then be removed from the flow hood and then put into the storage. Then, depending upon the phase of the plant, it may go through some other elements as well.
Matthew Kind: I can see why there's a lot of companies outsourcing to you, because this is just a lot of detail that you specialize in. A lot of business owners are thinking more big picture, "If I can outsource this and they do a better job than me, why not just do that and accelerate the whole process and have more confidence in the whole process?" It makes sense. How do you validate genetics to ensure they are the best expression of the plant possible?
Matt Gaboury: That really comes down to the downstream cultivators, the gardeners, analytics, and really study too come into play at that point. It's really a constant effort to phenotype new strains in the buretting process. It's a lot of work on the flowering department in particular, because every plant likes slighty different parameters. We're constantly throwing curve balls at the flower gardeners just to be able to deal with multiple different types of phenos all at the same time, to try to figure out really what are those best parameters.
For us, the only way that we've learned to not pull out our hair is to use pretty rigid data analysis in that process. Throughout the grow cycle, there is lots of different parameters that are recorded, tracked and then analyzed at the end of the process to show that plant's performance from purely a grow perspective, what is the structure of the plant, what times did it take, how'd it yield, how'd it perform, did it have certain stress factors, did it require more nutrients, didn't they show deficiency? Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Once the actual plant is harvested, then it goes to various different people for either anecdotal analysis or into study groups, mostly through our employees. We have a really good employee sampling program where we use the people who smoke the product the most to be able to test and validate, and give opinion on the qualitative effects of it. Then we take both that qualitative analysis, as well as that quantitative analysis through the grow process, and then we try to pick who are the winners. Even with all that data, it still is tough because there's just so many exciting strains out there, and unfortunately there are limitations on what you can grow. There's only X amount that can be space available.
Matthew Kind: Any strains you're just excited about right now, or you don't like to name favorites?
Matt Gaboury: Man, there's so many. I got into this industry in the first place because I'm a passion smoker. That really is what keeps on fueling my fire, and I constantly get very excited about new things. I think, in the garden right now we have about six different internally-bred strains of zkittlez crosses. There's one, there's a zittlez with dread bread cross that is just phenomenal. It is a combination of that-- Like how when you open up a bag of zkittlez, that smell, which is--I know most people don't think of the smell of zkittlez but it is a very distinct smell. Combined with this kind of hazy, gassy terpene, which to me is the combination of the best of the both worlds. It grows great, it smokes great and I think it's going to be a really big fan favorite out there.
Matthew Kind: I just think you created a little bit of cannabis salvation there, like a Pavlovian response with plenty listeners. I can just feel them say, "Ah." Let's just go over a few more things to help listeners understand. What does it mean to reinvigorate plant?
Matt Gaboury: This term is thrown around a lot, especially when tissue culture is being talked about. First and foremost, I want to let people know that there is no magic bowl. I think a lot of people think tissue culture can cure anything that's happened to a plant, and that's just really not the case. It can do a lot though. It's been very impactful for us in particular in a state where you are very limited on what you can use from a pesticide or from a preventative approach.
We run a completely organic garden where most of what we use is in the form of live biologicals and certain things, let's say powdery mildew, for instance, are very hard to get rid of in a plant once it becomes set in, because it gets underneath the laminar surface of a plant. Any topical preventative or actionable item really doesn't cure the plant unless you use something that's really gnarly like Myclobutanil, Eagle 20, something that's banned that you wouldn't really want to spray on your plant anyway. I wouldn't recommend that even if it wasn't going to be smoked. Tissue culture provides that ability to remove those very commonly dealt with pest and pathogens as well as some other more intensive viroids and things along those natures.
Something like a powdery mildew or a mite or a thrip, all that is going to be 100% eliminated in our tissue culture sterility process. Just knowing that you're starting your plants off with something that doesn't have any of the major contaminants is crucial. I've seen gardens just pass that stuff along from generation to generation. You see reinvigoration a lot of times just from that, just from taking plants that had been stressed by those major contaminants, pests, or pathogens, and removing that for their future stock. Then reinvigoration also happens at a genetic level we see sometimes by what we think is a reversal of different genetic factors that have been turned on from stress responses.
As you know, there is genetic traits, but there's also epigenetics that play a factor in how a plant performs or grows or evolves. Epigenetics happen from the environment. Say, your mom plant got too much water, too little water, too much light, too little light, whatever it may have been that stressed that plant. Those stresses can become systemic and could then pass on to every cull you take off of that mother plant, because that cull is 100% genetic replica of that mom plant. With tissue culture, in recent theory, provides is a stop-gap in that process, especially when you take meristem tissue culture. You have the ability to almost reverse some of those stress factors that were turned on throughout that plant's life and return it to more of a youth-like state, so to speak.
In that process, we've anecdotally seen some huge reinvigoration happen to plants. We had an OG Kush Cart that was around for years. It just became so stressful and it would grow lanky, and it would be really hard to clone, and it would just yellow out early, and it would show really just stressful-- It just look like a plant that just wasn't happy its entire life. After running it through the tissue culture process several times, we've noticed that, and this is the end-goal as growers, that it is a much more vibrant plant. It veggies at a much more rapid pace, and it yields much better that it had been for years, without really much effect on its terpene profile or its tastes or really all of the good qualitative features that we learned to love about the plant.
However, what I need to caveat all these by saying is we really haven't done a ton of empirical scientific evidence to back up or support a lot of these claims. Unfortunately, we don't have the ability or the resources yet to really partner with those kind of institutions in order to provide that. I'm really hoping, in the near future, that large scale education as well as potential government resources will be available to be able to study this to the extent where we can start to really understand it, and we control it better than the end-goal results that we're seeing today.
Matthew Kind: Then for someone that has a huge cultivation facility, can you ship these clones on palace, or how does it work getting the clones to customers?
Matt Gaboury: The TC plantlets are really, really easy to ship, especially if they're shipped while they're still in vitro, because they're in, essentially, sealed jars which can be stacked and flat-packed and put on a pallet and shipped in a very secure manner as well. Whereas, conventional clones, typically they're in a clone dome or they're just on trays, and there's possibility for those things to get contaminated anywhere from the time it leaves your facility to the time it gets to the client's facility. Tissue culture provides, definitely, a much more secure way of transport. However, there are some difficulties that go along with that as well.
Matthew Kind: What advice do you give to clients when they're receiving pallets of tissue culture clones? How do you best get them integrated into their garden?
Matt Gaboury: Yes, absolutely. That's where some of the difficulties I just mentioned come into place. Most farmers are used to conventional clones. The conventional clones, as probably a lot of listeners know, are pretty easy to deal with. You order some clones, they come in, they're rooted, you put them into your next phase of growth, whether that's veg or directly into the soil, or maybe just want to do a [unintelligible [00:26:05], you want to flip those right away. We still sell a lot of our genetics in conventional clone format because that is the easiest way for people to deal with it.
Essentially, we'll grow out TC mother plants, and then we'll take clones off of those, and then we'll sell those like conventional clones for the ease of it. However, we've started to see that and we've tried to start to educate people on how to use the plantlets, because ideally, as we were mentioning earlier, that's the much more effective way of transporting it and a much safer way of transporting, and then you can ensure sterility upon arrival at the destination farm. However, with plantlets, you can't just directly plant them into your next medium like you would with clones. You have to go through what's called hardening off process.
Essentially, that's because when you open up that jar-- That plant has been sealed in that environment for its entire life cycle. It's been in this perfect protected in vitro environment where the humidity has been very high. The plant hasn't created its own waxy cuticle over its leaf surface to give it its protection in the ambi environment. You have to go through a two to five-day period where you acclimate these plants from this very protected high humidity environment inside that jar to your natural ambi environment. There are some steps to go through. Like I said, it's an education as well as you need some infrastructure in place, especially in the form of a room to be able to control those environmental conditions in order to accomplish that.
Matthew Kind: Do feels like your role is almost like a sommelier in some ways, because you’re dealing with a lot of different cultivators. They know that your perspective is wider than their particular business, and you can give them some insights and to what genetics you like the best and some guidance there.
Matt Gaboury: I think that that's one of my favorite parts, and especially my older business partners as well, because we want to see other people be successful as well. We want to be able to give the genetics that match the grow environment, methodology, as well as the goal. Some people just want to grow for biomass. We have strains for that. They're just going to hook out huge colas and really have massive yield. We have other people who are growing for really high-end concentrates. They're making just bubble hash rosin, and they want really just the most fire, terpy, flavorful strains that they could possibly get. We lead them down the road of a certain portfolio for that. We had people with all sorts of different things within that spectrum in the middle.
That's what I really want to stress to listeners, who may not have the diversity or had grown a wide variety of different genetics, is that not every genetic is going to grow for you the way that you want it to. You really had to choose genetics based off around your environment and your grow methodology. What grows well in a greenhouse in Northern California isn't necessarily going to grow well in a greenhouse in Arizona or an indoor operation in Boston, or wherever it may be. You have to choose based upon your skill sets and what you have available, as well as what you want that end-goal to be. You're going for that yield or you're going for those terps or you're going for something else in between?
Matthew Kind: Just as you're taking one part of the cannabis supply chain and really specializing, are you seeing other areas of the ecosystem really start to specialize?
Matt Gaboury: Absolutely, yes. I think extraction is a primary example of that. I think the CBD industry in the last two years is a great president for what's probably going to occur, especially in the biomass sectors in the cannabis industry, which is a large toll processing set up extraction facilities. Really that's all they do. For most people there's going to be a reduction in cost as well as probably a higher quality that comes from that because those individuals are really focusing on the equipment, the technology, as well as the infrastructure to accomplish those things at large industrial scales.
I know for us we definitely have started to third party a lot of our strategy, especially our hydrocarbon extraction. We are in a facility where we to build a D1 class one or two room in order to accomplish butane extraction would be so cost-prohibitive that it just makes so much more sense for us just to outsource that to somebody who's probably going to do it better anyway.
Matthew Kind: You just mentioned butane and there's some people listening and saying, "Hey, won't there be butane residue on there?" Then there's others that are saying, "Hey, that's how you can really get the extract you want." Can you fill in some detail there so people understand?
Matt Gaboury: Yes, sure. Every different extraction solvent kind of lends itself to a different format that comes out the back end. Some things like CO2 lend themselves better for vaporization cartridges, other things like a bubble hash or rosin lend themselves better for concentrates and for dabbing or direct consumable concentrates.
Butane is really one of the ones that we found that it pulls turpines better in that extraction process and then it lends itself to a more dabble concentrate, especially for somebody who likes some THCA in there as well, because, through certain kind of butane extraction processes, you get a lot of THCA crystalline with this kind of saucy terpy residual as well. The combination of both which is quite commonly referred to as “terp sauce” or "rocks and sauce” is a very popular, consumable format that you can really only get by using butane as a solvent.
Matthew Kind: That room you were saying is expensive to build out has to have proper ventilation because butane is volatile, it can cause an explosion. You just have to be extra careful with that versus CO2. That's why it requires a special room. Is that what you're referring to?
Matt Gaboury: Yes, exactly. Butane being a hydrocarbon, the room itself has to be completely explosion-proof. Explosion-proof lights, explosion-proof switches, explosion-proof walls, everything. It's quite a restrictive building, classification code in order to accomplish that. Plus you can't just build it anywhere. Your building has to have certain firewalls and it has to be in a certain zone and all of those types of things as well.
Whereas something like CO2 which is not as combustible doesn't need as much. CO2 typically in most instances, and this is very state by state, but in most instances, it just requires an exhaust system as well as a CO2 monitoring system in case that CO2 closed-loop system has some sort of leak that sensor system detects it and then exhaust that out so that your quantities within that room never reach levels that could be harmful to any sort of operator within there.
Matthew Kind: We talked about some of the clients you help but what if I'm a grower or business owner that has my own lab or experimental garden, for people that kind of do that in-house, do you offer any kind of services for them or they're really just not so much a customer candidate right now?
Matt Gaboury: I definitely think that tissue culture is a no brainer for anyone serious about genetics or breeding. In my opinion, once large scale nurseries can supply your individual market and you can go there and you have a selection to be able to buy, having your own internal breeding and genetics program is really the only reason why you would keep a portion of your grow dedicated to that.
We can pretty clearly show in most instances, even with indoor grows that converting over your mom and your veg and your clone space over to flowering has an increased profit margin, even when you have to buy all of your starts from a nursery.
Matthew Kind: I mentioned at the beginning of the show that you have a deep specialization into other areas, the cannabis industry design. Can you paint a picture of what you think would be the most forward-thinking technology you could put into a grow room right now in terms of systems, nutrient management, sensors, those types of things?
Matt Gaboury: The technology has really been evolving pretty rapidly in the last several years. Having designed a lot of different facilities and having gotten the ability to put in different equipment and see how different things operate, I would say that in the lighting technologies and in the HPAC technologies, we're seeing huge advancements. I'm a really big proponent of sustainable and efficient design and systems, and we've seen an increase in the availability of those types of pieces of equipment, as well as methodologies in order to accomplish that.
The biggest thing being automation and to really computer and automatic learning to really help facilitate that from a methodology standpoint, and then utilizing things like some of the more advanced LEDs that have come out and some of the more advanced recovery units for HPAC in order to really make a system that is as effective and as efficient as possible, because as we all know price points are inevitably going to go down and margins are going to get tighter and efficiency, whether you believe in it from a conscious standpoint or not is going to become the key to the game for longterm success.
From a forward-looking approach, I definitely recommend to be looking into those types of systems even if the investment may be a little bit more upfront, you're going to see an ROI on that and it's going to essentially mean longevity as well.
Matthew Kind: I want to ask a few personal development questions, Matt, to help listeners get a better sense of who you are as a person. You've been on the show before, so I'm going to have to change this up a little bit. What is one skill you use all the time that you think is really important but wasn't taught in school?
Matt Gaboury: I think the importance of physical exercise. I know we all have PE and stuff growing up in school, but it wasn't really that important to me of how much it really affects your life until I was inspired by Richard Branson, the eccentric billionaire out there. I saw an interview with him years and years ago. He talked about how he works out every day because it improves his ability to perform in work and it gives him typically another four or five hours of productivity in his day.
That for me was a huge kind of eye-opener. Now, if I didn't have that output in my life, I don't know if I'd be able to handle the workloads that the cannabis industry throws at you, because anybody who's listening to this who's in the trenches knows that it is a full-time endeavor and it takes up your whole life and you need to have other facets to be able to outlet that energy as well as reinvigorate your own body.
Matthew Kind: I totally agree. I try to work out every morning because otherwise, I talk myself out of it, but unless I do it first thing, but I know end of day is really popular for a lot of people to relieve stress. One thing I read about that is a huge benefit of exercise is that your lymphatic system, just as how we have like a respiratory and circulatory systems, there's the lymphatic system which is kind of like the garbage men of the body.
They take out dead cells and all these things. That system needs movement for it to work. If your body doesn't move, the lymphatic system can't work and gets clogged. I had no idea about that. I thought that was kind of a little interesting factoid I'd throw in there. Have you ever heard of that?
Matt Gaboury: Yes. I definitely have. I would say, no, I'm not a physician by any means, but it makes sense to me and it's something that I definitely agree with as well. I got to say right now during these pandemic times with the gyms not being open and stuff, it's been extra difficult to try to get in that exercise but even more important to do so with the extra stress levels we're all under.
Matthew Kind: If you could not do any of the stuff you're doing right now with the House of Cultivar, you just had to drop it completely, what do you think you would think is the most interesting thing going on in your field that you would pivot to if you were forced to just because you think it's cool?
Matt Gaboury: I think if I wasn't on the production processing side of things, I think there's some really exciting things that are starting to happen with the different consumable devices and how the usability of cannabis is changing. I think one great product example is the personal electronic guard device. We've seen several different manufacturers with Puffco being one of them, it's launched that and really take things to a different level. The conventional way of dabbing the torch and with the courts, while I love it, and I appreciate it, it may not be the most easily digestible for the wider public audience. By creating new ways of using that same product, that same [unintelligible 00:40:29] concentrate, but in something that looks more like an iPhone and has more of a visual aesthetic to it. I think that's really cool. I think that's going to be another way that we open up cannabis to other users and other people and really bring it to the masses.
Matthew Kind: You mean, you don't want to walk around with a huge dab rig and a torch? You don't feel like that sets the right tone?
Matt Gaboury: I do but I think people give me plenty stares sometimes.
My mom definitely likes the Puffco a lot better than the [crosstalk]. I will say it that way.
Matthew Kind: I was going that that's definitely the mom approved approach. Here's a Peter teal question for you. What is one thing that you believe to be true that practically nobody agrees with you on? They're just totally blind you say look at this, look at this and that no one can see it. Do you have anything like that?
Matt Gaboury: I know we spent most of this interview today talking about cannabis genetics. I really feel like cannabis will not be commoditized. All I hear people talking about these days is how there's a race to the bottom, how cannabis is going to be commoditized, how it's going to go for, you name whatever the dirt cheap price per pound it's going to be. I really feel, I could just be drinking my own Kool Aid and doctrinize on it, but I really feel like craft and the focus on genetics and quality is always going to be paramount.
When you look at other industries to have emerged from a commoditized industry to a craft industry, I think that we're just going to jump right past all of that and maintain a pretty strong connoisseur crowd as this thing progresses throughout the United States and throughout the world. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that.
Matthew Kind: Well, Matt, you've got a lot of interesting things going on here. I really appreciate the interview. Before we close, are you raising any capital or is there accredited investors that you know anything about House of Cultivar what do you have going on there?
Matt Gaboury: Yes, we are constantly in the growth, no pun intended and expansion phases. We are in the process of expanding out to Massachusetts and hopefully Illinois this year, we had put in some applications in the recent round. We're waiting to hear back on that. The Massachusetts project is moving forward and we're always looking for new partners in this nursery model. If anybody listening is interested or has space infrastructure or genetics that they think would be their state or their marketplace would be interested in something like this please feel free to reach out.
I think that this is an exciting model that could be applicable to not only individual states but to the nation in general, once this thing becomes legalized.
Matthew Kind: Say those states one more time that for people that are potential clients or partners, what states are those again?
Matt Gaboury: Yes, absolutely. If you're looking to to to acquire genetics or tissue culture plantlets, we're able to do that currently in Washington State. CBD though, we're able to do on a national level. Then excuse me, in the near future, we will be rolling out THC operations, recreational operations in the state of Massachusetts, as well as hopefully in the state of Illinois. We also are almost complete with our California branch arm as well. We'll be able to provide genetics in those marketplaces hopefully within the next year.
Then in any other state, we're open to different partnership opportunities. Or if you think that this could be a model that would work with your marketplace, please feel free to reach out and let us know. We definitely like to explore those opportunities.
Matthew Kind: How can they reach out and connect?
Matt Gaboury: Absolutely. They can find us a Instagram, it's house.of.cultivar or online houseofcultivar.com. You can also reach me directly, it's the letter G, the letter Z at cultivarfarms.com.
Matthew Kind: Great. Well, Matt, thanks so much for coming on the show and educating us. You got a lot of cool stuff going on and good luck the rest of the year with all this.
Matt Gaboury: Thank you so much. It's always a pleasure and an enjoyment to be on the show. I hope all is well with you as well.
Matthew Kind: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guest you. Learn more cannainsider.com/itunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on CannaInsider, simply send us an email at email@example.com. We'd love to hear from you.
Please do not take any information from CannaInsider or its guests as medical advice. Contact your licensed physician before taking cannabis or using it for medical treatments. Promotional consideration may be provided by select guests, advertisers or companies featured in CannaInsider. Lastly, the host or guests on CannaInsider may or may not invest in the companies entrepreneurs profiled on the show. Please consult your licensed financial advisor before making any investment decisions.
Final disclosure to see if you're still paying attention. This little whistle jingle you're listening to will get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Thanks for listening and look for another CannaInsider episode soon. Take care. Bye-bye.
[00:46:29] [END OF AUDIO]
Can we deconstruct cannabis in the lab, reduce costs, and unlock a myriad of new applications and benefits? Here to help us answer this is Benjamin Chiarelli of Cellibre.
Learn more at https://www.cellibre.com
[00:51] An inside look at Cellibre, a cellular agriculture company that specializes in cannabis
[3:10] Ben’s background and how he came to start Cellibre
[8:07] How Cellibre “mimics” the cannabis plant to make cells that create specific isolates
[13:02] How price points will shift in the cannabis industry as cannabinoid biosynthesis grows
[21:20] The evolution of cellular agriculture and the obstacles it’s faced in commodity industries like cannabis
[30:29] Why CBG will be the first product available from cellular agriculture
[33:03] Where Cellibre fits into the cannabinoid market
[35:51] Why Ben agrees cannabis is “the new vanilla”
[41:40] Where Cellibre currently is in the capital-raising process
Matthew Kind: Hi. I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday, I look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com. That's cannainsider dot com. Now, here's your program. Can we deconstruct the cannabis plant in a lab, reduce cost and unlock a myriad of applications and benefits that we would not be able to do if we were working solely with the cannabis plant? Here to help us answer that question is Benjamin Chiarelli, CEO of Cellibre. Benjamin, welcome to CannaInsider.
Benjamin Chiarelli: Matt, a pleasure to be with you, my friend.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography, where are we in the world today?
Benjamin: We're in sunny San Diego. It's a tough life we live here, 72 and sunny every day.
Matthew: Good. What is Cellibre in a high level?
Benjamin: At a high level, we're interestingly not a cannabis company, it just so happens that our first application is in the cannabis section for a whole host of reasons we can dig into today, if you'd like. What we are is a manufacturing technology company. We leverage what we believe to be the world's most sophisticated manufacturing technology. That's biology.
If we think about what biology is at a fundamental level, every single cell on the planet is basically a little mini-manufacturing facility. Every cell has little machines, and those machines are instructed by a cell's DNA code to turn nutrients into stuff. Flowers are production vehicles for beautiful fragrances, yeast is a production vehicle for ethanol, and therefore beer and wine. Up to the times, our bodies, when we get a viral infection, like COVID-19, actually manufactured these wonderful little medicines called antibodies.
Every cell on the planet is a manufacturing facility. Since we now have the ability to read biology, in other words, sequence DNA code to understand the blueprint of life, we are now transitioning to a phase where, instead of reading, we can actually start to write. We can treat cells as technology. In other words, swapping out their natural machinery and rewriting their DNA code to turn them into scalable, sustainable and economical manufacturing facilities for a limitless number of products, from textiles to medicines and beyond.
What we're doing at Cellibre, our first application of that is effectively removing the need for agriculture completely from the cannabis supply chain. We do that by taking the machinery and the DNA code from the cannabis plant, putting that into small microbes, like yeast. When we feed those the sugar water in a fermentation process, like any brewery that you've ever been in, instead of making beer, we make pure, natural cannabis extracts. More specifically, cannabinoid isolates.
Matthew: Can you share a little bit about your background and journey and how you got into this space and started Cellibre?
Benjamin: Sure. I'm a first generation American. My father came over in a boat from Italy to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvanian, [unintelligible [00:03:24] black and yellow. I love math and science, so I became an engineer, but I was terrible at it. For the safety of humanity, I went to business school. Then, I spent almost a decade on Wall Street covering life science companies and healthcare technology companies. Most recently, with J.P. Morgan's Healthcare Investment Banking group.
From Wall Street, I then actually got hired by one of my clients, who was trying to interestingly solve for the opioid epidemic, one of the things that brought me full circle back to the cannabis space. I was with that company for a little while. It was out here in San Diego. Then I met a guy by the name of Greg Lucier. Greg is arguably one of the best healthcare executives, period. He ran GE Healthcare for a little bit, and then switched over and ran a company called Invitrogen, which became Life Technologies, which he sold for $15 billion dollars to Thermo Fisher.
Now has a bunch of different ventures. I was fortunate enough to become friends with Greg. He's a great friend and a great mentor. He really helped me expand my network when I moved out here. One of the first introductions he made was to a guy named Doctor Craig Venter. Craig sequenced the first human genome, back in the late '90s, early 2000's.
Matthew: I've heard of him.
Benjamin: He announced that with Bill Clinton and the NIH. He co-funded a company here in town with a guy named Doctor Ham Smith. Ham won a little thing called the Nobel Prize back in 1976. The company's called Synthetic Genomics. It's most famous for its partnership with Exxon Mobil on alternative carbon-neutral fuels and energy. Basically, the premise for Synthetic Genomics is the same as Cellibre, just different application. That is reading DNA, writing the code of life, basically, to develop advantage manufacturing systems for products at scale.
I, after meeting Craig, ended up joining the executive team in Synthetic Genomics. I had the idea for Cellibre when I was there. Unfortunately, I could not talk to them into the application for a whole host of reasons strategically for them. I decided in late 2017 that this was too good an opportunity and too perfect a foundational application to build a company upon that I left to found Cellibre and really kicked off the process in early 2018. That's a little bit on me.
Matthew: Craig Venter, is he also involved in something life extension related with Peter Diamandis? Do I have that right?
Benjamin: Yes. Craig in involved in a bunch of different things. To be honest with you, I'm not sure where they all sit. I haven't talked to him in quite some time, but he had everything from Synthetic Genomics to the company you're thinking of as probably Human Longevity.
Benjamin: He is no longer at Human Longevity. That company was acquired and all the assets were acquired, but there were things that spawn out of that, a cancer therapeutic company called [unintelligible [00:06:26] and a few other things that are still in stealthy mode. Yes, he has had a bunch of different ventures in his illustrative career.
Matthew: You mentioned talking about cell and mechanics of it. When you try to really introduce somebody to this, you're on an escalator. If you have to tell them in one minute or less what you do, how do you break it down into something so simple anybody can understand?
Benjamin: It's a really tough one, right? That's been part of the difficulty of our journey because we're kind of melding the world's most sophisticated science with something that is currently federally illegal. Quite honestly, not very sophisticated, at large, from an industry perspective. The way I always break it down is a little bit like I broke it down for you earlier. That is, any time you think about biology, I want you to think about cells as little manufacturing facilities.
Picture in your mind a Ford assembly line. That Ford assembly line is taking inputs, which are just simple nutrients, in our case, sugar, and then slowly but surely, over the course of many steps, using machinery, which in cells, is an enzyme, to change that sugar into one product into the next product into the next product, until, eventually, you have your finished car at the end, which in our case, would be CBD or some other cannabinoid. I always say what we're doing is we're programming little mini-molecular manufacturing facilities that, in fermentation, will be able to make the products we program them to make.
Matthew: Part of what you're doing you describe as mimicking the plant. What do you mean when you say mimic, exactly?
Benjamin: When many people hear about our technology, they immediately think pharma and genetic modification, and synthetic is one that we get a lot. When you do this technology properly, we actually aren't manipulating anything other than the manufacturing facility. Think about that cell again as the manufacturing facility. What we make, the product that comes out the back end, is very different than what the plant makes.
The plant is very complex, and actually very interesting, genetically and biologically. When you do an extract from a plant, what you end up with is a collection of 400 different chemicals in varying concentrations, sitting in a lipid or a plant fat, the oil, as it's referred to. What we're saying is, that's really hard to scale. That's really hard to develop products around. It's really hard to get the same experience every time. I think any cannabis user would tell you that's true. It gets even more true when you start talking about new form factors, like edibles or vapes or patches or pills.
Our view was, "Wait a second, what if we could, instead of having products be defined by the plant, have them actually be defined by the brand or by the innovator?" While our technology will make isolates, what we're able to do is to design each cell to make a specific isolate. One cell will make CBD, so we'll have one fermentation tank that makes CBD, but we will have a refrigerator full of these mini cell factories, each of which can make its own component of the plant. What that will allow for is basically for an innovator to say, "Hey, I just want a one to one CBD to CBN ratio of ingredient in my gummy. Can we make that?" The answer is yes, we will scale each one of those. The cost will be significantly less and basically the same for each one and allow them to have the exact same combination of natural cannabinoid in each one of their gummies.
If someone else came to us and said, "Hey, Ben, we have a really interesting cultivar say, like a Doug's Varin, which is very high in THCV concentration, a really interesting cultivar. The problem is we can't scale this, we can't mimic this at scale." What we can do is we can actually take a look at that cultivar and say, what does it look like chemically? What is the cannabinoid concentration? What is the terpene profile or the flavonoid profile? Then we could take each one of those individual components and scale them and then mix them together in that exact concentration so that your Coca Cola is the same in China, as it is in Texas, as it is in Portugal.
Then as a brand, you're able to take that specific experience and make it the same. For us, where it becomes really interesting is we tend to believe that people are underestimating the market opportunity for cannabinoid-based products. The reason that I say that is they're thinking about these products in the context of the traditional ag and extraction market opportunity.
There you're limited by a number of factors. One of them we already talked about, which is consistency. The second is cost. Not everybody can afford a $75 bottle of CBD. Technologies like ours will drop that dramatically, thus, opening up access to quite honestly the patients and customers that need these things the most. The next one is the flavor profile of cannabis is not one that is appealing to everybody.
There's a reason that Jewel had so much momentum and we forget the controversy side of the Jewel thesis. There's a reason they had so much success and that's because everybody that likes sucking on tobacco. People would much rather consume something that tastes like strawberries or blueberries. I think you're going to see the same thing in cannabis. That's the reason edibles as an example are very interesting and you see a lot of people trying to remove the "hemp taste".
With our technology, we would be able to take these really interesting mixtures that you find naturally in these plants, scale them, but then combine them with different terpene profiles or different flavonoid profiles, and honestly, make the product development process almost infinite. People that wouldn't have tried something that tastes like pine trees before may be interested in trying a product that, for instance, tastes like peaches. We think we actually open up that opportunity quite a bit. Did that answer the question?
Matthew: Yes. You mentioned price points in your example, bringing up price points, let's say, a one to one CBD ratio to THC. Can you give us a sense of what price points you think are realistic so we can get an idea?
Benjamin: Yes, so it's very interesting in the market right now. If you think about ag and extraction, you're seeing a lot of CBD, for instance, flooding certain markets for 650 a kilo, 750 a kilo for pure isolate. They're not making money on that. That's loss-making. We think the actual steady state pricing from agriculture for cannabinoids and we bench everything to CBD because we think CBD and THC are the ones that you're going to be able to get from the plant at scale. It would take a long time to breed plants to make some of these minor cannabinoids.
We try and benchmark everything to those two. If you want to look at the best processors in the world, you're probably looking at $400 to $700 a kilo for your broad-spectrum extracts, and then another 1,000 to 1,500 in downstream processing to get to your isolate forms. Those are the metrics that we're trying to compete with because on price we believe if we can compete with that, and then remove the need for three to six-month growth cycles, remove pesticides and heavy metals from the equation because we're in pharmaceutical-grade type production facilities where we don't have those issues.
Obviously, the allowing for defining your product rather than having the plant define it for you. All of those outweigh the benefits of plant-derived. That's the basis on which we look at it. As far as where our technology goes, we are extremely confident that we get sub $1,000 per kilogram. I'm not just talking CBD, that'll be the price point to think about for any of the cannabinoids, including the minors because we are not defined by the plant or how the machinery in the plant works or how the plant uses its nutrients, we're actually defining that for our production facility.
Our cost of goods for CBD will be the same as CBN, will be the same as CBDV within a range, but not a material range when it comes down to it because those aren't really the driving factors and economics of this technology. You should be thinking about sub $1,000 a kilogram. Given what we've seen in the lab here early days, we are super confident that we can get that below $500.
This is not guidance in any way, shape or form but it is-- The next statement that I'm going to make is something that people should keep in their back of their mind whether they're farmers figuring out their strategy or their product companies thinking about what can I really bring to market and how should I be thinking about my own internal R&D? If you were to scale technologies like ours and hit metrics that are well within the means of hitting, you could see these molecules be produced at a cost of goods nearing $100 per kilogram, which obviously is a complete game-changer as it relates to this supply chain.
Matthew: That would be a huge game-changer and would open up a huge number of products that are right now too expensive. You mentioned $70 CBD for someone that's on a smaller income is just a nonstarter. What other kinds of products would be opened up when the price points come down that low?
Benjamin: If we're honest with ourselves, and this is one of the things that drives me crazy about the industry. How many times on LinkedIn, Matt, do you see a post from one of these cannabis websites that says, "CB, put a random letter in there, new cannabinoid discovered is the next big thing in cannabis."
Benjamin: Have we seen 1,000 of those [laughs] in the past three years? I think if we're honest with each other, we have no idea. While this plant has been probably the most studied plant in the history of mankind, the reality is not all science and not all study is valid. A lot of the studies in science that have been reported on this plant are just not well done. They really don't tell you much. They directionally tell you where you should be looking but there's nothing out there that's super definitive.
I would say first and foremost, what our technology really is going to allow us to do is to understand this plant at a deeper level and understand all of its components individually, but also start to understand them in combination. What I would say is, at a high level, I am very confident in saying they're anti-inflammatory properties in cannabinoids that are very interesting in a whole host of different applications. Whether that be wellness, whether that be recovery, whether that be cosmetics, there are a bunch of different product categories you can be thinking about there.
I think the data in sleep is very, very interesting. That's a massive category. Then obviously, there's the intoxicating chemicals, a lot of my cohorts and this is one of the things that makes it difficult to Cellibre is that we want a lot of people. We think THC production is going to be important. We think that that's a very big market. I think everybody is pretty much aligned that you're going to see some cannibalization of these traditional markets in the recreational whether that be alcohol or cigarettes, I think you're going to see some cannibalization there with these products as well. Then I think the big thing is form factor. Not everybody wants to smoke something into their lungs.
When you start thinking about edibles as an example, I'm sure that all of your listeners and I'm sure you yourself know people who have taken edibles and from the same package, get an experience one day that is wonderful and the next day from the same package get something that's anxiety-inducing. That's because your body metabolizes things very differently based on the method of consumption.
Taking something into the stomach whereas an example, the enzymes in your stomach are converting THC Delta-9 into a chemical that is multiples more potent depending on your specific metabolism. That's hard to deal with when you're dealing with a plant that makes 400 chemicals simultaneously and a different concentrations. I think when we think about this, from a product category perspective, we think all of the products that exist today will still exist, but we think there's an ability to open that up with different form factors, new formulations, and also new combinations of cannabinoids with things that are not found in the plant, other natural flavors, other natural terpenes. I think it's almost limitless. We hear some really interesting ideas from people.
I'll tell you, as an example, we talked to a Fortune 500 company that it claims, and I haven't seen the actual data, but in talking to them about potential partnerships down the road once we're ready to go, they said their cosmetic group actually has a cannabinoid formulation that tightens the skin and compete with Botox. Who the heck knows what the applications are? What I would say is pump the brakes as an industry.
Don't try and make a quick buck, play the long game. We do not need to make a bunch of claims that we haven't substantiated yet. There's a lot of good found within this plant. There's a lot of opportunity to go around for everybody, and let's just take our time and study it because I think we owe that to our patients and our consumers.
Matthew: Cellular agriculture has been around for a number of years, and we've heard things about it, and it pops on the radar of last a while you're deep in the weeds here. How come it hasn't come very far until now? Nothing's happened at scale yet, and we keep on hearing it's right around the corner. What have people that have- or businesses that have tried this in the past knocked on right to get the scale correct?
Benjamin: Are you talking about specifically in cannabinoid production, Matt?
Benjamin: Before we dive into that, I think it's important for people to know that this technology is not only existed but it's been commercial, and more than likely, by the way, you've consumed something that's been made this way. I'll give you an example. Our chief scientific officer at Cellibre developed the platform that was licensed to a big ingredient company to make DHA which is one half of what's known as fish oil.
Many people think when I'm taking my fish oil tablet, I'm taking this oil that was derived from a fish. The reality is, it's actually from a VAT somewhere in the middle of Iowa. Many different supplements, many vitamins have been made using this technology. Actually, 50% of the world's medicines are made using this technology today, insulin being an example that I use because everybody has someone in their life that is diabetic and has taken insulin before.
Believe it or not, we used to get insulin from a pig pancreas, we used to actually extract it from the pig pancreas until some smart scientists said, "Well, wait a second, pigs aren't really scalable for medicine, there's got to be a better way", and they moved that production to fermentation. What I would say is this technology has been around for a long time, and it has been used to actually commercialize billions of dollars worth of products.
The big flaw in many of the applications especially in the early days of this science, early to mid-2000s, biofuels is the one that comes to my mind. First is that it is really hard to make this work in commodity industries. When we were doing DHA production as an example, we had to get our cost of goods into the 10s of dollars. That's really hard to do.
When you're doing this in fuel, you have to take a $400 a ton input and turn it into a $600 a ton output.
Those things are really hard to do given the economics. We don't have that economic constraint with cannabinoids. It's not because it's some moleculus molecule that can't be found anywhere on Earth, quite the opposite. You could grow cannabis on every single square inch of the planet if you really chose to, and bred your plants properly, of course, or built greenhouses.
The nature of the plant given that it makes 400 chemicals simultaneously, and all of those chemicals look alike, and they're in a lipid form factor when you extract them, makes that manufacturing process really difficult, and provides that floor from an economic perspective. It's the reason that we believe this is the perfect foundational app for what we're building at Cellibre which is a broader manufacturing technology company.
On cannabinoids specifically, yes, you have been hearing about this for quite some time. There are multiple reasons it hasn't come to market yet. The first is, if you've ever seen Moore's law in computing, biology is actually improving at a much more rapid pace. I would encourage you to Google Moore's Law versus genomic sequencing costs. That's actually a really good graph.
It'll show you how much faster genome sequencing has come down versus Moore's law since my old colleague Craig sequenced the first human genome. What that tells us is that biology is figuring all of this out as part compute and part discovery on the biological side. I will tell you that the tools and capabilities required to actually pull off this science have come a long way in the last decade, and quite frankly, a long way in the last five years.
Our ability to actually execute on the science has improved dramatically since folks like my friend Jason [unintelligible [00:25:43] or the or the guys at Hyacinth, who were early, early, early in the idea of moving cannabinoid production to fermentation since they got started. That's number one. Number two, scaling biology is not trivial. When you're in a lab, you can control almost every variable.
I can control the temperatures that my cells are growing at, I can control the pH levels, I can control oxygen transfer rates, how much oxygen is getting into those fermentations by supplementing it. You don't have that luxury when you move to 10,000-liter or 100,000-liter fermentation tanks. The approach that we take here, which may be different than a lot of people, is this idea of scale down. The idea that we do not run an experiment in our lab that cannot be replicated at scale.
We're not trying to write a science paper, we're not trying to show data to get investor dollars, we are doing things to actually drive a commercial solution. I think a lot of times when people have less experience or have not scaled the technology before, they tend to get very, very excited about preliminary data in the lab, not recognizing that that does not necessarily translate to scale. Your point is a valid one. When people said, "Well, then, how are you guys going to make this work when these other people have been trying?"
The phrase I use is that people have been telling the industry and their partners that they would be commercial in 18 months for about six years now. I think we are now at the point from a technology perspective, but also from a player's perspective, who's actually working on this science that you're going to see these technologies start to come on commercially.
Some people saying as early as later this year, but my guess would be 2021, 2022 timeframe. There are a couple of organizations out there other than obviously, my bias towards Cellibre and the team here that I think are just tremendous at this science doing a great job and we'll 100% get there.
Matthew: You're saying we're in an exponential leap mode in terms of where the genetic sequencing is similar to Moore's law, it's just the hockey stick is going upwards right now.
Benjamin: Yes, just from a capabilities perspective. Let me give you one example of that. At Cellibre, we take a little bit of a different approach. If you talk to anybody else doing this science, they'll probably tell you that they're programming baker's yeast to do this. That's the Amyris' of the world, probably Ginkgo, Demetrix is using baker's yeast. We don't start there, we flip that whole thing on its head and we say, can we find an organism that already does some of the things that we want to do?
The analogy that I use is using baker's yeast to make cannabinoids is like using the Ford factory to make iPhones. Could you do it? Sure, but you got to swap out a lot of machines, and rewrite a lot of programming, and move things around on the floor, and it's just a lot of work. What we do is we go find the Samsung Galaxy factory, and say, "Okay, let's use this to make iPhones. We're closer to the endpoint." That may seem simple and obvious.
The problem is we're dealing with little manufacturing facilities that are actually living critters. When you change them, nature has a tendency to turn around and kick you in the shin. When you do that, you have to first be able to sequence that organism very precisely and define your blueprint. The sequencing costs have gone from tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars down to hundreds of dollars. We can now bring in 40 cells sequence small and it's really not a big expense for us.
If we were to do that 10 years ago, we would have had to do a complete fundraise just to sequence genomes of the little cell factories we were trying to get the blueprint for. That's one example. The other example is there are tools out there that have been discovered just in the last five years that allow us to rewrite the DNA code, get the code in there that we need to get in there, even down to printing DNA. How do we make DNA? How do we make DNA to actually instruct these cells, it's not a computer program.
We're not writing it in some digital world. DNA the code of life is actually a physical part that we need to put into these cell factories. The cost of making that DNA has come down precipitously. It's a combination of all of these things that are enabling this technology at large to really take hold and actually become a reality.
Matthew: You'd mentioned to me before that you think CBG is going to be one of the big products that first come out of the lab. Can you explain why you think that is?
Benjamin: I wouldn't make the claim that I think it's going to be a big product, I would say, I have no idea. Because we're getting some interesting data on CBG but I would never want to sell a product that we haven't studied for safety, for toxicity. It's very different than consuming CBG in an oil with a bunch of other chemicals where CBG is not a major player. When you're taking it in isolate form and milligram quantities or larger, we haven't done those studies yet.
We don't know what the short-term impact is, what the long-term impact is, and most importantly, we don't know what the efficacy is. What is CBG actually doing for you? There is some interesting stuff out there, but we haven't studied it nearly enough to really know. I will tell you though that it will be the first product available from cellular agriculture, and the reason for that is, we, by definition, have to make CGB first. CBG is the mother cannabinoid. It's either CBG or CBGV.
If you wanted to make the Vs. You have to make that first in your chassis organism or your first cell factory because you can't make CBD until you make CBG. We will have a cell that is able to make that product first. When we model or when we talk to people, we're not saying that we're going to make big quantities or sell big quantities of that. It's a high revenue, high margin product if we can. I think the selling price that I've seen in the market place for plant-derive CBG isolated somewhere in the $25,000 to $30,000 a kilo range right now.
Tough to get from a plant but there's a couple of folks out there that do it really well but again, I just don't know what the market opportunity is there. The big conversations that we have had around our CBG are really in the cosmetics realm where I personally as an operator feel a little bit more comfortable when you're not ingesting things and it becomes more of a topical application from a safety perspective. The folks that we're talking to are doing those studies and looking at it very heavily.
I would say some of our competitors and colleagues are very close diverse with what their first cannabinoid product will be. If you understand the biochemistry you know that all of them are going to make CBG first because they have to.
Matthew: That makes sense. How does Cellibre make money in this new ecosystem that's evolving rapidly?
Benjamin: I think first and foremost, when you're building a business you should know what you're good at and more importantly know what you're not good at. What we are really, really good at Cellibre is engineering cells to be manufacturing facilities. That's our bread and butter. It's what we do. People often say, "Well, Ben, will you make your own products and build your own brands?" I find brand building to be more binary than biotech. I have no idea why the Kardashians sell a product. To me, I can never-- One plus one will just never equal two there for me. I won't get it.
Clearly, I'm in the minority but brand building is really, really hard. Ultimately, our business model is to let people who build brands, let pharmaceutical companies who develop drugs, let animal health companies who understand those supply chains those markets and those needs both in companion animal and livestock animal tell us, "Hey, Ben, here's our product, and here's what we need from you with scale." Basically becoming an ingredient or API which stands for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient provider for those businesses.
I think number one for us as a technology company that alleviates the binary risk. It alleviates the binary risk of taking a drug through the clinic. It alleviates the binary risk of trying to build a brand and get distribution. It allows us to take our technology and put a lot of shots on goal so that we ultimately can grow the portfolio of partners that we have. That's important for this technology because this technology more than any other is all about scale and economies of scale more specifically.
The bigger your production facility and the more you make per dollar of capital investment, the more product you can make per dollar of capital investment, the better your cost of goods gets. At small scale, really hard to make a business out of fermenting natural products but once you get up to 5,000, 10,000, 50,000, 100,000 leader fermentation tanks, the cost of goods drops precipitously and the opportunity becomes massive.
For us, people always send folks my way from small [unintelligible [00:35:28] companies or small cosmetic companies, and I'm always happy to talk to them, there are some great ones out there. For us, we talk mainly the Fortune 200 companies, large MSOs, large Canadian operators, and a couple of countries actually that really want to get into the scale game because for us that's what we need to be truly successful on drive margin.
Matthew: Now, you turn me on to an article that's called Cannabis the New Vanilla. Can you talk about what that means and what you think about it?
Benjamin: Absolutely. For those looking that was written by an internet friend of mine Jim with the Thai Cannabis Corporation. If you look up Thai Cannabis Corporation and you look for Cannabis is the New Vanilla. It's a great piece by Jim, and I recommend it highly. I send that to people all the time to think about ingredients. Jim, obviously, has a bias and has an agenda. He is part of the group that is trying to define what the cannabis industry in Thailand will look like. He also does a lot of fantastic work around small cannabis in emerging markets in small countries.
He has a really interesting thesis around that from a plant perspective. If we think about where the plant came from, it came from Asia and the Middle East. It wasn't native to North America and actually most of the North American cannabis is not that interesting. He wrote that piece really in the context of, "Hey, as farmers, what should we be worried about and how should we be thinking about our businesses and our commercialization as new and novel technologies come into the space?"
The reason vanilla is such an interesting example is that it checks almost every box that cannabis does. It's very expensive. It's a very high-value product. It's very complex. Vanilla is made up of over 170 different chemicals versus cannabis which is over 400. Vanilla is driven by a couple of minor chemicals that are in that mix of 170. The biggest discovery of which was something called vanillin which is the chemical that was believed to encapsulate the vast majority of the flavor and the fragrance from that vanilla bean.
We chemically synthesize vanillin today and that's what you see in your artificial vanillas that are out there. Then the spice company McCormick said, 'Well, wait a second, vanilla and [unintelligible [00:38:06] has been out really, let's study this more further." They broke down the vanilla into its individual components and said, "What's really driving the essence of vanilla." What they found was, it wasn't 170, it was more like 20 or 30 chemicals that if you were able to mimic that collection of those chemicals, you could literally capture the same exact essence of vanilla.
I think we're going to end up with a similar thing here. You hear a lot about this idea of the entourage effect, and it is statistical and scientific just gibberish to say 400 chemicals combined in various concentrations that are never the same or some magic potion for a certain ailment. It is, however, completely logical and has been scientifically proven to an extent that these cannabinoids do act in consult with one another and do have synergistic effects. In pharma and biotech, this is often referred to sometimes as what they call combination therapy.
One medicine on its own has a certain amount of efficacy, another medicine on its own has a certain amount of efficacy. When you use those two medicines in combination with one another, they actually have synergy and give you additional benefits or different benefits. I think we are ultimately going to find that 400 chemicals probably isn't the answer.
For many applications in isolate or one cannabinoid is not going to be the answer, but it's not going to be hundreds in consult which you're going to find is it's a handful to 10s or 20s, they're likely going to drive the efficacy, drive the safety, and drive the experience around that.
I think what Jim was also saying with that piece was that there has never been a wealthy farmer. If you think about where vanilla comes from. It's coming from very poor countries in very poor communities and nobody is getting rich growing the vanilla bean. The people that are getting rich are further up the supply chain, building brands, importing it, all those good things. I think it was really a warning to say, "Hey, guys, pump the brakes. While we're all calling this the green rush and everybody is very excited, we need to be thinking about the supply chain from every single angle so we can better position ourselves as farmers to receive as much of the benefit as possible on the back end."
I think the other thing that I would add there is often when I get into these conversations at this point, Matt, people say, "Well, wait a second, Ben, why do we even need the plant? Aren't you just going to replace the plant?" I want to be really clear that I don't think that ever happens. I think that the market for flour and the market for plant-derived extracts whether that be isolate, broad-spectrum, full-spectrum in all the form factors crumble or desolate.
I think those markets are always going to be there. I think they're going to grow nicely. I think they will be multiple billion-dollar if not 10s of billions of dollars in market. What I do think, however, though, is that technologies like ours grow the pie and I think there are certain applications whether it be pharma or cosmetics or edibles where our technology is just a better mousetrap than using the plant as the production facility.
I actually don't think there's much competition between us and agriculture. I think it's actually a really synergistic relationship for brands and innovators and to really take what the plant does well and just reinvent it into new product categories and formulations.
Matthew: Where is Cellibre right now in terms of raising capital?
Benjamin: Our first external capital is funded by founders up into our first external capital raise which was- we closed in June of 2019. Our investors there were our friends Matt Hawkins, Cody Sanchez, and Dough that at Entourage Effect Capital. Also, Tamara at Flatiron Venture Partners out of New York now out of Colorado. They just moved from New York City to Colorado, and in Dominguez from a spin-out from a hedge fund called Schonfeld called Delta Emerald. Great investors, great partners, wonderful folks. We have some other interesting cannabis names invested in us as well CB1, Architas, Bravos Capital, and a few other names that folks would know.
Also, I think it's important especially in cannabis for founders, where they can, at whatever level they can, to invest alongside those investors, just given how difficult it is. I think it's especially true for us. We have more than enough runway right now but we do think that it's prudent to put a little bit more capital on the balance sheet, and wouldn't want to raise money in these beautiful conditions of global pandemic election year and protests in the street.
We were originally going to raise a Series A this year, but we're being a little bit pragmatic, so I think what we're going to ultimately end up doing is putting a bridge facility in place really an amend and extend on our initial convertible note. That way, give us an extra 12 to 15 months of runway beyond the runway that we already have which should allow us to chop some pretty significantly wood on the scientific side on the partnership side while skating past the current macro-environment to put us in a better position to raise an official preferred price grounds in the call it Q1, Q2 2021 timeframe.
Matthew: Well, Ben, I have some personal development questions for you to help listeners get a better sense of who you are as a person. With that, is there a book that's had a big impact on your life or your way of thinking that you'd like to share?
Benjamin: Oh, geez. I'm going to put reader in air quotes even though we're on an interview here and not on TV. I find a bunch of different topics really fascinating. I think one of the authors that I got introduced to really early on that has changed my perspectives on a lot of things is a guy named Thomas Sowell. He's considered in many circles to be a conservative thought leader, but he's very interesting in the way he explains economics and explains really difficult topics that are apt to the day like race and economic inequality. He actually started his career as a full-blown Marxist, and then after his education and life experiences moved over to a different way of thinking about economics.
I would say Thomas Sowell is probably my favorite author if I was to define one there, but as a startup founder, I would say there's a couple of really interesting books I would recommend. One is called The Power of Habit. That's a really good book on understanding how human beings when put into a circle of habit actually become much more efficient in how they operate.
I think Peter Thiel's book Zero to One is an excellent one for people to take a look at and learn from. Then one more from business perspective, Safi wrote a book called Loonshots, L-O-O-N shots. It is a fantastic book on fostering innovation with a lot of really good stories on how companies think good, bad, or the ugly about innovation. Then my own personal favorite is a book I wanted to write myself, and I would have written it in a completely different way than he did but Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving an F, I think is another one that I would recommend but I would also recommend thinking about that in a long, long way. It's a bit of a psychosis but I really don't care at all what other people think about me, you know who you are personally and who you are as a human being.
Don't be afraid to speak your mind, don't be afraid to have opinions that are different than the mob. If I didn't, I would have never had the wherewithal to found Cellibre quite frankly. I'm counterculture in the counterculture, I'm a former banker/biotech pharma guy getting into the cannabis space. I don't have a safe space anywhere if you want to think about it that way. Those are some of the books and authors that I find interesting at least at this moment in time.
Matthew: What's the most interesting thing going on in your field besides what you're doing?
Benjamin: In the field of cellular agriculture and just using biology and manufacturing technology, you mean?
Matthew: Sure or even more broadly scientific and scientifically, if you'd like.
Benjamin: I think that what's captured everybody's hearts and minds right now is COVID-19. I actually jokingly with my investors told them we were going to do a press release that said Cellibre is not working on anything COVID-19 related because I think we're the only company that didn't make a press release. For me, the most interesting things are those that are a long game where you’re fundamentally changing how people think about things. To keep it in our own world of biology, there are two that are super interesting that people probably don't know biology is going to impact. The first is computing. I would encourage everybody to start read about Biocomputing and Biostorage.
For instance, a company called Twist Biosciences has a partnership with Microsoft, where they're looking to move data storage into DNA. If you think about DNA, our DNA code three billion base pairs stores all of the information that encodes how our crazy bodies and minds work. You can pack an extraordinary amount of information into DNA and then extract that information by sequencing the DNA.
The entire Smithsonian archives could literally fit inside an 8 x 10 office of DNA. We can really think about things like data storage and computing power very, very differently if we start seeing how nature does its "compute". That's one area that's really interesting. The other area that's super interesting that, quite frankly, I don't think it ever works. I keep challenging people on this and I'm waiting for somebody to prove me wrong because it's my favorite application in all of food technology, a space that I really find interesting.
That is this idea of cultured meat, not plant-based meat-like beyond meat or impossible but literally making the same exact Wagyu beef, or the same exact tuna, or the same exact chicken that you would get through traditional an animal agriculture, but doing it via fermentation. Effectively fermenting the same exact meat products that we have today in fish products that we have today but without the land use, without the implications of animal farming and the footprint that goes along with those and without, obviously, the cruelty.
I think that is one of the coolest things going on right now. There's a company called Memphis Meats that's leading the way there on the beef side. There's actually a company here in San Diego called BlueNalu who is doing the same thing and kind of fish. I'll be honest, I don't see how the economics ever work there. I can't model it myself to drive it down into dollars per pound, where you need to be to compete in those commodity markets.
It comes full circle back to our original conversation of why these technologies have failed in the past. Gosh, if that one could work and we could secure supply chains and start democratizing supply chains for protein production, I think that would just be awesome technology for the world at large and for geographies and certain populations that quite frankly, can't afford those nutrient-dense products today.
Matthew: You know with the popularity of the ketogenic diet, it has a lot of people thinking about how they do feed their cells. Is it with glucose or I guess ketones or ATP? I know just enough to be dangerous here but tell me how do you think about just eating food on your own? Are you religious in terms of what you eat and how you eat it because you know how your cells are, the fuel it's getting? How do you think about it?
Benjamin: I'm much worse than I should be, brother. In my defense, I was born and raised in Pittsburgh where we put french fries on our sandwiches.
Matthew: There is some weird-- There's some long sandwich there that I've seen a documentary about or something. What's that called again?
Benjamin: As you should, by the way. It's called Primanti Brothers. Actually, the reason it came into existence was because of the steel mills. Those guys used to only get 15-minute lunch breaks in the sandwich shop down the road. Primanti Brothers had a sandwich coleslaw and french fries and what they'd have is half of everything would get eaten. One day, one of the folks in the kitchen was like, "Hey, why don't we just slap all this together? So you get your Philly cheesesteak with your coleslaw--" It's a vinegar-based slaw, not a mayo-based slaw, "and then french fries all between the bread and then people were able to eat it all because they just didn't have time to be picking around the plate."
It became this late-night cult following. It was, I think, on the first or second episodes of diners, drive-ins and dives. Another funny thing about Pittsburgh, we have a french fry problem, I guess. If you go to Pittsburgh and order a salad, there is a very high probability that there will be french fries on your salad. First, I would suggest everybody try it but a really funny story is one of my best friends, he and his wife moved to New York City and they lived in a very fancy part of New York City and they went out to a restaurant. She ordered a salad and when the salad came to the table, it didn't have french fries on it and they're with their bushy New York, sophisticated, elite crowd.
She looked at the waiter and she was like, "Excuse me, where my french fries?" He was like, "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know you ordered french fries and we actually don't even have them on the menu." She said, "No, for my salad." Both of them then just stared at each other baffled because she was just confused that people made salads without french fries. That's Pittsburgh for you. I would say I'm much less good about diet than I probably could be or should be.
The one thing I do do though is I do not eat during the day. This intermittent fasting thing. I didn't necessarily do it because it was trendy or healthy for me. I did it because I'm just a crazy person and I find myself throughout the day not eating and the next thing I know it's time to go home. I actually only consume black coffee during the day and then I eat between, I would call it [5:00] PM and at [9:00] PM every night. That's the one weird diet thing I have [crosstalk]
Matthew: Do you put butter in the coffee or anything or it's just totally black?
Benjamin: No, totally black. Don't be mucking up my caffeine with that other stuff.
Matthew: You're like a camel or some mutant. I think there's a cosmic balance because I'm eating five meals a day. They're small ones.
Benjamin: Here's the thing about diet, is that, and my feed is a bunch of my friends who are in biotech and are in food tech, quite frankly, are a lot of plant-based folks, a lot of vegan folks and that mob will tend to yell at you and tell you how much more healthy vegan is than meat and yada, yada, yada. What I always tell them is, "You have no idea because every single person is very, very different." It's a lot like cannabinoids, my friend. How one person reacts to THC is very different than another person. It's the same with medicines. Some people can handle opioids, other people cannot handle it. Diet is very much the same. I think it's an iterative process.
We don't know enough yet to really define it for you to find what makes you feel better, what makes you have more energy, what makes you feel more healthy. I think anybody making a blanket statement on anything is one thing and one thing only and that's wrong, but that is especially true when it comes to diet. I think diet is just very individual.
Matthew: Agreed. Well, Ben, as we close, can you tell accredited investors how to get on any mailing list or anything and how potential customers or clients might be able to reach out to you if they want to know more about Cellibre?
Benjamin: Yes, absolutely. I appreciate that opportunity. We do have a, "Contact Me" on our website, it's www.cellibre.com. Cellibre is spelled C-E-L-L-I-B-R-E. As far as investors go or partners go, you can always look me up on LinkedIn. That's probably the best way to reach me. It's Ben, B-E-N, Chiarelli, C-H-I-A-R-E-L-L-I. I'm super active on LinkedIn. I do my best not to talk my own book. I actually get yelled at by my investors sometimes for not talking enough about Cellibre's business, but I just find that uninteresting. I like to get involved in more topics and it's done us a lot of good from a relationship perspective, where we're not out as a billboard and a sales team the whole time. We're actually trying to add value to conversations.
I would say, look me up on LinkedIn, reach out anytime. Even if it's not for partnerships or even if it's not for investment, we're always happy to be helpful to our friends on the agricultural side, to investors who are just looking for a broader network scientifically, both in cannabis and in biotech. I think it's better to just be helpful first and expect nothing in return. That's really for me what life is all about and how you build real lasting relationships.
Matthew: This is a fascinating area you're in. Good luck to you with all you have going on and keep us posted.
Benjamin: All right, my friend. Well, thank you so much for having me. A pleasure as always, and if I can ever be helpful to you in any way beyond this, please do let us know.
Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five-star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at cannainsider.com/iTunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on CannaInsider? Simply send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear from you. Please do not take any information from CannaInsider or its guests as medical advice.
Contact your licensed physician before taking cannabis or using it for medical treatments. Promotional consideration may be provided by select guests, advertisers or companies featured in CannaInsider. Lastly, the host or guests at CannaInsider may or may not invest in the company's entrepreneurs profiled on the show. Please consult your licensed financial advisor before making any investment decisions. Final disclosure to see if you're still paying attention, this little whistle jingle you're listening to will get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Thanks for listening and look for another CannaInsider episode soon. Take care. Bye-bye
[00:58:09] [END OF AUDIO]
With more and more dispensaries turning to Altopa’s innovative oil blending platform Oblend, the company has decided to pivot from B2C to B2B.
Here to tell us about it is Nicole Wicker, CEO of Altopa.
Learn more at https://www.oblend.com
- Nicole’s background and how she came to start Altopa
- An inside look at Altopa and its “portable dispensary device” Oblend
- How the Oblend creates CBD formulas for specific needs and preferences
- Why Altopa is transitioning from a consumer-focused company to a business-focused company
- How Altopa partners with dispensaries looking to implement the Oblend
- Increasing demand for the Oblend among healthcare providers, formulators, and patients
- Where Altopa currently is in the capital-raising process and where Nicole sees the company heading in the next few years
Matthew Kind: Hi, I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com that's C-A-N-N-A insider dot com. Now here's your program.
Today we're going to learn how one entrepreneur is pivoting her innovative business from a consumer-focused offering to a business-to-business model. I'm pleased to welcome Nicole Wicker, CEO of Altopa CannaInsider. Nicole, welcome back to CannaInsider.
Nicole Wicker: Thank you, Matt, and thanks for the opportunity.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?
Nicole: I am sitting in my house in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I have been for the last four months.
Matthew: I'm in Fayetteville, Arkansas today. Weren't expecting that answer, were you? [laughs]
Nicole: No, you're fairly close to me. I was not expecting that answer.
Matthew: Tell us, on a high-level, what does Altopa do?
Nicole: Okay, Altopa is a biotech company that has developed a patented product called the Oblend. I like to think of the Oblend as a combination of an apothecary, a portable dispensary, and it has an Amazon platform. It's similar to a printer ink cartridge model. It contains canisters that are filled with ingredients such as cannabinoids, terpenoids, flavonoids. It dispenses a combination of these ingredients within pharmaceutical precision on demand.
One more thing. The Oblend also includes a technology platform where you can search for and find expert-sourced recipes, you can adjust the ingredients, and within minutes, you can create personalized products with a push of a button. It always dispenses a very precise and consistent blend of these ingredients from the dispense port. You can also create a variety of products with an Oblend by placing a container underneath the dispense port, such as a vape or a container to create a topical or a tincture. Again, you think about it's a combination of an apothecary and a portable dispensary with an Amazon platform.
Matthew: It's been almost two years since you've been on the show. Can you share a bit about your background and what you're doing for Altopa and how you became involved in cannabis?
Nicole: Sure, I started my career with Ernst & Young as a CPA in their entrepreneurial services department. My specialty was identifying small companies with large potential, strategizing with their executive teams, and positioning the companies to maximize valuations and exits. This was during the dot com era, and I took most of my clients public. After I spent a decade with Ernst & Young, I transitioned to the private sector, and eventually became the CFO for a company called TearScience. TearScience was a medical device company that had developed a disruptive diagnostic and treatment device for dry eye disease.
My first task as CFO was to raise series C financing round, this was in 2008 which was the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. Needless to say, this was not an opportune time to raise money. We were pre-FDA approval, pre-revenue, and we were trying to raise $28 million. Fortunately, after giving over 100 investor presentations, we managed to close not 28 million, but 45 million, which was quite an accomplishment and it turns out that our 45 million raise was the largest med-tech venture capital funding in the nation that year.
Within a month of this financing, our CEO was diagnosed with stage three throat cancer. The board appointed me as acting CEO, and then a month after that, we received approval from the FDA.
Now we could sell the devices within the US, we had $45 million in the bank, and I was now acting CEO. We started hiring sales reps throughout the nation, expanded globally. During the next three years, we took TearScience from a company that had 18 employees to over 250 employees, a company that was pre-revenue to a company generating revenue, with a run rate of 40 million. We're the fastest-growing company in North Carolina during these three years and a couple of years later, TearScience was acquired by a division of Abbott medical office optics called Johnson & Johnson Vision.
Matthew: Quite a journey there.
Nicole: Absolutely. It's been a good one.
Matthew: Well, while we're on the topic of raising money. You said you've done over 100 presentations or you've been involved with them. Any tips for people that are going to the process themselves and don't feel like they're skilled at it? You've probably seen patterns or you probably said, "Oh, I wish I could do this better next time you did." What advice do you have for people that are raising capital when pitching?
Nicole: I would tell them to start at least a year before you think you need to raise money because it always takes longer than you think. Raise more money than you think you need because you're always going to run into some obstacles that you're not anticipating and keep your head up, because it's a rollercoaster, it can be very emotional. Focus, focus, focus. Raising money really becomes a full-time job until you complete the financing.
Matthew: Okay, thanks for that. Just so we're clear exactly on what the Oblend is. For listeners that are trying to understand this, you have a hemp-based CBD and terpene blends that you make with your device called the Oblend. That device resides in dispensaries, and you can call up recipes and prescriptions on exactly what you want the blend to be for specific ailment. Do I have that right?
Nicole: Somewhat, but not exactly. Oblends are currently producing hemp-based CBD plus terpene blends for health care providers and patients. However, this is just a temporary starting point. Our next step is the exciting one. We are about to add cannabinoids to the Oblend. When you think of it this way, Oblend is simply a device that mixes and dispenses ingredients precisely, consistently, and on-demand.
Matthew: Let's walk-- Sorry. Go ahead.
Nicole: We do three things. We sell empty canisters to our partners that have Oblends. We don't touch the ingredients. We have the platform that enables users to find, customize, and create products, and then we also collect the data.
Matthew: Well, let's walk through a couple of scenarios, what where you're at now and then you said the exciting part where you're going, so people understand what you're doing today, and then how that's going to change in the future. Let's start with who generates the demand here, and who pays for the canisters, and who gets the final product?
Nicole: The final product always goes to the end-user, who is the person that is treating themselves, such as a medicinal cannabis user. That's our end user. There are several ways that end users go about getting their products. Some of them go through health care providers. If you think about health care providers using the Oblend platform, they don't have to have an Oblend. They just have to have the platform. With our platform, these health care providers can recommend different formulations for their patients.
Then our partners are the companies with a marijuana license because since we're going to the cannabis industry, we don't have a license. We have to partner with a company such as a LP, Licensed Producer, or a Multi-State Operator. They would have our Oblends. We sell them empty canisters. They fill the empty canisters with ingredients such as cannabinoids, THC, CBD, CBN, terpenes, and flavonoids. Then, they also create the products, and then they can deliver the products directly to the patients or they can deliver them to the healthcare providers for the patients to pick up or they can deliver them to one of their dispensaries so that the patient comes into the dispensary and picks up their product.
Matt: It sounds like it would be a great thing for a hospital or doctor to have in addition to dispensaries. What's a typical type of thing people would use this for? An end customer says maybe I'm going through some medical process for a disease and I'm having inflammation because of it and I know that my healthcare practitioner recommends this specific blend for inflammation. Next thing I know, I'm walking into a dispensary for a blend of the specific THC, CBD, flavonoids, terpenes, that has been recognized by some experts or scientists or healthcare professionals as helping for this inflammation. Is that a good [unintelligible [00:11:54]?
Nicole: Yes, I'm going to give you an example based on the healthcare providers that we have spoken with in the state of Florida. The state of Florida is a medicinal state meaning anybody that purchases a cannabis product in Florida has to get a recommendation from a registered cannabis healthcare provider. Currently, a patient walks in, the healthcare provider says to the patient, “Okay, you're treating for pain. You've never used cannabis before. I'm writing a recommendation for a total amount of CBD and THC. You're going to go down the street and walk into this one dispensary and you're going to start out with a product that just has CBD.
You don't want to have THC in this product yet. After two to three weeks, then you're going to go into this other dispensary and you're going to buy this product that's like a 25 to 1 ratio. Then, after two to three weeks, then you're going to go into this other dispensary and buy one that's a 20 to 1 ratio and then a 10 to 1 and then a 5 to 1 and then a 1 to 1.” Then, the patient walks out of the healthcare provider’s office, they walk into the first dispensary, and guess what? Their purchase is based on their discussion with the budtender. The budtender may say, “Hey, I know your healthcare provider recommended this product. However, if you're treating for pain and inflammation, I would really recommend that you just start with this product over here.”
The healthcare provider loses control and they have no feedback from that patient and that patient may buy a product that has too much THC and not get great results and then just stop use. With our platform, now, the healthcare provider has control of what their patients are getting. The healthcare provider can actually essentially write a prescription through our platform. That is sent to the patient. Patient approves, then it goes to the partner or LP. They create the product. Product gets delivered to the patient. The patient, through our platform, lets the healthcare provider know if it's working and the healthcare provider can go back to the patient through our platform and say, “Hey, Miss McGillicuddy, are you comfortable enough now to increase your level of THC by 1 milligram?” Miss McGillicuddy says yes.
The healthcare provider increases the dosage by 1 milligram. It gets sent to the LP, LP creates the product and the process repeats. We are creating this loop between the patient and the healthcare provider that currently does not exist.
Matt: Yes, and it's much more precise, it sounds like coming from your background in the pharmaceutical world. I know the Research Triangle Park's really big in that, where you are in the world. You're coming at this with a pharmaceutical angle. The platform is something software-based, like an app or a website or how does that work?
Nicole: Yes, it is. It's a web-based software platform that can be accessed from a mobile device or a computer. This platform, healthcare providers are really excited about it also because it is giving them a centralized location to access formulations that are proven to get great outcomes. Right now, the healthcare provider’s just recommending THC and CBD and maybe recommending a certain product from a dispensary that has good results.
With our platform, the healthcare provider can enter their formulations including specific terpenes and cannabinoids beyond THC and CBD. The platform also gives them the ability to see formulations that other healthcare providers are using, that are working for their patients. It’s building the centralized platform to help healthcare providers that are treating their patients with cannabis find and access formulations that are getting great outcomes.
Matt: From the patient's point of view and the healthcare professional’s point of view, they really don't need to know about the mechanics of the Oblend. It’s just what the product is in its finished form. It's kind of like the cloud. They send it to the Oblend cloud, and they get the finished product on the other side. We do want to know what's going on but just that it works as prescribed.
Nicole: That's right. We've made the platform very user-friendly. If you think about Amazon, when you go into the Amazon platform, and you want to buy a bicycle, well, there are recommended bicycles. You can read the customer reviews but you don't need to know about every screw and bolt in that bicycle. You just want to know that the users are happy and that it works. You select one.
Now, if you want to learn about the bolts and the nuts and read about each ingredient, you can do so but we've made it as simple as possible. If you want to access a formulation that's working best, other people with pain, then you simply select that formulation, and you have the product at your doorstep within 24 to 48 hours.
Matt: Yes. I noticed that the pharma industry which I consider you kind of a veteran of is the-- Likes to really solve complex issues. A lot of the entrepreneurs I have on here are doing a consumer product that-- It's like the simple A to B, and this is solving some big problems all at once and they're complex. Do you give guidelines to the dispensaries or the cultivators on, “Hey, this is how you extract oils or this is how you get pure CBD" or how does that work to ensure consistency?
Nicole: We do not give advice to the dispensaries or their LPs. They currently are extracting products. Let's say they are extracting a certain distillate. It has to be within our guidelines to work within the Oblend. We could recommend ways that you could make that distillate as clean as possible without turning it into a non-liquid ingredient, because right now, not yet, we're not working with powders. We want a very clean distillate that only has one cannabinoid and that distillate would go into one of our canisters. They could put terpene blends into canisters, they could put isolated terpenes into canisters. They could even include other ingredients that are healthy, such as cumin or turmeric into canisters as long as they are within their state guidelines and it's with the parameters of what we require. It can be used in the Oblend.
We just want to know for every single user that is using a product that has been created by the Oblend, this product is safe, meaning all of the ingredients have gone through our quality control process. It's safe, it's consistent, and it's precise. When I say precise, I mean this is within pharmaceutical precision, which you do not get in the cannabis industry right now. That is very important. I am from the pharma industry, what I quickly realized is cannabis is not medicine until it's consistent, and we are making cannabis consistent.
Matt: You have these dispensary partners, licensed producer partners. Back in 2018 when you were on the show, your product was consumer-focused then and you had just won some consumer electronic awards.
Nicole: That's right.
Matt: What happened, and why the pivot?
Nicole: Well, we know that everybody wants an Oblend, everybody. Cannabis users, both recreational and medical, health care providers want it, dispensaries, even private facilities like personal cannabis consumption lounges, hospice centers, and senior living facilities. There is no way that we can produce enough Oblends to meet demandbut what we did realize is that everybody doesn't need an Oblend to get what they want. They want personalized, consistent products created by the Oblend. Really, all they need is our software.
If we place Oblends in locations like a hub-and-spoke model, where these Oblends can service hundreds of users, then we don't have to build thousands of Oblends. Each Oblend can make over 200 products a day, so 6000 products a month. Patients and healthcare providers can get their products created by Oblends by using the platform. Transitioning from a direct to consumer to a B2B model totally made sense for us.
Matt: Okay. What does the Oblend device look like if I was looking over your shoulder right now and you had one in front of you?
Nicole: It looks like a big square box. It's a little bit larger than a Keurig coffee maker. When you open the lid, you would see canisters that are filled with the ingredients. Each one of these canisters is chip encoded, similar to an ink cartridge, and we have to encode the chips so that the Oblend knows which ingredient is in each slot. The front of the Oblend has a dispense port where the combination of the ingredients always dispenses from and then you would put a container underneath this dispense port such as you can screw on a different size vape cartridge. You could put a bottle underneath it to create tinctures or massage oils. You could put a container under it to make lotions and salves and eventually we'll move into creating nasal sprays and capsules, but right now it's the vapes, topicals. What am I missing? Vapes, topicals, and tinctures.
Matt: Okay. Will dispensaries buy the Oblend from you or is it a licensing type of arrangement?
Nicole: They will not buy an Oblend from us, we will place the Oblend at their location. We will sell them empty canisters that they will fill with ingredients. That will be in the form of a licensing dry goods arrangement. Basically, that's where the license is, it's the selling of the empty canisters.
Matt: Okay. The dispensary owners incentivized to do this because orders are going to come in specifically for the Oblend which drives traffic into the dispensary.
Nicole: There are many reasons why a dispensary would want this, I believe. Right now dispensaries are trying to find ways to differentiate themselves. They're trying to gain market share and with healthcare providers wanting the ability to have control over the formulations the patients are getting as well as the feedback, we are giving these LPs a way to capture market share. Florida is interesting because in Florida, these LPs are limited to only selling products that they create. You only have a certain amount of ratios and terpene blends and products. Then you have to create all of those inventory skews and stock up each one of your locations.
With the Oblend, you can create anything that you want. You're not limited to what you're creating, you don't have to stock up on inventory. In fact, if you think about it, you don't have to build an open dispensary all over the state. All you need is an Oblend in that processing center. All the orders go to the Oblend, Oblend creates them, and then they're delivered to the patient. It's really opening up an interesting opportunity. I will also say that if an LP does want to brand themselves at the national level, think about Oblend being located in a dispensary and think about the Starbucks model or the Apple model when a patient is walking in, each patient has a unique user ID.
The Oblend sitting there, somebody's standing behind it like a barista. They're like, "Hi, hi, Mrs. Miller. Last time you were here, we created this formulation for you that was supposed to be for your pain. Do you want me to create the same product? Would you like to add a little extra beta-carotene to it or increase the THC levels or instead of creating it as a tincture, would you like to create it in a topical form?" It's really personalizing the experience and creating customer loyalty now at the dispensary. It's giving them a way to brand themselves at a national level.
Matt: Okay. That's interesting. You said that the LPs, that you're moving from phase one to phase two that you're excited about. Talk a little bit about that.
Nicole: Okay. We have proven the Oblend. Oblend is currently creating products that are hemp-based with terpenes. Again, that's just a temporary item that we were doing in order to make sure that the platform worked, that the patient surveys were working and that the Oblends were robust. The next step is transferring Oblend to an LP's processing site. At that time, we'll be training the LP on how to operate an Oblend. Then they will be purchasing the empty canisters, filling them with ingredients, and receiving the orders at this processing center and creating the products.
Matt: Wow. Okay. What's the interest like from licensed producers, licensed holders? What kind of feedback you're getting and kind of interest?
Nicole: I try not to approach different companies and get them excited before we're ready. We've only approached a couple. We've approached one in Massachusetts and one in California that aren't necessarily the big multi-state operators. They're smaller dispensaries but they own several stores. They're very excited. They can’t wait to have an Oblend. They got it instantly. I have had initial discussions with a couple of the larger multi-state operators and they're intrigued, but that's about as far as we've gotten. We are ready now to open those discussions and have serious discussions and decide who our first partner is going to be.
Matt: I think about there's some doctors out there that we probably both know of that are really well-known for understanding the interactions between terpenes, cannabinoids, and coming up probably with formulations that would be helpful. Are they going to be third-party recipes coming into this or how does that work?
Nicole: Yes. Absolutely. What we have created not that it was intended to be created at the beginning, but what we essentially have created is a platform for healthcare providers, for patients and for formulators. Formulators can now put their formulations into our platform that can be accessed by healthcare providers and patients. These formulators can collect through our platform the data that they want so badly, the patient feedback on what other formulations are working correctly. Now, we did not know that these formulators were going to be necessary until we started talking to the healthcare providers.
We realized that most healthcare providers aren’t ready yet to start creating their own formulations and they don’t really know what terpenes to add to cannabinoids for things like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, or anxiety, or pain. What we did is we reached out to some of the leading formulators and researchers in the nation and we partnered with them and now have their formulations in our platform. We're very, very excited about the level of interest that we've received from these formulators and it's all because they want to help people and they want the feedback from these patients.
Matt: Very cool. I can see why that would be having a lot of different variety is helpful feedbacks, helpful-- That will make a lot of sense. You're moving more to a licensed holder model. Right now there's no multi-state operators. It's more small operators. It's probably good for getting the feedback on a smaller scale first and then training, you're training license holder staff perhaps on how to operate an Oblend. Is that a difficult thing or how hard is that?
Nicole: No. It's not difficult at all. I'm going to call it the processing center. At the processing center location, they have our empty canisters, fill them with the ingredients and you have the person creating the products. We have developed a production fulfillment module in our platform. When a healthcare provider finds a formulation for a patient and sends it to the Oblend. The Oblend's receiving all of these orders and these orders are getting queued in this production fulfillment model.
The person creating the blends can sort the orders by first-in, first-out. They can sort them by what type of products they're going to create or they can sort them by ZIP code and then they just start creating the product. Each product takes less than a minute to create and we've tried to do everything, everything in our platform as easy as possible and they get as user-friendly as possible. The training process should not-- It's like a day for production fulfillment and a day for the ingredient training and that’s it. They're ready to go.
Matt: How do you determine pricing for this type of thing? Let's say I have a tincture that's made. Is there a minimum pricing set or is that done through the dispensary? How does that work?
Nicole: Pricing is really up to the dispensary. However, we do believe that being able to create a customized, personalized product does or should produce a premium price. If I walk into a dispensary and I have the option of purchasing a vape off the shelf or creating my own personalized vape and the one off the shelf is $45, well, I'm probably be willing to spend $50 on creating my personalized product. We believe that products created by the Oblend which are also consistent will probably be sold at a little bit of a premium. Not too much but there's reason that it deserves to be sold at a premium price.
Matt: Very interesting here. The platform, the technology, the Oblend how it all works together, the different parts. It's a complex business model but I think once the inertia really-- It was very clear after you won that award in 2018 like people want this. There's demand for it when they see and understand what's going on. It's just it's a new category in our mind in a way that needs to be explained and since there's different participants in this ecosystem [unintelligible [00:37:56] like, "Okay. Who is the end-user? There's the licensed producer. There's a healthcare professional and then they all come together around this recipe and how it works." It's really interesting. I would like to try a formulation.
Nicole: You and everybody else.
Matt: I know. Yes.
Nicole: What we've realized and again, this wasn’t really the intent at the beginning. The intent was to create a device that produced personalized consistent products on-demand. Essentially, what we have created is a platform or an ecosystem for the cannabis industry that we believe will create a network effect. You've got formulators coming into the platform that want to put their formulations in into our platform. If it's a very well-known formulator, we are willing to pay them a royalty fee. It's a way for researchers to start generating income based on all of their years and years of research without having to wait for cannabis to be approved in the US and then have to go through clinical trials and obtain a patent.
Matt: Great points. Also, skill in this area sometimes comes from unlikely places. I'm thinking about how one company open-sourced its gene-editing software and they found this one woman who was a secretary in the UK. That was the most incredible gene protein folder or something. I remember reading about this and they were like we were shocked. We didn’t think that someone just random without these certain skill sets would come with incredible abilities. Also, I've heard the same thing for the mining industry where they put out bounties and they said, "We need to find gold mines that have this much gold per mile." They put a contest out there, and laypeople solved these problems in ways that they just couldn't even conceive of. Do you think that's going to happen here with the Oblend?
Nicole: Yes, yes, yes, yes. You're talking my language. Totally. First of all, the Oblend is not just limited to the cannabis industry. Yes, we are focused on the cannabis industry because there is a huge unmet need in this industry, and we can turn cannabis into medicine, and we can make cannabis accessible to those who want to treat with cannabis. We can take the fear out of using cannabis by being able to control the amount of THC in such tiny, tiny amounts. Yes, this is for the cannabis industry.
If you think about other industries, the genomic industry, and the companies that are looking at your DNA and analyzing your risk factors versus your brother's risk factors versus your mother's risk factors based on their current body composition. Then you think about the ability to have ingredients in the Oblend and you start supplementing people's body to ward off their potential of getting these different diseases. Then you're really moving into preventative medicine. Preventative medicine using health or plant-based healthy ingredients.
That ultimately is where we want to be one day. Where I think we need to take this company or a very large company that already has the infrastructure built could take this company. It's exciting.
Matt: It really is. Is there patents involved you have here in intellectual property in creating the Oblend?
Nicole: Yes, yes, absolutely. We've been very aggressive on the patent front. We filed our first provisional patent back in early 2016. Since then, we have been granted over 50 patents. We have been granted our key utility patent, and we have filed continuations on that as well as divisional patent applications. We've extended our patent coverage internationally, and we have several different patent families that are active. We have also extended our patent coverage beyond the cannabis industry. We've extended it to other vertical industries, such as the cosmetic industry, the fragrance industry, the tobacco industry.
Again, this device is moving into unchartered territory. It's like the first lab at home. What can you do with a lab? Yes, you can create formulations, but you could create shampoo, you could create makeup or personalized eye cream and day cream and sunscreen. It's really exciting. It's almost too big for this little tiny company to do by ourselves. We can focus on the cannabis industry. However, we realize that it may be best for this company to partner with a company in the cosmetic industry or in the tobacco industry or in the psilocybin industry.
Matt: Oh, yes. That would be cool.
Nicole: We have that in our patents too. You're talking microliter amounts that need to be dispensed. That's what we do. We can dispense in microliter amounts. If there's a company that comes to us that would like to license our technology for another industry, we would be willing to look at it. Because again, ultimately, we are collecting the data, we're collecting the data which is another exciting opportunity. [chuckles]
Matt: I can see why you're focused just on one aspect here. Cannabis is high margin, also, there's no legacy, really infrastructure still. Everything's new so people are more open to it. They say, "What genius loves constraint?" If you go after too much too broadly, you have to start somewhere and get traction. It makes sense that you're starting here. Are you still raising capital right now? We talked about what you did in your previous life raising capital, but are you still raising capital now?
Nicole: Yes, we are. We started the company in early 2016. We've raised $5 million through two different preferred equity rounds, and we are currently in the process of rounding out a $1 million convertible note. We've raised $750,000 of it, and we have another 250 remaining for investment. As soon as we close this, we are going to kick off a $5 million series A-round, and we would like to get that filled as soon as possible. We have a lot of interesting things right around the corner. We're excited, and we really want to focus on making our commercial launch successful.
Matt: Also for license holders, are you still looking for more partners for right now, or is that on hold or would you like them to reach out to you?
Nicole: We definitely are looking for the right partner. If there's anyone out there listening to this right now, and you're an operator or have a license or know of a company that may be interested, please feel free to reach out to us. We have a lot of interesting things to share with you, and we definitely know how important it is to make sure that our first partners are successful. We're going to be doing everything we can to make our first partner successful. Our team will be there at their location doing everything we can to ensure success. Very excited.
Matt: We'll get your contact information and how people can reach out here after we ask you three personal development questions. You've been on the show before, so we've got some new ones for you.
Nicole: All right. I'm ready.
Matt: Okay. What is one skill you use all the time that you think is important, but wasn't taught in school?
Nicole: There's a lot actually. We are commercializing, so when I think about a commercial launch, it's all about strategy. It's like a chess game. You cannot think about your next move, you have to think about your three next moves or your five next moves. What if your opponent does the move that you didn't anticipate, then you have to have a plan B and a plan C because things don't always turn out like you expect them to. Strategy, always listen to the market, listen to your customers, listen to your fellow employees. There's always things to be learned, gather as much information as possible, be willing to make changes, adopt to the market, and make adjustments as needed.
Matt: That's really good. Resiliency. What do you do when it's not clear what to do? [laughs] That's what I call it. What do you do when it's not clear? The MacGyver quotient, I call it.
Nicole: Yes. It's like detective. That's right. Detective. Talk to everybody. Do your research. [laughs]
Matt: What do you think besides what you're doing, which is fascinating, but if you were to pick one other thing that's going on in your field, what do you just think is really cool?
Nicole: Given this COVID crisis right now and the hit that the cannabis industry has taken recently, there's a lot of M&A activity going on. There's an opportunity for companies to acquire other companies at extremely low valuations. I believe that this was going to lead to not only big transactions within the cannabis industry but also big moves from other big players from other large industries such as the pharma industry or the tobacco industry or the ag industry. I also think there's a huge opportunity to brand at the retail level. We have some brands that we've heard of, but there's no true leader on a national level. There are some multistate operators aggressively fighting for this title. There are some Canadian companies that are moving into the US that are fighting for this title. I think it's going to be interesting to see who becomes the big winner as far as branding at a national level on the retail level.
Matt: Here's a Peter Thiel question for you. What's one thing that you believe to be true that practically nobody agrees with you on?
Nicole: That is a very hard question. I can't tell you anything that I believe that almost everybody doesn't agree with me on. However, I can tell you this. I believe that one day, Oblends will be used worldwide for disease prevention and when I tell some people this, they look at me like I'm crazy. That might be it. Right now, you have companies out there that are assessing people's risk factors of diseases based on their DNA, genetic makeup, you mentioned genetic sequencing, body composition.
There's no reason that Oblends cannot be used or will not be used as a preventative plant-based precision device that caters to each person's individual needs. To me, it's black and white, [chuckles] but for many people, they look at me like I'm a little crazy when I say things like that. [chuckles]
Matt: No. It's good to have a strong vision. Also, when you're in the pharmaceutical space and now, it's a pharmaceutical technology, both, you have a sense of what that world is going to because you're so deeply immersed in it that it seems so clear so it's connecting the next dot where laypeople like me haven't connected the first few dots before it.
Nicole: That's right and you know what? I'm reading about the industry all the time. About two weeks ago, it became very clear to me that right now, especially with the COVID crisis, virtual clinical trials and decentralized clinical trials are growing like crazy and you got the telemedicine. Again, you've got Oblend providing medicine for people and patients are seeing their visits through telemedicine. Whatever formulation they come up, it's sent to the Oblend. Oblend sends it to patients. We're sending surveys to the patients. Guess what?
Now, we're in the market of virtual clinical trials and decentralized clinical trials. Cannabis is not illegal in the US right now so we cannot technically perform clinical trials, but there is no reason why you cannot use Oblends to perform virtual clinical trials and decentralized clinical trials. I love it. Again, it's black and white to me. I am ready to get out there. I'm very excited.
Matt: Well, Nicole, as we close, can you let accredited investors know how they can reach out to you and also license holders if they're interested in learning more?
Nicole: Yes. If you would like to reach out to us, probably the best way is to send an email to email@example.com. Let me spell that. It's info, I-N-F-O @oblend, O-B-L-E-N-D.com.
Matt: Okay, great. Well, Nicole, thanks so much for coming on the show. This really sounds futuristic. Also, I can tell it's got likes because I really want to try one. I can think of a lot of different things I would like a formulation for. Immediately, I thought about a Sunday anxiety formulation. Maybe we can get someone like a Dr. Ethan Russo who's into terpenes to create one or something like that, but there are so many others I can think of off the top of my head.
Nicole: Okay, wait, wait. Now that you mentioned him, Ethan is one of our partners that we've partnered with. Through his company that he was formerly with, he just formed a new company called CReDO Science. With his previous company, ICCI, we entered into an agreement and hired Ethan to have formulations for anxiety, pain, and insomnia. That's already on our platform. They're available in the hemp CBD formats and he's also provided us his formulations that include cannabinoids. We're getting great feedback from these formulations.
We are changing people's lives just from the hemp CBD formulations which Ethan told me that they weren't going to work nearly as well as the cannabinoids formulations, but just the hemp CBD formulations are doing wonders for people's lives.
Matt: Wow. I'll certainly be watching closely for that one as available. Well, Nicole, thanks so much for coming on the show. We really appreciate it. For everybody that's interested, accredited investors and for license holders, that was info@oblend. Nicole, congratulations so far and keep us posted with everything you go have going on. I'm really watching this closely.
Nicole: Yes. Thank you so much, Matt. Thanks for all the listeners. I appreciate you having me back on your show. Thanks a lot.
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Cannabis license holders are using an interesting new way to free up capital and grow their business. Here to give us the details is Anthony Coniglio of New Lake Capital Partners.
Learn more at https://www.newlake.com
- Anthony’s background in real estate and how he came to start New Lake
- An inside look at New Lake, a newly-formed Maryland real estate partner that leases industrial and retail properties to state-licensed cannabis operators
- Why cannabis has been deemed essential across the country and how this is influencing investors and license-holders
- Factors to consider when choosing the most valuable states and cities to buy real estate for the cannabis market
- How New Lake has raised $100 million in capital to build its diversified portfolio
- How much New Lake’s investors can expect in returns and Anthony’s predictions for where dividends are heading in the next few years
- What Anthony looks for when considering cannabis operators looking to lease his properties, from their business strategy to their ability to raise capital
- How COVID-19 has affected the commercial real estate market in the US and where Anthony sees it heading
Matthew Kind: Hi, I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday, look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com, that's C-A-N-N-A-insider dot com. Now here's your program.
Cannabis license holders are using an interesting new way to free up capital to grow their business. Here to help us understand how this works is Anthony Coniglio of NewLake. Anthony, welcome to CannaInsider.
Anthony Coniglio: Well, thank you for having me.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?
Anthony: I am currently in Connecticut riding out the coronavirus wave.
Matthew: What is NewLake on a high level?
Anthony: We're a real estate company. We own 21 properties across eight states, and we're focused on building a diversified portfolio of retail and industrial properties that we lease to companies in the cannabis sector for use as dispensaries, as cultivation, processing, and manufacturing facilities. We acquire those properties using sale-leaseback transactions, and our tenants are some of the most experienced and well-run businesses in the industry.
If I had to summarize it, our business model is quite simple. We earn revenue by charging rent. Our investors receive a nice, healthy quarterly dividend. We believe there'll be significant appreciation in the value of our portfolio as the legal status of cannabis changes over time.
Matthew: Just give people a snapshot. You work with license holders, and you say, "Hey, I'm going to give you a whole bunch of cash for your real estate and lease it back to you. That frees up your capital, and that allows our investors to make money." That's pretty much it in a nutshell, right?
Anthony: That's pretty much it, yes.
Matthew: How much money have you raised so far?
Anthony: We've raised $100 million so far. We've been able to deploy a lot of that. We're out raising more capital today.
Matthew: I know we're all serious people here and serious investors, we're wearing collared shirts and you have sport coats on, but the moment you raise $100 million, do you just take some $100 bills and throw them up in the air and fall back on your bed and say, "Money"? Don't answer that question. It's going to make you sound unprofessional. Let's move on.
You've raised 100 million, that's great. Let's talk a little bit about what's going on in the general commercial market here for real estate. It's a bloodbath. There's malls, office buildings, general retail, commercial real estate. It's a mess because of COVID-19. Where are we at the 10,000-foot level for people that don't follow it day by day?
Anthony: I would say we're in the early innings, to use a baseball analogy. For me, I tend to believe that most of the early prognostications will be overblown as it relates to commercial real estate. For instance, I think the depth of the office is exaggerated. I've managed distributed workforces before. It takes the right person or the personality to operate remotely and maintain the same level of productivity.
I believe that this early enthusiasm that we've been seeing for remote working on both the employers and the employees side, I think that's going to fade. I think people want to be with other people. I think employers want to have their people around. Now, let me say, I do think that some trends have been accelerated for sure, whether it be retail or industrial real estate with respect to last mile and those types of distribution strategies. Yes, there's some of those elements that have changed. Perhaps there'll be some change in office, but I think we're still in the early innings.
I also think we're early because when you look at some of the defaults happening in retail or an office or even, to a lesser extent, in industrial, that's really only been from the shutdown. We're just now entering this recession. I think there's going to be a rolling occurrence of events that will further shape what happens from here. That's why I say I think we're in the early innings.
Matthew: You've carved out this niche here and a lot of people would be hesitant about investing in commercial real estate right now, but this very specific niche where cannabis has been deemed essential, it's a different thing. Investors can say, "Well, governments all across the country are deeming this essential, state governments, local governments." How has that affected the conversation and affected your business, both in terms of the license holders and the investors?
Anthony: You're absolutely right. It's amazing how things change in only 90 to 100 days. We're sitting here in a world where only 60% of retail rents are being paid. Shopping center REITs are collecting only 50% to 55% of their rents, and there's even probably upwards of 10% of office tenants aren't paying their rent. We're very happy with our hundred percent collection rate and our hundred percent occupancy rate. We think it's a testament to our disciplined underwriting and focus on diversification.
Yes, as you pointed out, our tenants did benefit from the essential designation, but there are some real estate platforms out there that focus on cannabis that are dealing with some delinquencies and default issues. Listen, we're not declaring victory by any stretch of the imagination, but we think the last three months remind us why we focus on diversification and why we emphasize sound underwriting practices.
Now, let me pivot a little bit to talking about that opportunity around COVID-19 and about how cannabis is a really different sector. While COVID-19 is taking a toll on-- actually taking whole all of us, our communities, our families, our friend or neighbors, and we're leading into the recession. As many of you are listeners know, this industry has really weathered the storm better than other industries, and not just because of the essential designation, but really, I've been so impressed with the way the industry has risen up in the face of this challenge, come together.
I think they've changed the perception at the state level, at the legislative level, at the regulatory level, and also in their community level. I think that's going to bode really well for the industry and just fuel that long term secular growth trend that the industry is in today. I'm pretty bullish on the opportunities in cannabis. I think the essential designation helps, but this industry is growing very rapidly, and it's just so exciting to be part of it.
Matthew: Not all geographies are the same in terms of cannabis. What states and cities do you think are the most desirable to buy real estate in?
Anthony: Well, you're absolutely right. While we look at opportunities in all markets across the country, we do like to focus on states and jurisdictions that have a more limited licensing regime. Examples of those would be Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut. Those would be just a few of those states that you see a more limited number of licenses being granted by the regulators.
Matthew: Limited licensing. That's key. That's the moat. Also, I would say difficult governments is a moat too, as perverse as that sounds. I think I'm thinking of Chicago and Boston, not calling you both out but I kind of am, difficult environments make it, so people are like, "Wow, I have to put up with so much dysfunctional government," that it's really a barrier to entry. Is there anything else besides limited licensure that you look at? Obviously, population is a factor, population density. What else do you think about?
Anthony: We definitely look at density. We definitely want to make sure that the properties, whether they're retail or industrial, we want to make sure we understand what the alternative use is for and what they could be applied to outside of cannabis. It's critically important to understand how you can mitigate your downside risk. In some of the deals that we see quite frankly, you have to zoom out 8, 9, 10 times on Google Maps simply to see another building. Literally, some of these are in the middle of nowhere. I don't know how they get power and water into some of these locations.
You're right. The limited license jurisdictions do provide that moat. It's a better operating environment for the operator, meaning hopefully they have an easier time generating cash flow and profit. There's intrinsic value in those licenses. If an operator does fall on hard times or is not able to operate the location to profitability, there's a long list of people who've been waiting for on-trade at the state that would be happy to step into the location and operate in. Therefore, we think those companies in distress would seek to monetize that intrinsic value in the license.
Matthew: $100 billion raised. When did you close your first acquisition?
Anthony: October 15, 2019.
Matthew: Moving fast here. If I'm a license holder listening right now, how does this work? Do I find real estate I want to buy then reach out to you, or do you buy real estate and then a license holder comes in? How does this work?
Anthony: In multiple ways. I will say what we don't do is we don't purchase a property and take tenancy risk or vacancy risk. We won't purchase a property and then go in and title it and then try to find an operator. Right now most of our transactions are where operators own the property and they come to us and they want to unlock capital and raise that non-dilutive capital to invest in their business. We will do a sale-leaseback transaction where they don't have to leave the facility, there's no interruption to the operations, it's all on paper. They sell us the property at the same time they enter into a long term lease with us. What we're starting to see more of and doing more of is a situation where an operator has identified a property they want to be in because it fits either their retail desires or their growing desires in terms of location, and they are securing a purchase agreement for the property. We will step in. We will assume their role in the purchase transaction. We will buy that property with our dollars and we will concurrently enter into a long-term lease with them. In that instance, the property never has to be funded by the operator, we fund it right from purchase.
Ultimately, over time, as the industry normalizes, I'd expect our dialogue with our tenants and other operators in the industry to evolve where we are bringing them properties that we think fit what their particular needs are. We will transact only after they've agreed that that's a particular property. We do see it in phases.
Matthew: If I'm an investor listening or even even a licensed holder and I'm thinking, "Is leverage or a lot of debt going to be deployed here, and does that put me at risk?" Can you talk about how you view leverage or where its place is, or there's no place at all for it?
Anthony: There is a place but there's, in our opinion, a very careful place for it. We think there's very attractive returns to be had right now without adding in the added risk of meaningful leverage. What we would want in leverage is a debt facility that had some term to it. There is no what I would call regular way refinance market for cannabis real estate. Quite frankly, that's part of the big opportunity here for us as a company, is banks aren't serving the needs in traditional credit providers and capital providers for commercial real estate, aren't serving the needs of the sector.
If we do layer in some debt over the near term, it would have to have three to five years of maturity. It would have to provide us some meaningful flexibility in order for us to get comfortable in taking on that type of risk. I wouldn't foresee it for a meaningful amount. On a $100 million, perhaps we might look to layer in $20 million. I think of that debt more as a bridge to additional capital raises than I do as what I would traditionally call structural debt, where we're leveraging a portfolio to drive a return.
Matthew: What kind of returns are you paying and can investors expect? You can only really talk for sure about dividends paid, and then this pro forma or it's, our best guess, based on where everything's at right now on a shifting landscape of probabilities. What's your best idea of where dividends are going?
Anthony: We've paid a 8% dividend yield quarterly for the last few quarters since we started purchasing our first building. We feel comfortable being able to pay the 8% dividend yield as we continue to go along. For our investors, the opportunity is not just to get paid the dividend yield. There may even be upside on the 8% given we think we could generate a net 10% after expenses for our company. Beyond that 8% to 10% yield, that's unlevered, we also see the opportunity to realize gains by getting a public listing of our company, and having our meaningful above-market yield with a long duration get valued by public market investors at potentially two to three times our book value.
Matthew: Well, that sounds juicy. People are like, "Hey, I can get these dividends, but also at some time in the future, there might be a public offering." No one knows the future, but how far out would that be?
Anthony: Well, right now what you're seeing in IPO markets are companies that would typically lead the way in this environment. Healthcare companies, tech companies, anything that plays into the theme of what we're going to continue to see around COVID for the next six months or so. Even Albertsons filed for an IPO last week. It's not for the next six months at least, it's probably a next year event at the earliest when the market is willing to consider non-down-the-middle, the fairway type of offering documents.
For us, we're going to continue to raise capital. I mentioned we're raising another 50 million of capital. We'll be at 150. We're going to continue to get our company ready to jump through that window of opportunity when it presents itself because we think not only does it provide liquidity for our investors and provide a potential valuation bump as well, but more importantly, in order to continue to grow our business, scale our company, we need to have access to a ready and deep pool of capital. The public markets are that deep, robust pool of capital that we would gain access to.
Matthew: If a tenant can't pay, for some reason, we kick them out, and then we start to sell tickets for a rave, right?
Matthew: No, I'm just kidding. What do we do? It's, obviously, you're thinking that when you're looking at a property, you're saying, "Well, who else can come in here? What other industrial uses are? As you mentioned. Could have been used for something else? Obviously, you don't want that prospect, to begin with, of someone not being able to pay, so you look at their credit-worthiness, how well their business is going, talk about that a little bit.
Anthony: Yes. This is probably one of the most important things that we do. This is our entire business, and we would call it layered risk mitigation. It starts with understanding the operator, how they manage their business, how they run their business, what's their strategy, and, very importantly, what's their ability to raise capital. There are a number of people that can run a good business, but they don't run it well enough to be able to raise capital on it. That is critical because, in this industry where the industries are so dynamic, capital is so important, so one's ability to raise capital is important to assess.
Beyond that, clearly, we look at the balance sheet, we look at the P&L, we look at their projections. We further then look at the property itself and understand how critical is this property to the overall strategy of the business. Is this a tiny portion of their operations or is this mission-critical piece of real estate that they will need to protect at all costs in order to maintain their own cash flow. We go further to then look at the contract we have with them and building features that provide us additional protection, like security deposits and parent guarantees.
In many cases, non-traditional covenants that do give us the opportunity to understand what's going on at the property, what's the revenue being produced, what's the condition that it's in. Then we look at the alternative use. We understand if we're wrong on all of that, and you can't be right 100% of the time as much as we try, but if we're wrong on all of that, here's where the limited license state kicks in. For wrong on all of that, they just don't do a good job with it. There are many, many folks and companies that would love to enter into these limited license states. In that period of distress, we don't expect the operator to toss the keys, or to give up and risk losing that intrinsic value to the license.
In some of these states, licenses are trading for $8 million, $15 million, $20 million, over $20 million. We think the operators, instead of going dark for just giving up, are likely to sell that license, garner the intrinsic value of the license. Since the license is typically attached to the property in the in these limited license states, we then have a new tenant that will go in and operate the dispensary or operate the cultivation facility and pick up the cash flows. That layered risk mitigation is really important.
I guess then lastly, I should have mentioned, is understanding that alternative use. If, for some reason, we can't get a cannabis business to take over the lease and to step into the facility, making sure we're in a location that isn't in the middle of nowhere that has no alternative us but that there is a well-developed market in proximity to our location that we would have a reasonable likelihood of being able to redeploy to other industries.
Matthew: Is this only for the big boys like the MSOs, the multi-state operators? Who's the right fit for this type of scenario and sale buyback or the sale lease scenario? Is it only the big guys? Is there medium and also small guys, and how do they fit into this, and girls?
Anthony: It's a great question. We get it asked a lot. It is up and down the spectrum. We do have some large MSOs in our portfolio, names like a Columbia Care or Grassroots or PharmaCann. We also have a single-state operator. In the state of Pennsylvania, we think they're probably the best or one of the best cultivators in the state of Pennsylvania. Our property is nice proximity to Pittsburgh. Yes, we will do business with a single-state operator. We've looked at regional operators. Really, what sets businesses apart is management teams, their capital structure, their ability to raise capital. Then also something quite simple is audited financials. We've come across some folks who don't have audited financials, and as much as we want to trust people, as good stewards of capital on behalf of our investors, we do have to have an independent assessment of the assets and liabilities of the entities we're entering into a long term contract with.
Matthew: Sure. Just at a high level, what's the breakdown in terms of cultivators, extractors, processors, people that do all the above? How's the real estate broken down?
Anthony: Today we own 17 dispensaries and four cultivation facilities. When I look at the opportunity, I'd say the opportunity is across the spectrum. I think we'll need, undoubtedly, we will need more dispensaries across this country as the industry continues to grow. Undoubtedly, we will need more growth facilities across this country as the industry continues to grow. Then I think we'll start to see more and more processing opportunities, and then ultimately logistics properties. I'm really excited to watch all of those evolve and develop.
Matthew: The lease length. Are you pretty open to what the tenant needs, or are you looking at a certain duration for your investors? How does that conversation unfold?
Anthony: Duration and risk are key to that analysis. I would say that the retail leases tend to be a little on the shorter side versus the longer side, so there'll be under 15 anywhere from call it 12 to 15 years. On the cultivation side, they'll typically be 15, sometimes up to 20 years.
Matthew: Is there any kind of improvements that a tenant wants to do that you say, "Hey, that's not really going to be valuable in a secondary market. You want to put in a chocolate river like Willy Wonka like I don't think that's a good ROI investment." Do you get involved in that at all, or you just let them do what they want?
Anthony: Well, we certainly get involved because we own the property. We want to make sure we understand what they're spending money for that we ultimately will own, and again, mitigating risk. What we found to date, though, is most people are very, very responsible about what it is they're looking to buy. These are expensive facilities. Everybody wants to have a world-class cultivation facility, or a beautiful, comfortable, and inviting dispensary environment.
I don't want to say no expenses or sparred, but these are significant investments. We spent a lot of time understanding what those improvements will be and then quantifying how we could possibly recover those improvements relative to the market we're in. So far, it's been a very, very reasonable dialogue. We've had nobody that's wanted to install chocolate rivers yet.
Matthew: Too bad, lack of imagination, I say, but, hey, it's just me. Actually, if I'm consuming cannabis on a Saturday and I'm told that someplace has a chocolate river that I can dip a cup into and get a drink of that, I might go just for that.
Anthony: That sounds like a new cannabis experience theme park that you can start, man.
Matthew: Yes. Gosh, I'm thinking small. Thanks for pointing that out, Anthony. The tenants involved in the build-out, but as long as it's reasonable, you pretty much say yes. It's not like you're the business of saying no, you want to get as many sales as possible and people aren't doing anything outlandish, typically.
Anthony: Yes, that's exactly right. When you look at the revenue that's generated in the cannabis industry relative to other industries on a per square foot basis, we have some of this data where our properties generate approximately six times what an alternative use business would generate for those particular properties, and that speaks to, I think, what a lot of people who operate and invest in the cannabis industry are after. This is high-quality business with high-quality products that drives pre-tax that is, high-quality margins. We think that improves the risk profile of the business, and so if there are reasonable improvements to the property that can further enhance revenue, we're all for it.
Matthew: People are listening that either, a, want to connect with Anthony, their investor, and this sounds interesting to them, we'll get all of his contact information here shortly. Then if there's anybody that has a big or has a facility, and they're interested leasing it back and having to buy it, we can give Anthony's contact information out at the end of the show, as I mentioned, so we'll do that.
Before we do that, let's shift to some personal development questions here, Anthony. Is there a book that's had a big impact on your life or your way of thinking that you'd like to share with listeners?
Anthony: There are a few that just actually jumped into my mind if I could have some latitude and give you a couple.
Anthony: I put these in categories and I try to read a lot. One that really shaped me a long time ago and really sticks with me today around management is Straight From the Gut by Jack Welsh. Just really understanding how he brought management into the GE environment. I think Jack these days is becoming a little bit of a controversial figure nowadays past, but in any event, there is some unbelievable lessons in that book that have worked really well for me.
I've also managed businesses that have undergone change and there's a book that sticks out, Three-Box Solution, the author is escaping my memory but The Three-Box Solution, which really talks about how do you take a business that's somewhat mature and continue to drive profitability and cash flow from that while investing in the future and being able to give those new ideas the space and the capital to just stay and grow and become that new barn burning product if you will.
Then one just most recently that really is sticking in my head is a book called Range. It's gotten a lot of press, David Epstein. Really what that spoke to me about was this concept about being a generalist, and through my career, I've done a lot of different things, in my career. I've always questioned, boy, would I have been better being highly, highly specialized instead of being a little bit more of this generalist.
Maybe it resonates with me because it speaks to what I've done, but Range really, I think, was a great example of how-- Maybe it's not so good to be this highly, highly, highly specialized person and maybe we're more effective as business people and husbands, wives, friends, relatives, if we're a little bit more broader in what we do in our lives.
Matthew: You're the Swiss Army knife is what you're saying.
Anthony: [laughs] Without the edge.
Matthew: Okay. All right. What do you think is the most interesting thing going on in this field where you're just looking around and you're like, "Wow, I'm focused on what I'm doing here, but that's just, straight-up, interesting"?
Anthony: In real estate, it has to be this debate about how coronavirus will impact the real estate industry. I think it certainly will, but I do think that people are exaggerating what that impact will ultimately be. I'm a pendulum guy, which is to say that the pendulum swings back and forth, back and forth, and at certain times, it'll be higher in its swing then lower, but I do think at the end of the day, the pendulum spends more time in the middle than it does at its endpoints.
Matthew: I would say I would agree with you on that. I definitely think that way too, but I am challenged a little bit here because I think we're possibly in the midst of another secular trend. I don't know if you've ever heard that book, the Fate of the States by Meredith Whitney. She was a famous financial analyst years back, and she wrote this book about how these wealthy big cities in the United States, mostly on the coast, they have kind of peaked, and they'll come back at some point, but they're not treating their citizens well.
Places like New York City, where I've heard estimates that 60% of the operating side is still not even there in their homes, that might come back, but have these big cities in some ways peaked in that they're overtaxing and overburdening their citizens with property taxes, income taxes, and they're just straight up leaving? I'm guessing you're probably certainly connected? Are you in Fairfield County, Connecticut?
Matthew: Okay, so here we go.
Anthony: I lived in Manhattan for 20 years.
Matthew: There's so many people, and I'm sure you know so many people too, that are in the Tri-state area of New York City, and now they are buying real estate and putting their center of gravity in Florida and spending six months in a day in Florida and like slowly minimizing their exposure to the Tri-state area because there's so much intellectual capital and actual capital there, but they're slowly minimizing exposure from these tax-sucking entities.
When I see someplace like New York City, I think the best of the best will always be there, but maybe people that run that, like marginally, they're saying, "Maybe I'll go somewhere else. Maybe I'll go to Boise, or maybe I'll go to Salt Lake City," or something like that. We have these two trends intersecting, which is kind of the secular trend away from these cities that are trying to extract everything from their citizens on top of the COVID response where people are moving virtual. Any thoughts there?
Anthony: Yes, I'll give you some thoughts on how throughout, what I see as a real wildcard in this dialogue and how it plays out. I think you're right at the margin. I think we all can have examples where somebody fled for Florida or somebody went to Nashville or somebody went here. You're right, a lot of the people from the Upper East Side are SoHo, certain parts of the city have been able to flee to other areas, either a second home that they have out of the city or maybe they rented a home out of the city.
Here's what I would say, cities have grown because they've provided something that people really want, whether it be the cultural opportunities, whether it be the experience of being with other people, whether it be education or jobs. When we think about the heartbeat of these cities, it's not someone that's at the point in their career where they could spend six months in a day in Florida and then come back to New York for their weekend trips, the heartbeat of these cities are the 25- to 50-year-olds and the people who are starting out in their careers and then starting a family and then developing a family.
They're there for different reasons. They're there for jobs. They're there for relationships. They're there to capture opportunity. I think that continues. Will we see, in my opinion, 5% maybe leave? Yes, I think we definitely could see that. Here's where I'd get to the wild card. The wild card is safety. Without getting political about what's happening in our country and the dialogue around defunding the police, well, I think city legislators need to figure out a way to thread the needle, because if they reallocate funds from policing in a manner that results in higher levels of crime, then I think all bets are off the table because I think people will vote with their feet in terms of their safety.
What you end up having, I worry about, is a self-fulfilling prophecy where as more people leave, there's less of a tax base and less of a service economy that's needed to serve those folks, which means there's fewer jobs, which just maybe only puts more pressure on it. To me, that's a real wildcard. I think we have to watch and make sure that the cities can manage the policing budgets in a manner that ensures that safety and crime maintain themselves at a level that has really drawn people back into the cities. My last thought on this, many people said, after 911, New York City was dead, and it came back stronger than ever. Yes, things are a little different here, but, again, sometimes yearly prognostications are a little exaggerated.
Matthew: Well, I really hope so because it's really a big jewel of the country and certainly people from all over the world look to New York City for a lot of different leadership, so I hope you're right. Here's one other question for you. You already gave me one thought that's counter-trend here. What's another thought that you have that most people would disagree with you on? That's a Peter Thiel question.
Anthony: [chuckles] For your listeners, here's another place where I'm a contrarian. I think all of this talk about the haves and have nots in the cannabis industry and there's going to be mass carnage in 2020 and everybody's going out of business except for a select few that are able to do this, that, and the other and there's going to be massive waves and consolidation and the landscape is going to look totally different by the end of the year, I don't buy it. I will say I'm being dramatic, but yes, for sure, there will be M&A, but there was a lot of M&A last year and there was a lot of M&A in the year before that.
Yes, there will be companies that go out of business, but there were companies that went out of business last year and companies that went out of business the year before. What I think will drive less of it is the fact that there's so much money sitting on the sidelines, and these businesses have such great promise that I do think there's enough capital to continue to provide a lifeline for some of those companies that are in the middle, that quite aren't there but they're not really dead yet. I think there's enough capital where people will be able to get enough of that lifeline to keep their business going, hoping for the better days.
Then the other thing is, I just wouldn't underestimate people in this industry. I think people in this industry are scrappy, they're smart. They're resourceful, and look at what they've been able to do to date. I don't think you're going to see a large part of this sector decide, "Well, I just can't make a go of it. It's too hard." I think they're going to figure it out to a large part. That's where I'm a bit of a contrarian. Yes, we'll have M&A, yes, we'll have some businesses fail. Will it be five x what it is over the last few years? No, I just don't see it.
Matthew: Okay. Well, you're an optimist, and I think it's a good thing to be. Anthony as we close, can you tell listeners how to reach out to you, a, investors. I'm sure it's accredited investors are looking for. Then, b, license holders, how can they reach out to you and see if they're a fit?
Anthony: Yes, accredited investors, for sure. For everybody, there are two ways that you can do it. You could either go to our website, which is newlake.com, N-E-W-L-A-K-E.com, and click on the info button and submit your information and one of the team will get back to you. We typically get back within 24 hours. Also, feel free to hit me on LinkedIn at Anthony Coniglio. I'm happy to respond to that. I prefer it all go through the website because it'll be easier for us to track it and make sure that everybody's getting the response that they deserve.
Matthew: How about if everybody just sends you funny memes on LinkedIn? Will that be good forever, not just for a couple of weeks.
Anthony: As long as I can resend them out, yes, I love funny memes.
Matthew: Okay. Well, Anthony, thanks so much for coming on the show. We really appreciate it. I think you picked a really good niche at a really good time. Lucky and right. I think those are two great things to have, two circles overlapping. Good luck with everything and keep us updated.
Anthony: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you, and I enjoyed our discussion.
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