Cannabis Financing Alternatives in Complex Markets
Finding the right resource for business financing comes with its own set of challenges, but those in the cannabis space, in particular, have an extra set of hurdles (or two) to climb over. Much like the mining and construction industries, cannabis falls into the high-risk category leaving entrepreneurs seeking traditional loans at a dead end. While the successful push in licensing continues, a lack of access to institutional banking has prolonged the process for many and stunted the full potential of growth for the cannabis market. It's a reality most evident in the United States where companies that received the legal go-ahead as early as 2014 are still not open for business. The good news? Alternative cannabis financing options are popping up in unconventional places. It's merely a matter of knowing where to look, and the steps you can take to qualify.
Obstacles in Cannabis Business Financing
Currently, in the U.S., 11 states (and D.C.) have legalized recreational marijuana, and 33 more states have legalized its use medicinally. Despite this growing trend, the substance is still federally illegal, creating a huge barrier for companies when it comes to financing and banking. As cannabis companies patiently wait for the SAFE Banking Act to pass in the U.S., they continue to struggle to set up institutional bank accounts, let alone access funds to start, operate, or expand their company.
Risky business is the name of the game, at least from those who hold the cash. Financiers see two types of risk in cannabis business financing: legal ambiguities - especially in the U.S. - and systemic risk in the form of assets that cannot easily transfer in the face of dissolution. In 2018, when the Bank of Montreal invested in several large cannabis companies, the tide toward institutional financing was expected to turn toward the cannabis industry. But it didn't. Instead, the majority of Canadian business owners are still struggling to secure cannabis financing, all in an environment where legalization of cannabis is on a country level.
Alternative Cannabis Financing Solutions
Although one door has closed, several others have opened. Traditional lenders unaccustomed to providing credit lines for assets means there is an appetite for alternative cannabis financing options. Private investors, local credit unions, self-funding, crowd-funding, celebrities, and holding companies are just a few of the choices some start-ups have pursued.
There's also a more direct level of financial support offered by companies selling cannabis equipment and services. Where other private lenders struggle to negotiate the risks associated with cannabis business financing, equipment manufacturers, in particular, understand the inherent value and potential -- leading to internal financing solutions and in some cases access to extended financial networks.
Approach Cannabis Financing with a Plan
Regardless of how you choose to pursue financing for your cannabis business — private lenders, manufacturers, angel investors — the key to securing the money you need is approaching any investor with a well-researched business plan and the data to back it up.
No Time for Half-baked Ideas | In an age of legitimization, cannabis companies can no longer rely on half-baked ideas. Just like any loan application, seeking cannabis financing requires an understanding of what the money will be used for down to the very last cent. Otherwise, it is challenging for a lender to determine how much financing you actually need. It can be daunting running those numbers and establishing a clear growth plan, but doing so gives a lender the assurance you've done your research, know what you want, and how you're going to use it. From equipment needs, and raw material to personnel, a solid plan includes identifying the costs associated and carefully outlining how every item of your budget will be spent.
Quick tip: You wouldn’t go back to the bank multiple times changing the loan amount for a home, and you shouldn't do it now. Take time to get those numbers right the first time around.
It is a Team Effort | Investors want to be privy to certain information about your company, including details about your team and their roles. It's always valuable if you can create a way to introduce potential investors to those involved in your company's purchasing decisions and expansion plans. There's nothing worse than reaching the finish line only to be told that silent partner 'Joe', who your lender is unaware of, now has a few changes to the application.
Quick Tip: Explain who will handle different aspects of the capital and how their role influences the rest of the team, the investment funds, and your future growth.
Deliver a Pitch They Can’t Refuse | Beyond explaining how you plan to use any financing, how do you plan to expand your business, increase revenue, and make money for yourself, your company, and your investors? Cannabis business financing — or any business financing, for that matter — is about more than just acquiring new equipment or expanding building space. Once those goals are accomplished, where will the business go from there, and what do the key milestones look like? Lay everything out on the table, and be transparent in your intentions with a comprehensive pitch deck. Remember, just because you may not be walking into a bank, you are asking for a hefty sum of money that deserves the same professional approach.
Quick Tip: Build an impressive business plan that leaves nothing to guess, and in turn, an offer investors can't refuse.
Financing through Vitalis
Manufacturing companies like Vitalis even offer internal financing solutions and access to a network of financing partnerships. Where other private lenders struggle to negotiate the risks associated with cannabis business financing, equipment manufacturers like ours understand the inherent value and potential within the cannabis industry.
Ready to get the funding to grow your business? Contact the team at Vitalis today and learn more about our unique equipment financing solutions.
As the world turns an eye to therapeutic alternatives and the reform surrounding them, there's a topic that keeps capturing headlines - psychedelics. While still grouped as an illicit drug by today's standards, psychedelics are slowly, and discretely making their way to research facilities near and far. The mindset is this: If Cannabis can do it, so can psilocybin. But if the diligent systems and bureaucratic intricacies that once surrounded cannabis legalisation (and in some cases depending on geography still do) should serve as an indication: a fledgeling future for medicinal psychedelics will weigh heavily on precise data, process, and compliance.
Overcoming a Century-Old Stigma
Changing the public perception of something embedded with stigmas is no easy feat. Since the Opium Act of 1908, governments around the world have worked to protect citizens from what they categorised as illegal substances. Such was the case with Cannabis when it joined the restricted list in 1923.
Through legislative processes grounded in research and data, we've seen global strides taken in the face of changing public and government opinion. Efforts by countries, especially Canada, that have led the way in setting a progressive precedent for other nations to follow, and a blueprint for future industries to reference when faced with similar hurdles along the way. Nationwide Cannabis legalisation in 2018 in Canada, opened the doors to better study and understand the benefits of the plant, the seemingly endless types of cannabinoids and how to extract them, isolate them, and utilise them for different applications. In the lead-up to and amid Legalisation 2.0 extraction played a leading role not only in delivering a quality product for Licensed Producers but set a precedent in areas of controlled research. And while it may not have been high on the initial list of reasons, after years of in-depth study on Cannabis has indirectly given the approval of and confidence for emerging industries like medicinal psychedelics to follow.
It's Not about the Trip; It's about the Journey
The success story that Cannabis is basking in today didn't come without obstacles. Remember the restricted list of 1923? Cannabis sat on it for decades, as the government largely overlooked decriminalisation and regulation - and how to merge the two. Positive as the shift was when they approved the production and distribution of medical Cannabis in 2013, it brought to light the grey areas behind the term 'legal'.
The research of micro-dosing of psilocybin, the primary psychoactive ingredient in mushrooms, and slated to be the next major breakthrough in healthcare, is facing similar obstacles surrounding the contradictory legalities that its predecessor once endured. At present, psilocybin is still considered a drug, illegal on many lists and making research efforts to study the potential benefits, and the restrictions controlling the 'how' an uphill battle.
Initial efforts have once again raised awareness to the same vital points flagged when Cannabis came into question on the road to legitimacy - compliance, safety, and good manufacturing practices. It has also brought to the forefront those entities and bodies who will once again play a supporting role in enhancing programs behind the research and development of the world's next therapeutic alternative.
Institutions that have been granted a head start in exploring the ins and outs of the plant are highlighting areas that need more in-depth consideration. Safe manufacturing practices and the right systems required to gather data on the complexities of specific molecules and compounds are cited as the more complicated areas, among others. The University of Toronto recently launched the Psychedelic Studies Research Program (PSRP), dependent on Health Canada's approval of both the clinical trials and manufacturing process. PSRP has cited that without quality standards in place and the regulation that outlines the standards, it is impossible to manage the output of substances that are needed for controlled research. To reach that vital point of discovery will mean putting trust in science and a system with measures in place to support the regulation of those findings.
Have a product you want to be extracted for research purposes? To learn more about our research and development programmes, reach out today.
It’s about time! In our final Live from Lift episode, we caught up with Vitalis co-founders Joel Sherlock and James Seabrook to talk all things extraction. Follow the process from plant to oil, learn all about Supercritical CO2, and so much more. This is extraction, explained.
In a hypercompetitive market, it can be easy for cannabis companies to forget some of the science that underpins the plant’s effects. But for the extraction companies that process this unique crop, any scientific oversight can be costly. So how can those involved in extraction keep up to date on the latest cannabis science?
When asked just that, Pete Patterson, founder of the Canadian CO2 extraction equipment manufacturer Vitalis Extraction Technology, said that his company will “continue being students of the science of this plant.”
Having kept a keen eye on international research, Patterson notes that “Israel has been playing a pioneering role. But a strain in Israel versus one in California – the differences in bud size and potency are huge. Through consistent cross-breeding over time, some of these have 32 percent THC and more.”
“The Drug Enforcement Agency in the US is allowing more research these days, but there are always going to be genetic freaks. More hybrids cause greater potency. As global borders drop, we can look to sharing more genetics and research. An average tree used to be four-to-five percent THC, and now this has grown remarkably.”
According to Patterson, creativity is at an all-time high in the extraction industries, with more of it witnessed in the US where groups are using ice cold water to make bubble hash. High-performance liquid chromatography software allows more detailed high-pressure liquid chromatography defining standards to measure potency. Testing consistency remains a big challenge in the US, along with procuring biomass. But often the results vary and improve over time.
The extraction process of cannabis is critical because it helps a manufacturer obtain the highest concentration of THC and CBD with a mostly clear and viscous fluid. Extraction time, flow rate, temperature and pressure along with crossover pressure combine to determine the factors influencing the quality of extract.
“We uphold the best practices for extraction equipment companies,” Patterson says. “Pharmaceutical companies are coming in and asking about standards. How does our equipment help our customers be GMP (good manufacturing practice) compliant? Do we have the critical measurement? We need to provide the right information and guidelines.”
Of his own extraction company, Patterson is proud that “[Vitalis is] a big organization. We have long surpassed 100 employees, we do our own manufacturing, and can hence change quickly.” Indeed, Vitalis plans to expand into Europe and the Americas, followed by the field of botanicals, and eventually utilization of its tech in non-botanical sectors to lead globally in equipment. Like Vitalis, companies are actively investing (or considering investing) in the ancillary industries to be sustainable.
While there are more legal cannabis products and types in US dispensaries, it’s Canada that has a full national market to provide the capital and liquidity. Many US companies have gone public on the Canadian Securities Exchange, for instance, and it’s estimated or anticipated that within two-to-three years, the US Congress will de-schedule cannabis. But how will it roll out federalization?
“The US is also a sleeping giant of a market,” says Patterson. “When it gets recreational federalization, lots of capital will flood into the industry which will change how we view different facets of the industry.”
Beyond the US borders, Patterson says cannabis can only be strengthened by working towards clarity on regulations, safety, and standards across markets. “In the cannabis/extraction business, we need a voice that helps the government adopt safe regulations and helps them see clear direction on next steps, because it can be a very fragmented voice,” he adds.
With international markets, a joint venture group offers the right mix of expertise but not always the cultural values unique to its regions of operation. An interested party can sell directly into market and develop local expertise, or can hire staff locally, Patterson advises.
Arundati Dandapani is the founder and CEO of Generation1.ca, a cross-sectoral resource and outlet that taps into the outlook and experience of Canada’s newest residents.
In Episode 25 of our Ancillary Extraction Equipment video series, our Ancillary Sales Manager, Mike Stringile picks up where we left off following cannabinoid potency testing in Part 1 at DigiPath, Inc. cannabis testing facility. Join Stringile as he walks you through the process of quantifying and qualifying your cannabis samples, as well as contamination testing.
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Join us for this episode of The Cannabis Conversation where we sit down with Joel Sherlock - Co-founder and Chairman of Vitalis Extraction Technologies to explore the ‘ins and outs’ of the cannabis extraction process, how different grades of cannabis are processed, and how important extraction is to the industry.
Top takeaways from the MjBizCon International 2019 cannabis conference.*
*You must be 19+ years to view this content.
The Marijuana Business Daily hosted its annual MjBizCon International Conference in Toronto this past week. The global showcase of experts brought a largely North American audience closer to distant corners of the globe including pioneer nation Uruguay, experts in LATAM, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Australia. Day one was a pre-conference aimed at investors, while days two and three focussed on keynotes, breakout panels, individual presentations and expo hall display events.
Investors look for crazy founders who will never give up — founders’ depression and giving-up being all too common and soul-crushing, and the top reason companies fail. Investors must attack the “balance sheets” and look for founders obsessed with making a fortune more than fame. Strong teams are critical for success. Intimate knowledge of companies and their founders, past performance and the competitive landscape are other qualities you need to analyze the performance potential of a firm.
Codie Sanchez of Cresco Capital Partners, Paul Rosen of Breakwater Venture Capital, Melissa Diaz of Rebel Rock Accounting, and many others were especially vocal about optimizing investor matches and backing next-level ideas to harmonize global consumption, production and sale of cannabis. This is an industry that’s pegged to bring in $32 billion (USD) in worldwide legal cannabis spending by 2022! Cannabis is the fastest growing sector with a 17% CAGR (US led) when compared to sectors like organic food (14%), food (7%), pet food (4%) and alcohol (3%) – Arcview Research & BDS Analytics. This is also a sector where a lot of companies are or should be rushing to develop their intellectual property (IP) to set the precedent and grow their claims in a cash-intensive industry.
Be careful! You’ll lose more money than you’ll make in this industry…. This is a very expensive industry to be in.
PAUL ROSEN, BREAKWATER VENTURE CAPITAL
The Canadian Securities Exchange(CSE) works with entrepreneurs and companies looking to access looking to access the Canadian public capital markets. CEO Richard Carleton works with companies to maintain a policy of ongoing disclosure. There are a lot of rules in the Securities Act, so they work with companies to develop their disclosure statements without being promotional, and vet companies strictly prior to listing them on the CSE. Cannabis companies have been their driver of growth in the past 5 years.
Disclosure is the best disinfectant!
RICHARD CARLETON, CEO, CANADIAN SECURITIES EXCHANGE
The end of Canadian domination (in cannabis) is near, we learn. Federal legalization of cannabis looks increasingly likely in the US, as popular US opinion reigns in favour of full legalization and re/de-scheduling of cannabis. Canada must turn to her mature capital markets and be prepared to act as multi-state operators. We shouldn’t be afraid of buying or setting up companies in the US and injecting Canadian capital in US markets or elsewhere. Still, it will be increasingly tough to compete with US brands and companies as we navigate the regulatory processes of “Legalization 2.0”. Mergers and acquisitions are on the horizon. Companies must bring together the board they want to grow with in their pre-revenue stage than wait till when their growth spirals out of control.
Go after your niche.
Building a niche may take a lifetime (or less), but knowing who you serve and who you don’t, makes it a lot easier for your customers, and also helps you target more effective messaging. Seeing that as a pact of honesty with your abilities (and consumers), makes the mission surmountable. Be exclusionary. Don’t try doing 37 things where you can do just 1 or 2.
In Canada, brands are limited by regulatory standards in how they can and cannot market cannabis. Successful brands in Canada capitalize on ancillary products, and also market with communities and experiences. Cannabis brands enjoy more recognition in the US, where advertising is a lot more mainstream and product variety exciting and normalized. Walk into a CVS and Walgreens in the US to witness many varieties of infused confectionaries and concentrates in their legal markets. So long as no health claims are being made on your cannabis products, you are free to advertise in states where adult-use is legal in the US. North America and Europe are leading the way with CBD (even if only 14% of Americans consume CBD), with Japan showing promise in Asia as a CBD market. Asia is consistently referred to as the sleeping giant of opportunity in cannabis owing to its ancient ties with farming, and medicinal, pharmaceutical, spiritual, religious or social use of the plant.
The industry is growing too fast, so plan well ahead. International markets will catch up with North America eventually. Trying to keep pace with the rapidly changing cannabis trade or regulatory frameworks in different markets is challenging. Of an approximate 195 countries in the world, nearly 40 have some legalization framework, and 9 have noteworthy commercial markets including US, Canada, Germany, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Israel, Italy and the Netherlands, according to the Brightfield Research Group, Prohibition Partners and the Marijuana Business Daily. The current international market size is led by the US with estimated medical and recreational sales in 2018 between US $8.5-10 billion, followed by Canada at between US $700-800 million, followed by Australia, Brazil, Chile, Italy, Israel and the Netherlands with combined sales at US $10-20 million.By 2023, they project between $25-30 billion sales in the US, $7.1 billion in Africa, and over $8 billion in Asia by 2024.
Canada’s 19th Prime Minister Kim Campbell in her opening keynote had also earlier that day urged everyone to challenge knowledge gaps with more consumer advocacy and clear communication, a commitment to ongoing education, partnership and business integrity.
Jonathan Zaid, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Aurora, talked about the importance of establishing CSR processes and engaging with data for impact. No matter what stage of firm you were, you could always adopt more sustainable practices to grow your green footprint while serving stakeholders. For a nascent industry as cannabis, it was a good idea to draw from the CSR successes of other industries, said Zaid. You can take Aurora’s survey here, to offer inputson their materiality assessment survey.
An open, collaborative industry leads by example into the future, where legal cannabis is the new “internet” and will far exceed the success of companies that made trillions off the dot-com boom. Pot stocks might be down right now, but the future of legal cannabis is in creating strategic partnerships. Strong knowledge of regulations and strong relationships with the regulators, measurable targets and benchmarking will ensure our success in this industry. Cannabis is interdisciplinary and inclusive, and we need to keep it that way to grow exponentially. Embedded below is a video excerpt with the British Columbia based Co-founder and COO of Vitalis Extraction Technologies, Pete Patterson, from a larger upcoming feature on the economics of extraction that points to a global industry outlook.
Europe and LATAM spell opportunity, trailing behind North America.
Germany and Netherlands are leading the way in consumer sales in Europe. Netherlands already enjoys high social acceptability around cannabis consumption, so it is only a matter of regulatory catch-up. Canada already exports medical cannabis to Germany. Greece and Portugal are important from low-cost large-scale cultivation stand-point, largely owing to their sunny climates where farming cannabis yields higher returns than elsewhere, so these will be markets to watch. EU-GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) was a hot topic that every company was trying to understand whether plant touching or ancillary and the CCI presented on the challenges and opportunities in being GMP and GPP compliant. Every company wants to show they uphold the gold standard in compliance. The Latin American market is full of interesting players, and like Europe is dominated by medical cannabis, with the exception of Uruguay, the first country in the world to legalize medical and recreational cannabis in 2013. You can access the detailed breakdown of activity in the Latin American and Carribean markets here.
Independent or Consolidated?
Cannabis brands might often find themselves in a target market quandary. What constitutes craft or artisanal? A substantial portion of the labour that goes into the production of the good must be manual in order for an item to be truly considered “craft” or artisanal. In times when there is no Big 5 or Pepsi/Coke yet, brands must leverage their immediate customers and target hyper-locally. Ted Whitney of NUG, Travis Lane of Levity Cannabis and Kristin Nevedal of the International Cannabis Farmers Association drew on a lot of symbiosis and partnerships when trying to define how cannabis opened more opportunity in the craft and artisanal markets, resembling craft beer. The three mentioned that craft cannabis demonstrated batch variance unlike other cookie-cutter formats and categories. In cannabis, consistency was hard to find with every experience being highly curated, every user-experience being different.
Communicating the “why” of your brand craft was key in putting it to market, said Whitney, and using data to drive further value. Hyperlocalization of cannabis was less of a problem and more of an opportunity, said Lane, who believed that so long as he never ran out of provincial customers in BC, he would continue to thrive. If this meant pooling resources with neighbourhood brewers and cannabis producers who otherwise comprised competition, he was all for community building and experience seeking consumer initiatives: “Let’s all brainstorm over beer about how to sell weed.” Fragmented markets co-exist as communities in the competitive landscape, but consolidation is an imminent opportunity or threat depending on your situation, network, community and outlook, as a lot of processes get automated and machine-human interactions evolve.
A “delicious” category, but know your consumers.
Regulations aside, consumer cannabis conversations have now bifurcated around CBD and THC products regardless of their uses (medical, recreational, pharmaceutical). Lawyers and doctors like Trina Fraser (Canada), Daniel Podesta (Uruguay), Matt Maurer (Canada) and Deepak Anand (Canada) shared detailed overviews of what’s allowed and what’s not and also their primer for what’s ahead in Cannabis 2.0 as the Canadian market opens up to edibles, extracts and topicals. Omar Yar Khan, VP of Public Affairs at Hill + Knowlton shared that although 20-25% of Canadians have a significant interest in edibles and infusables, 20% of Canadians say that they would stop purchasing a favourite brand if it started producing cannabis-infused products! Interest in THC and CBD infused beverages are at 51%, CBD-infused beverages at 58%, THC and CBD infused foods at 56% and CBD-infused foods at 59%, according to Hill + Knowlton Strategies’ May 7th-15th, 2019 online survey release of 1500 adult Canadian residents weighted to representation. Price, potency and prolongation of effect remain the top drivers of cannabis purchase, according to the same survey.
In Canada, dried flower remains the most popular form of consumption, being used by 57% of cannabis users, but 41% reported using edibles that they either made themselves or acquired through black market sources.
Knowledge is about moving conversations in what is primarily a “people business” where you place your bets on people not ideas. High degrees of ambition, creativity, openness, attention to detail, discipline, commitment to equity and ability to connect across governments, industries, talent and technologies will drive this momentum forward. Keep growing your brand, but never confuse it with your reputation, the larger sum of your brand’s impact along with many other measures. Acquiring deep speed – our ability to react to change with thoroughness quickly – will reward us in this high velocity and fast changing industry, as we grow our waters and green print as global leaders.