"...one of the coolest things about working with an OEM is, you have an idea, and you can work with a great group of individuals to bring that idea to a concept, get it to a prototype, build it, realize what was wrong, improve it, and then actually bring it to a finished product. That life-cycle is something that I love to be a part of.” – James Seabrook
While the natural inclination at moments of uncertainty is to pull back, its companies that instead, pool their resources into research and development, welcome fresh talent with new ideas, and design novel products that can deliver on the needs of an inevitable changed market.
Amongst the more familiar names like Apple, Netflix, and the Tesla's of the world is Kelowna-based extraction manufacturer Vitalis, applying that very same mindset led by mastermind of its innovation, Co-founder and CTO James Seabrook.
James Seabrook is an engineer from the inside out. From twig turned into candlestick and floorspace-invading LEGO® empires James was born to innovate and build all kinds of cool shit (his words). He co-founded Vitalis Extraction Technology with a genuine desire to identify and solve problems with the highest industry standards and unique capabilities for deliverables. James has imagined and brought to life exceptional equipment for the extraction industry and has embraced a new-found respect for the current disruption as a means for improvement and ingenuity.
[0:25] Jason and Joel welcome their next guest to the Extraction Insider studio, their very own CTO and BoCS (Builder of Cool Shit), James Seabrook.
[1:19] Going back to the dawn of time, and before Vitalis, James explains how he became the BoCS from a love of LEGO® and an entrepreneurial family who owned and operated a golf course in Ontario. Learning to build, operate, and fix things became an integral part of his life.
[2:26] Applying for the wrong school in British Columbia (BC), University of BC Okanagan vs. University of BC in Vancouver, led him to an incredible opportunity in Kelowna where he flourished in a new campus that welcomed new ideas and new philosophies. As the guinea pigs of the establishment, they were able to try building cool shit like airplanes and Formula race cars!
[4:12] James describes some of the other uber-cool things he is proud to have built because of the connections he made in Kelowna. Being part of industries where he can participate in the full cycle from an idea to a concept, to a prototype, improvements and then a finished product is something that really lights James up.
[6:18] Nature vs. nurture. James’ affinity for engineering is all about the nature. It is part of his DNA and always part of his life. Lego Mania was a real thing for him.
[7:22] James shares his first memory of building things in his Grandpa’s workshop. The innovation started early. Now coming full circle with his own daughter, James is excited to give her some of the same experiences he had growing up, like driving a tractor (at 9-months she may have to wait a little longer) and learning about farm life.
[9:08] Cannabis craze! Who knew? Neither James nor Joel saw their career trajectory involving the cannabis industry. James had little exposure to pot until he started working with Vitalis, and Joel had a real estate investment business where a tenant who starts a grow op in a rental property was the kiss of death.
[9:46] Joel gives an example of the unique skills James and his team are blessed with and the breadth of their capability and innovation.
[11:35] While there are varying levels of scary machinery operating in the extraction industry today, James’ and Vitalis’ aim is to always provide safe and efficient equipment for their customers to use. James expands on those equipment standards to explain the evolution of Supercritical CO2 as it relates to extraction equipment and how it has advanced over the years. It’s not a new technology but it is a novel application of it.
[14:42] Industry standards, regulations, and customer need has evolved. Their dreams and ideas and are being formulated now, such that the diversity of the industry will become more apparent and pivots will be essential.
[15:38] James talks about the driving philosophy behind the distinctive design of the Vitalis equipment that allows for a broad production capability. An avid drive for valuable customer input enables Vitalis to identify the bottlenecks of production, then work to get underneath them to design a system and solution for efficiencies within each point of the process.
[19:44] Feedback mechanisms for customer contribution in every component of the Vitalis engine (e.g. sales, service, project management, production) are essential to the design innovation process and the viability of progressing.
[20:19] Problems are good. James discusses how he gets his ideas to keep pushing the envelope – some come from problem solving, while others unfold organically. The engineering team “Group Think” comes on Friday afternoons through presentations, knowledge transfer, or insights into other innovative industries which stimulates conversation and contributes to everyone’s creativity. The common factor is typically beer.
[25:10] With a new system development as an example, James, Jason, and Joel talk about the exciting part of business where they get to dive in with customers, find out what they’re up to and what they need, while the wheels of innovation turn, and new designs churn. It brings vigor and vitality to the entire organization.
[26:51] The driving factor behind the start up of a manufacturing company that became Vitalis Extraction Technology. James explains the different responsibilities that an OEM engineering team has vs. a team in a company like Apple.
[28:45] What is one of his biggest lessons James has learned so far and how many projects have made it beyond the bottom of the pizza box to fruition?
[28:58] What, if anything, changed within engineering as a result of the global events of 2020 into 2021? A close relationship with UBCO bred some potential ideas, but at the end of the day maintaining focus on what they’re really good at is crucial to the success of Vitalis.
[31:07] A bit of a slow-down over the past year, has allowed Vitalis to look at some of the other industries within which their manufacturing and extraction technology works very well. One great example is a kick-ass piece of equipment they developed for one of the biggest global hop processors. Vitalis’ wide operating parameters for cannabis allows them to address a diversity of needs and be the solution for a variety of quandaries.
[35:02] James illustrates the necessity and value of R&D through a by-product of one of their remediation processes. There are so many opportunities that result in implementing new equipment; the demand is plentiful and immediate.
[37:32] James and Jason point out a couple of the cool companies they would love to see Vitalis work with. Now that Vitalis has an actual rocket scientist on their team, the sky may not be the limit!
[40:27] The cannabis industry has progressed from a child-like notion that a cannabis company is a quick ticket to success, now into early adulthood. Second marriages and mergers alongside large operation shutdowns are representative of the reality – it is a tough industry and early market over-exuberance proved to be inaccurate.
 Going forward, much like the beer market, people will find their favourite product. The trick is long-term consistency to keep the customer coming back in addition to regulatory compliance. Though there is an inherent inconsistency in products like cannabis or coffee, the uniformity lies in the processes, methods, and equipment standards which is the secret sauce of Vitalis.
[45:55] Conversely, Jason, Joel, and James discuss the marketability potential of cannabis’ inconsistencies much like the seasonality of the wine industry.
[47:23] Going back to the beginnings of Vitalis, they along with a few others, forged a path to not only get the manufacture of equipment scaled down to suit to a broader market but to deliver in a far tighter timeframe to answer the demand. Design methodology is truly subjective. It becomes an art form to incorporate and balance both necessary elements and nice to haves that make it aesthetically pleasing. Gold plating is certainly possible, it may just take a little longer and cost a little more...
[53:09] Learned Lessons Alert! James shares three key lessons he learned from this past year in conducting business. Reliability and up-time, flexibility, innovation.
[54:33] Joel shares his insights over this past year. Have a strong pivot game, reinvest in the business, take the time to focus on foundational pieces and build a stronger team.
[56:00] And finally, Jason offers his viewpoint from the sales component about lessons in client focus to provide an optimal experience both for the team and for the customer.
[57:46] With a more established industry now and a better understanding in the market overall the cannabis industry operates much like other markets with challenges, operational needs, and know-how to satisfy investor expectations.
[59:20] This unique time of 2020-21 has created space for Vitalis to take a slightly different approach, to explore and take advantage of other market opportunities in tandem with the cannabis industry. It has also provided a better, full spectrum consultative experience for their customers that previously wasn’t made available. With the knowledge, feedback, missteps, and successes Vitalis has in their back pocket it is a huge value-add to their customers.
[64:11] Cannabis 3.0, innovation, and increased wallet share. James shares some final thoughts around what he is seeing, what is viable, how they can improve, and the ideas and solutions they are working toward.
Hosted by Joel Sherlock & Jason Laronde, Vitalis brings you wise, humorous and sometimes shocking conversations with entrepreneurs and extraction industry innovators on 'The Extraction Insiders'.