Arizona’s voters legalized medical marijuana in 2010 under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Initiative. The official rules were rolled out in spring 2011 and the state started taking dispensary applications by summer. It was during this time that circumstances started to coalesce for Steve Trenk, a serial entrepreneur, to invest in the legal marijuana industry.
“After I sold an aviation services company in 2011, my son, Adam a new lawyer at the time and an elected official in Arizona, was hired by the Rose Law Group, the leading cannabis law firm in Arizona. Having grown up with a best friend whose family was in the liquor business since Prohibition, I immediately recognized the market opportunity and began to immerse myself in gaining a greater understanding,” Trenk said.
Trenk entered the industry with more than just a simple interest in marijuana as a market opportunity; he entered as an early adopter with the professional experience to chart his course in legal marijuana. He has 40 years of experience as a principal in companies involved in healthcare services, leveraged investments, aviation services and real estate, among others.
“I have a great deal of experience buying, operating and selling businesses. I have made money and I’ve lost money. I can confidently say that I have learned more from the losses, but more than anything, it comes down to picking the right people,” Trenk said.
Finding the right people can be difficult, but Trenk finds them by looking for experienced, successful and trustworthy management teams with innovative and well thought out plans. Plus, the legal marijuana industry has matured since Trenk entered it in 2011, creating a bigger and stronger talent pool, one made up of individuals who have been successful in well-established fields outside the cannabis industry, as well as within.
“The industry has grown tremendously over the past several years in terms of the depth of professionalism and the breadth of innovation. It’s not just farmers and retailers anymore,” Trenk said.
While still interested in the farmers and retailers, Lizada Capital, Trenk’s current investment vehicle, has invested in multiple sectors within the industry, including financial services, media properties, including MJIC Media, owner of MJINews.com, technology, infrastructure, lab services, an industry incubator, and infused products companies, including Quigley’s Fast-acting Cannabis Drink and Therabis, a pet-products venture developed with Dixie Brands.
The legal marijuana industry is a hotbed of innovation and creativity, giving entrepreneurs and investors an opportunity to build fortunes. The promise of profit has certainly motivated some opportunistic individuals to enter this industry, but it has also motivated the more philanthropic to seek profit while also supporting legal marijuana reform organizations.
Trenk understands that investments in advocacy are investments in the industry’s prosperity and considers himself an impact investor. “The greatest opportunity for investors in this industry is our ability to impact society in a long overdue humanitarian and philanthropic way,” Trenk said.
Through Lizada Capital, Trenk currently supports The Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, National Cannabis Industry Association and Women Grow.
Trenk’s dual approach to success in this industry has caught the attention of his peers. On June 27, 2015, Trenk received the first-ever Outstanding Investor Member Award from The ArcView Group in Denver at ArcView’s Pitch Forum. As an angel investor network focused on the legal marijuana industry, ArcView brings together hundreds of investors and entrepreneurs annually.
According to Troy Dayton, CEO of The ArcView Group, “This award was chosen by ArcView staff and given to Steve because he is at every single ArcView event and has invested in about 20 different companies, all met via ArcView, and he is such a generous ambassador to our group.”
Considering ArcView has more than 470 accredited investor members, Trenk was more than grateful for having received this inaugural award.
“At the risk of being dramatic, it was the greatest professional honor of my career. Being recognized by such an illustrious group of sophisticated, professional investors within the fastest growing industry in America was shocking and enormously satisfying at the same time,” Trenk said.
Because this is such a rapidly expanding industry and compliance is a constant concern for all participants, Trenk knows he doesn’t have much time to stop and celebrate. “The industry’s largest challenge is the double-edged sword of government involvement and intervention. We cannot prosper without regulation, yet we are handicapped by the lack of clarity and consistency,” Trenk explained.
Through Lizada Capital and his support of multiple advocacy organizations, Trenk will continue to harness venture capital with impact, firmly believing that “investors can participate in the elimination of the horrific, life-shattering effects that prohibition has had on so many lives.”