CannaPitch, a cannabis industry live pitch session featuring five industry experts as pitch appraisers on the one hand and a unique set of entrepreneurs on the other, proved the highlight of the first day of the California Cannabis Business Expo, in San Diego, on March 5, 2017.
CannaPitch was itself enlivened by the presence of two special guests, each a long-time warrior against the War on Cannabis: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., of California’s 48th district, and Keith Stroup, one of the founders of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. They received a joint lifetime achievement award from Randy Shipley, president of MJIC Inc., who confessed that his “bucket list” has long included an intention to get high with Mr. Stroup.
The two award recipients were effusive in one another’s praise, and in excitement over the changes that have made cannabis a white-market rather than a black-market industry in recent years. Rohrabacher, scheduled to give the Expo’s keynote address on March 6, said he rushed down early from Orange County to San Diego ahead of his plans, “to hear you, Keith.”
The congressman also clearly spoke for both gentlemen when he said of cannabis legalization, “this worthy cause is the cause of freedom, our freedom to live our lives as we deem best.”
On to the Pitches
After that exciting opening, intriguing pitches followed. Ilya Shoniya kicked things off on behalf of Icarus RT, a company he has co-founded with Mark Anderson, P.E. Shoniya and Anderson have designed a tubing system for the back of solar panels that enhances the energy efficiency of the panel.
They see this as a cannabis industry pitch because of course the cannabis industry, especially in cultivation, uses a lot of electrical power; it has what Shoniya calls an “absolutely insane” hunger for power.
Another pitch, one that speaks to “hunger” in a literal rather than a metaphorical sense, came from Madame Munchie’s co-founder Kim Geraghty. She and Ashley Martino created this business in 2014, and it has become California’s “leading premium edible brand.” Geraghty told potential investors that Madame Munchie enjoys a considerable barrier to entry: French cooking is difficult. Getting an infused macaron right is so tricky “you have to be crazy to try this.”
Whitney Beatty then spoke to the panel and audience as the CEO of Apothecarry, the maker of a high-end storage case for cannabis, both strains and tools. The Apothecarry is the answer to the question, “where do you keep your marijuana,” for high-income users who would never think of answering “in the shoe box under my bed.” Apothecarry will be announcing a celebrity partner for its brand next month.
A big part of the work ahead of her, Beatty said, is brand building, and she confidently described herself as “extremely good” at that.
The event concluded with a discussion of the real estate side of the cannabis world, by Steve Waldman of the Canna Real Estate Fund LP, a 506(c) offering. Waldman has been in the real estate business for 40 years, so he brings a good deal of savvy to the cannabis-cultivation end of that business.
The underlying model of the Canna R.E. Fund is to buy the ground, and lease it to suitable cultivators. Price compression will occur in the cannabis business generally in the years to come, he cautioned, but properly run greenhouses will be the “sweet spot.”
In response to panel and audience questions, Waldman also discussed the economic geography of the market. He said for example, “I won’t go to Canada” for cannabis-related deal making, “it’s too advanced.” He wants the opportunities still available in the United States.
The panel hearing and responding to these pitches consisted of: Urban Smedeby, Managing Director of MJIC; Daniel Yazbeck, CEO and founder of MyDX (OTCQB:MYDX); Eric Gomez, founder of Canopy San Diego; and Lori Ferrara, an industry investor.
Each panelist pressed the entrepreneurs to elucidate critical points in their presentations. For example, Ferrara asked Geraghty how much cannabis was infused into each macaron, and expressed concern that the amount was a bit high for low-dosage customers such as herself. Geraghty acknowledged some force to the point and said the company has a lower dosage product under consideration.