LET'S PRETEND that you're operating or want to start a cannabis business. Maybe you want to grow, make edibles or concentrates, start or expand a dispensary, or produce ancillary products like rolling papers and vaporizers.
Where do you get the funding? You can't get approved for a standard bank account if you're involved in the weed industry. So unless you own a scary clown mask and starter pistol, or have a wealthy elderly relative with a serious heart condition, your options are limited.
Oregon recently lifted the barrier to non-resident investment in our marijuana programs, something that many, including myself, were wary about. That concern stemmed from a deep-seated fear that Big Canna/Pharma/Tobacco would come in and buy up all our mom 'n' pop canna businesses. Making the transition from "chairman of the bud" to "chairman of the board" is fraught with both psychological and financial hurdles, and the exhausting process of chasing money is one of the biggest.
So it was a surprising and surreal two days I spent last week in a Marriott Hotel ballroom, at an event produced by the ArcView Group called the "Investor Pitch Forum" (AKA the Arc Tank).
ArcView is an Oakland-based firm founded in 2010, and its president is cannabis industry pioneer Steve DeAngelo, CEO of Harborside Dispensary. Its accredited investor network is 500-plus strong, and has invested more than $70 million into 100-plus canna-connected companies. Two hundred of its members gathered at the Portland Marriott early this month to hear investment pitches from 20-some companies that had competed and won highly sought-after spots out of a field of hundreds of applicants. A handful of these were Oregon-based canna businesses. A limited number of members of the press were invited, with the explicit understanding that we wouldn't divulge the names of the companies pitching, and we would refrain from revealing sensitive financial data shared by the presenters.
The setup was based on the oddly popular Shark Tank show you may have accidentally watched during that terrible time when you couldn't find the remote. At ArcView's event, a rotating panel of three judges sat onstage and listened, along with the audience of investors, as each canna company made a 15-minute pitch for their services or products. At the conclusion, the judges asked acronym-heavy questions regarding IP (intellectual property), ROI (return on investment), and DMSR (dance music sex romance). (No, not really, but presenters did enter the stage to the music of their choosing, and a couple chose Prince tracks. And one to "Eye of the Tiger," so....)
How were the pitches? Fascinating. There were requests for funding for traditional companies—for dispensaries/grow ops, grow lighting systems, and cannabis packaging. But there were some innovative new ideas that made you wish the pitches lasted longer. I would have listened to an investment seeker, who looked all of 16, expand upon his "Bluetooth Bong" idea for another 20 minutes. (Go ahead and roll your eyes, but he is onto something.)
Once completed, the investors in the audience were asked to use an app to rate the presenters on a scale of one to five, the results of which were projected onto the huge screen onstage—real-time data as to how well the pitches were received by the people with the checkbooks. With scant exception, the feedback I saw was uniformly positive.
I chatted with some of the attendees at the afterparty, and while I sympathize with people who are fearful that the Wolves of Weed Street are circling, I only met one egotistical mansplainer with a gold Rolex and self-esteem issues. All the other people were cannabis fans with money to invest—and by that, I mean people who legitimately enjoy cannabis. A dispensary run for extracts was made, and numerous investors and those seeking their support stood outside, vaping between sessions.
Lesson: Not everything can be crowd-funded, and not everyone with money to invest is Gordon Gekko. Innovation is starting to drive the cannabis industry. And I want my damn Bluetooth Bong now.