The winners of the sixth annual Lift & Co. Corp. (TSXV:LIFT) (OTCQB:LFCOF) Canadian Cannabis Awards, celebrating the movers and shakers emerging from the country’s first full-year of legalization, will be announced November 8 at the Fairmont Royal York hotel in Toronto.
Highlighting the tenacity, creativity and leadership of those who helped best advance the industry with their products and services is the Entrepreneur of the Year category.
“To be shortlisted in these categories is a major accomplishment. Our congratulations go out to these leaders who have shaped the last year, and who are poised to set the standards for excellence in cannabis in Canada and around the globe,” said Lift & Co. CEO Matei Olaru in a statement.
Here’s a closer look at the shortlisted nominees for Entrepreneur of the Year, who have not only successfully navigated through legalization but managed to build out burgeoning businesses in an unforgiving and often challenging industry. The nominees are listed here in the same order they are presented on the Lift & Co. website.
Angela Marks, B.C. Trimmers (Nominated for Entrepreneur of the Year and Womxn in Weeds—Trailblazer)
With seven years of experience working in the cannabis industry and a work ethic that doesn’t quit until the job is done, it’s little surprise B.C. Trimmers Founder Angela Marks has been shortlisted for Entrepreneur of the Year and Womxn in Weeds—Trailblazer.
Her company brings skilled trimming crews to licensed producers to help with the trimming, pruning and plucking of cannabis plants and the harvesting, packaging and labelling of crops.
As cannabis is an agricultural crop there isn’t always steady year-round work for a full-time trim crew. Marks’ business benefits the LPs by allowing them access to a full team of skilled trimmers without employing them year-round, and benefits the trimmers who, by working with several different LPs, can have steady full-time work.
The team of 11 employees currently has contracts with Experion Biotechnologies Inc. (TSXV:EXP) (OTCQB:EXPFF), Miracle Valley, and Lotus Cannabis Co. (CSE:J)(FRA:LV9)(OTC:LTTSF), and is working on securing a fourth contract with an Alberta-based LP.
As a young female in a male-dominated industry, Marks said she gets a lot of flack from men who don’t value her work or don’t think her all-female team can get the job done.
“I know my value and I know my employees are hard workers—that’s all that should matter at the end of the day, gender shouldn’t have to,” she said in a phone interview.
With a hard-earned reputation for working until the job is done, and done well, Marks credits her team for her two nominations.
“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my amazing friends, family and employees because they work so hard—I mean, I work hard but they work just as hard—and I wouldn’t be here without them,” said Marks.
Watch for B.C. Trimmers trim crews coming to a town near you; Marks says she wants to build trim crews in each of the towns her company has contracts in rather than commute with her team for up to several hours for each contract. She also wants to be able to offer benefits to her employees and plans to take the company public within the next five years.
Drummond Munro, Superette (Nominated for Entrepreneur of the Year; Startup of the Year; and Top Retail Store for a Single Location)
Co-founders Drummond Munro and Mimi Lam wanted to create a cannabis brand that would make shopping for weed as comfortable as grabbing a coffee or picking up a dozen eggs from the corner store.
That’s why they named their company Superette, which is another word for corner store, said Munro.
Superette has been nominated for five CCAs—the most out of any other company. Munro is shortlisted for Entrepreneur of the Year, Lam is nominated for Womxn in Weeds—Trailblazer, the team’s budtender Ellen McKay is shortlisted for Top Bud Tender and the team is also nominated for Startup of the Year and Top Retail Store for a Single Location.
With a 1950s diner aesthetic and a convenience store comfort, the team provides a setting innately familiar to customers that keeps bringing people back. The team has watched their sales climb since the April 1, 2019 opening and have sold around $8 million of cannabis to date, said Lam.
Munro brings an extensive background in building out retail to the team, previously working to build out retail stores for Hershel, and Kit and Ace.
The cannabis industry certainly keeps everyone on their toes, said Munro, adding every business owner has to be comfortable dealing with ambiguity.
“[Lam and I] are very fortunate that this wasn’t our first year working with cannabis,” said Munro, who met Lam while working at Tokyo Smoke in 2017. “Every year in this industry feels like seven years in normal life. Half of the time you’re making business decisions on things that are not defined or set in stone so you need to be proactive without shooting yourself in the foot.”
Munro said he loves the cannabis industry’s entrepreneurial spirit—it’s fun to be up against the odds and to have a chance to create something really new and special and fun, he added.
Munro said he hopes the market is less regulated in the future and customers can experience cannabis retail the way it was originally proposed.
Customers in major Ontario cities should keep their eyes open—Superette is looking to expand across the province and possibly also into California, where the company’s brand is already getting attention, said Munro.
Pat McCutcheon and Keith Strachan, MediPharm Labs (Nominated for Entrepreneur of the Year)
MediPharm Labs (TSX:LABS)(OTCQX:MEDIF) founders Keith Strachan and Pat McCutcheon are cannabis extraction pioneers in Canada.
The duo were the first-ever to receive a Health Canada license for cannabis concentrate production in 2018 for their state-of-the-art Barrie, Ontario facility and have been rapidly expanding ever since.
At the time of legalization, the facility could produce 100 kilograms of concentrate per month, which is enough to fill around 10,000 patient-sized bottles, but today the facility can produce the same amount of concentrate in a single week, said Strachan in a phone interview.
When the major cannabis companies were establishing themselves in 2015 everyone was pursuing vertical integration, said Strachan. But he and McCutcheon realized as the cannabis industry developed it would start to look more like other mature industries, with horizontal supply chains.
The company deals in wholesale supply, working with companies in white label deals and has been immensely successful and has expanded its employees from around 70 at the time of legalization to around 200 today to keep up with the company’s growth, said Strachan.
“The clear spot where we can be entrepreneurs is the rapid growth of our business and how we’ve changed the industry,” said Strachan. When MediPharm started it was the only extraction company around, now there’s probably a dozen licenses that are similar in nature plus many similar business models, he added.
The company wasted no time capitalizing off its first-mover advantage. As of last week MediPharm was the top preforming Canadian cannabis stock in the entire country, with an 185 per cent year to date increase, said Strachan. The company is also reporting the third highest cannabis revenue in the country, with the company’s last reported financials for the period ending June 30 was over $30 million, said Strachan.
The company has also expanded overseas. A new facility being built in Wonthaggi, Australia has been granted a license from the Office of Drug Control, and MediPharm also secured a large distribution deal in Germany, said Strachan.
Last year MediPharm took home a Canadian Cannabis Award for Startup of the Year. The title is odd, because while the company was technically new it was a project he and McCutcheon had been working on since 2015.
“We were a bit of a three-year-overnight success,” said Strachan. To watch the industry develop and grow and to once again be nominated for a Canadian Cannabis Award is an honour, he added.
Darren Bondar, Spiritleaf (Nominated for Entrepreneur of the Year)
Inner Spirit Holdings Ltd. (CSE:ISH) president and CEO Darren Bondar brings three generations and 20 years of retail and franchising experience to the cannabis industry.
As a weed enthusiast Bondar said the opportunity to launch a cannabis retail franchise felt like a natural fit for himself and his team.
In under one year Inner Spirit Holdings has built 37 Spiritleaf franchise locations across B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario, with the goal of opening 10 more before the end of the year, said Bondar in a phone interview.
“By the end of the year we will have the biggest retail footprint by store count in the entire country. And not only biggest but the best—one of the best,” said Bondar.
The Spiritleaf vision was twofold, said Bondar. First, the company wanted to remain authentic and to pay homage to the cannabis community to welcome new and veteran cannabis consumers alike, while, second, also being community orientated and locally owned and operated. Each franchise location sources local materials to build out the store and to celebrate the town it operates in.
The company received 2,000 applications for franchise locations initially, said Bondar, but Spiritleaf doesn’t just partner with anyone.
“When you’re franchising it’s like getting into a marriage. It’s a long-term commitment and we really want to make sure the people we were getting into business with had the passion for the cannabis business, were good people at heart and knew how to be good partners,” said Bondar.
Spiritleaf does more than partner with good people; it employs them too. Mona Pinette who works in a Calgary Spiritleaf has been shortlisted for “Top Bud Tender.”
Bondar said he was honoured to be nominated for Entrepreneur of the Year, but emphasized how he was really just accepting the nomination on behalf of all of the entrepreneurs who work at Spiritleaf.
“It’s not just me, I just happen to be the leader amongst many of the franchise owners—I’m accepting this nomination on our collective behalf. We’re really surrounded by entrepreneurs and the whole company is driven by entrepreneurs,” said Bondar.
The company does not have any plans to expand into international markets, said Bondar, but is planning on launching a customer rewards program within the year.
Joshua Vera, Elevate (Nominated for Entrepreneur of the Year and for Top Retail Store for a Single Location)
Edmonton entrepreneur Joshua Vera credits a fateful trip to Amsterdam in 2015 for changing his life for the better. On top of being introduced to what a recreational cannabis market could one day look like, Vera also first heard of the Liberal Party of Canada’s campaign platform to legalize cannabis.
“It was the perfect storm for a first-time entrepreneur like myself,” said Vera in a phone interview.
Today Vera is president and Founder of Elevate, a cannabis retail store with two Edmonton locations. Vera has been shortlisted for Entrepreneur of the Year and Elevate’s 118 street store is shortlisted for Top Retail Store for a Single Location.
“Our mission here at Elevate is to promote safe and responsible use, that’s part of our corporate social responsibility, to ensure the community we live and work in is aware of the effects cannabis use can have on an individual’s health and well-being,” said Vera. “And cannabis will likely be around for the rest of our lives to it is important to get the right message from the early onset and lead by example.”
Vera spent three years researching the best practices of other legal cannabis industries before importing his knowledge to Edmonton. He was able to contribute to his city’s cannabis policies and even earned himself a meeting with former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan, head of the cannabis legalization task force.
It hasn’t been an easy year for a small retail store, said Vera. Everything from product shortages to province-wide moratoriums have forced Elevate to close or sit empty, sometimes for weeks on end. But the passionate team of 14 persevered and today is rated as the top cannabis retail location in Edmonton on Leafly and Weedmaps, as well as being nominated for two CCAs.
“For a small local guy in business to be considered in the same conversation as some of the Goliaths in the industry is a testament to the work and passion that my sales team and management put in day in and day out, as well as working to remove ourselves from the negative stigma attached to cannabis,” said Vera. “It’s an honour, I’m humbled.”
Elevate is also working to promote a more sustainable industry, as sustainability was certainly an afterthought to legalization, said Vera. Elevate built out its store with repurposed materials from Habitat for Humanity and has worked to collect and divert 360 pounds (about 163 kilograms) of recyclable packaging material from the landfill.