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How to invest in marijuana: advice from cannabis venture capitalists

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Ever since Colorado legalized cannabis for all adults in 2014, the cannabis industry has blossomed, with a multitude of companies competing to scale up as more states legalize the drug. On October 17, Canada became the first G7 country to legalize the plant for all adults.

The industry is growing rapidly — some analysts estimate it will be a $75 billion industry in the US alone — but few institutional funds are willing to invest since marijuana is still considered an illegal, Schedule I drug by the US federal government.

That’s where some dedicated funds see a window of opportunity.

Business Insider surveyed the top venture capitalists writing checks in the booming marijuana industry to understand where the best opportunities lie for new investors.

Read more: The top 12 venture-capital firms making deals in the booming cannabis industry that’s set to skyrocket to $75 billion

The cannabis industry’s ‘peculiar characteristics’ are an opportunity for some investors

“If you strip away the hype around the cannabis industry, it’s really no different from other, more established sectors or business models,” said Brett Finkelstein, a managing director at Florida-based cannabis fund Phyto Partners. “Great venture-capital investing requires the ability to see opportunity where others see a challenge.”

There are challenges aplenty in the industry, with its collection of state and local regulations guiding how companies can operate. And cannabis is a brand new industry, with a paucity of data and rapidly changing regulations, making it unlike any other emerging sector.

“As with any new market, investors should get to know the community and understand the market’s peculiar characteristics,” said Eric Hippeau, a partner at New York City-based Lerer Hippeau.

Hippeau’s firm is one of the few established institutional funds investing in the cannabis industry — albeit in software and media companies that support the industry, not in the plant itself. Most firms avoid the legal risk associated with investing in companies that touch the plant directly, like dispensaries or cultivators.

The fund, famous for its early positions in digital-media companies like BuzzFeed and Axios, has made investments in LeafLink, a software platform for dispensaries; and Vangst, a recruitment platform for cannabis companies.

Hippeau said the “patchwork” nature of the cannabis industry poses special challenges for firms putting money in the space, though it’s also a big opportunity.

“Investors need to understand these nuances,” Hippeau said.

David Abernathy, a vice president at The Arcview Group, a network of high-net-worth cannabis investors, echoed Hippeau’s sentiment and cautioned investors to keep abreast of the swiftly changing rules and regulations around cannabis.

“The landscape evolves on an almost daily basis,” Abernathy said. “Cannabis markets are very nuanced and complicated from a regulatory perspective.”

Abernathy added that the opportunities for investors vary greatly “state to state” and country to country, depending on how the regulations are written.

The ability to understand the unique risks involved with the cannabis industry allows focused investors to seize opportunities that more risk-averse funds may miss.

Small marijuana plants grow in a lab at the new Commercial Cannabis Production Program at Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

Ancillary businesses like software and technology are poised for rapid growth

“There are some great potential investments in plant-touching businesses — especially emerging brands,” Abernathy said. But in his view, the businesses with the most growth potential are “ancillary” companies that provide products and services supporting the cannabis industry.

Karan Wadhera, the managing partner at Los Angeles-based Casa Verde Capital — which has rapper-turned-Renaissance-man Snoop Dogg on its management team — agreed that ancillary businesses provided the most compelling growth opportunities in the cannabis industry.

“These businesses are especially exciting, as they can scale the quickest with the smallest amount of capital,” Wadhera said, adding that his fund is focused on backing “seasoned entrepreneurs” who can manage risk and approach the cannabis industry with maturity.

Read more: The CEO of the largest cannabis company in the US reveals who his biggest competition is — and pinpoints how he’s fending off multibillion-dollar private-equity funds

“When you invest in a company, you are placing your confidence and trust in the team,” Wadhera said.

Michael Gruber and Jeff Howard, the managing partners of Illinois-based cannabis fund Salveo Capital, said the complex nature of the cannabis industry demands full-time focus.

“Cannabis can be a great investment if managed by a fulltime team of finance professionals who truly understand the nuances of this burgeoning, but still nascent industry,” Gruber and Howard wrote in an email. Diversifying where you invest is critical to shedding some of the serious risks involved in the industry, they added.

A growth opportunity.
Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters

Tapping into a ‘strong network’ is key

Jon Trauben, a Wall Street veteran who’s now a partner at Altitude Investment Management, a New York-based cannabis fund, said building a “strong network” in the cannabis industry is crucial to making smart investment decisions.

“Build a strong network to test their investment thesis,” Trauben said. “Data and clarity in the cannabis market is lacking, so having a strong network to tap into is essential.”

Some investors cautioned against investing in some of the larger, publicly traded cannabis companies, as the hype surrounding the industry has caused valuations to skyrocket.

“There are definitely some that will be far more valuable in the future, but I also think there are many that won’t execute well and will be worth significantly less in the future,” Matt Shalhoub, a managing director at Toronto-based Green Acre Capital, said. “There has been a lot of volatility in the space, and people definitely need to have the stomach for large swings in either direction.”

Overall, investing in the cannabis industry is “very challenging,” Morgan Paxhia, a managing partner at San Francisco-based Poseidon Asset Management, said.

“Take your time to establish a good foundation instead of rushing into the market,” Paxhia said. “Define your investment process.”

Like other fund managers in the cannabis industry, Paxhia said he’s “very bullish” on ancillary technology companies, from consumer devices to software as a service.

“Yes, this industry is moving very quickly, but managing outside capital carries a lot of responsibility for the betterment of your investors and the legitimacy of the industry,” Paxhia said.

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The 3 Best Canadian Tech Stocks I Would Buy With $3,000 for 2021

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The majority of the Canadian tech stocks went through the roof in 2020 and delivered outsized returns. However, tech stocks witnessed sharp selling in the past 10 days, reflecting valuation concerns and expected normalization in demand. 

As these high-growth tech stocks shed some of their gains, I believe it’s time to accumulate them at current price levels to outperform the broader markets by a significant margin in 2021. Let’s dive into three tech stocks that have witnessed a pullback and are looking attractive bets. 

Lightspeed POS

Lightspeed POS (TSX:LSPD)(NYSE:LSPD) stock witnessed strong selling and is down about 33% in the last 10 days. I believe the selloff in Lightspeed presents an excellent opportunity for investors to invest in a high-growth and fundamentally strong company. 

Lightspeed witnessed an acceleration in demand for its digital products and services amid the pandemic. However, with the easing of lockdown measures and economic reopening, the demand for its products and services could normalize. Further, it faces tough year-over-year comparisons. 

Despite the normalization in demand, I believe the ongoing shift toward the omnichannel payment platform could continue to drive Lightspeed’s revenues and customer base. Besides, its accretive acquisitions, growing scale, and geographic expansion are likely to accelerate its growth and support the uptrend in its stock. Lightspeed stock is also expected to benefit from its growing average revenue per user, innovation, and up-selling initiatives.     

Shopify 

Like Lightspeed, Shopify (TSX:SHOP)(NYSE:SHOP) stock has also witnessed increased selling and has corrected by about 22% in the past 10 days. Notably, during the most recent quarter, Shopify said that it expects the vaccination and reopening of the economy to drive some of the consumer spending back to offline retail and services. Further, Shopify expects the pace of shift toward the e-commerce platform to return to the normal levels in 2021, which accelerated in 2020.

Despite the normalization in the pace of growth, a strong secular shift towards online commerce could continue to bring ample growth opportunities for Shopify, and the recent correction in its stock can be seen as a good buying opportunity. 

Shopify’s initiatives to ramp up its fulfillment network, international expansion and growing adoption of its payment platform are likely to drive strong growth in revenues and GMVs. Moreover, its strong new sales and marketing channels bode well for future growth. I remain upbeat on Shopify’s growth prospects and expect the company to continue to multiply investors’ wealth with each passing year. 

Docebo 

Docebo (TSX:DCBO)(NASDAQ:DCBO) stock is down about 21% in the last 10 days despite sustained momentum in its base business. The enterprise learning platform provider’s key performance metrics remain strong, implying that investors should capitalize on its low stock price and start accumulating its stock at the current levels. 

Docebo’s annual recurring revenue or ARR (a measure of future revenues) continues to grow at a brisk pace. Its ARR is expected to mark 55-57% growth in Q4. Meanwhile, its top line could increase by 48-52% during the same period. The company’s average contract value is growing at a healthy rate and is likely to increase by 22-24% during Q4. 

With the continued expansion of its customer base, geographical expansion, innovation, and opportunistic acquisitions, Docebo could deliver strong returns in 2021 and beyond.

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Manitoba to invest $6.5 million in new systems

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WINNIPEG – The province of Manitoba is investing $6.5 million over three years to replace technical systems used in healthcare facilities, including replacing current voice dictation and transcription services with more modern systems and upgrading the Provincial Health Contact Centre (PHCC)’s triage, call-recording and telephone systems, Health and Seniors Care Minister Heather Stefanson (pictured) announced.

“Our government is investing in the proper maintenance of information and communications technology to ensure digital health information can be safely stored and shared as needed,” said Stefanson. “These systems will ensure healthcare facilities can continue to provide high-quality services and allow Manitobans to get faster access to healthcare resources and information.”

Dictation, transcription and voice-recognition services are used by healthcare providers to write reports. There are currently approximately 80 healthcare sites across Manitoba using some combination of dictation, transcription and voice-recognition services. Many of these systems are nearing the end of their usable lifespans.

“Across our health system, radiologists and nuclear medicine physicians use voice-dictation services to help create diagnostic reports when reading imaging studies like ultrasound, nuclear medicine studies, X-rays, angiography, MRI and CT scans,” said Dr. Marco Essig, provincial specialty lead, diagnostic imaging, Shared Health. “Enhanced dictation and voice-recognition services will enable us to work more efficiently and provide healthcare providers with quicker access to these reports that support the diagnoses and treatment of Manitobans every day.”

The project will replace telephone-based dictation and transcription with voice-recognition functions, upgrade voice-recognition services for diagnostic imaging and enhance voice-recognition tools for mobile devices.

“Investing in more modern voice-transcription services will help our health-care workers do the administrative part of their jobs more quickly and effectively so they can get back to the most important part of their work – providing top-level healthcare and protecting Manitobans,” said Stefanson. “The transition to the new system will be made seamlessly so that services disruptions, which can lead to patient care safety risks, will not occur.”

The new systems will be compatible with other existing systems, will decrease turnaround times to improve patient care and will be standardized across the province to reduce ongoing costs and allow regional facilities to share resources as needed, Stefanson added.

The PHCC is a one-stop shop for incoming and outgoing citizen contact and supports programs such as Health Links–Info Santé, TeleCARE TeleSOINS and After-Hours Physician Access, as well as after-hours support services to public health, medical officers of health, home care and Manitoba Families.

The current vendor that supplies communications support to the PHCC is no longer providing service, making it an opportune time to invest in an upgraded system that will provide better service to Manitobans, the minister said, adding the project will provide the required systems and network infrastructure to continue providing essential services now and for the near future.

“The PHCC makes more than 650,000 customer service calls to Manitobans per year to a broad spectrum of clients with varied health issues. This reduces the need for people to visit a physician, urgent care or emergency departments,” said Stefanson. “The upgrade will also allow Manitobans in many communities to continue accessing the support they need from their home or local health centre, reducing the need for unnecessary travel.”

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Telus and UHN deliver services to the marginalized

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Telus’s Health for Good program has launched the latest of its specially equipped vans to provide medical services to the homeless and underserved, this time to the population of Toronto’s west end. The project relies not only on the hardware and software – the vans and technology – but on the care delivered by trained and socially sensitive medical professionals.

For the Toronto project, those professionals are working at the University Health Network’s Social Medicine program and the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre. The city’s Parkdale community, in the west end, has a high concentration of homeless and marginalized people.

First launched in 2014, Telus’s Health for Good program has delivered mobile clinics to 13 Canadian cities, from Victoria to Halifax. Originally designed to deliver primary care, the program pivoted to meet the needs of patients in the COVID-19 pandemic, said Nimtaz Kanji, Calgary-based director of Telus Social Purpose Programs.

Angela Robertson of the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre (CHC) asserted that marginalized people are particularly susceptible to the spread of COVID-19, as they don’t have access to the basic precautions that prevent its spread.

The clinic is located near a Pizza Pizza franchise; homeless people shelter under its overhang on the weekends, she said. Some have encampments under nearby bridges.

“The public health guidelines and requirements call for things that individuals who are homeless don’t have,” Robertson said. “If the response calls for isolation, that suggests people have places to isolate in.”

And in the shelter system, pre-COVID, the environment was very congregate, with many people in the same physical space, said Robertson. Some homeless persons, in order to keep themselves safe, have created encampments, and the city has opened up some hotel rooms across the city to create spaces for physical distancing.

Even proper hand-washing and hygiene becomes a challenge for the homeless.

“COVID calls for individuals to practice constant hand-washing. Oftentimes, individuals who are homeless use public washroom facilities that may be in restaurants or coffee shops, and many of those spaces are now closed. So there are limitations to accessing those facilities. It’s not like they’re in a community where there are public hand-washing facilities for people who are homeless.”

The mobile health clinic allows the CHC to take “pop-up testing” into communities where there is high positivity and where additional COVID testing is needed. The CHC can take testing into congregate sites and congregate housing to provide more testing, Robertson said.

“The other piece that we will use the van to do is, when the vaccine supply gets back online, and when the health system gets to doing community vaccinations … we hope that we can be part of that effort.”

COVID has contributed to a spike in cases of Toronto’s other pandemic: opioid overdoses. Some community members are reluctant to seek care because of the stigma attached to substance abuse; and COVID has a one-two punch for users.

The first rule of substance abuse is, don’t use alone; always be with someone who can respond to a potential overdose, ideally someone who can administer Nalaxone to reverse the effects of the overdose, Robertson said. “It’s substance abuse 101,” and the need for social distancing makes this impossible.

Secondly, COVID has affected the supply chain of street drugs. As a result, they’re being mixed increasingly with “toxic” impurities like Fentanyl that can be deadly.

The van itself is a Mercedes Sprinter, modified by architectural firm éKM architecture et aménagement and builder Zone Technologie, both based in Montréal. According to Car and Driver magazine, the Sprinter line – with 21 cargo models and 10 passenger versions – is “considered by many to be the king of cargo and passenger vans.”

Kanji said the platform was chosen for its reputation for reliability and robustness.

While the configuration is customized for each mobile clinic, it generally consists of two sections: A practitioner’s workstation and a more spacious and private examination room, so patients can receive treatment with privacy and dignity, Kanji said. The Parkdale clinic is 92 square feet.

“While the layouts vary across regions, they typically include an examination table and health practitioners’ workstation, including equipment necessary to provide primary healthcare,” the Telus vice-president of provider solutions wrote in an e-mail interview. The Parkdale Queen West mobile clinic is designed for primary medical services, including wound care, mobile COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts, harm reduction services, mental healthcare and counseling.

The clinic equipped with an electronic medical record (EMR) from TELUS Health and TELUS LTE Wi-Fi network technology.

Practitioners will be able to collect and store patient data, examine a patient’s results over time, and provide better continuity of care to those marginalized citizens who often would have had undocumented medical histories.

The EMR system is Telus Health’s PS Suite (formerly Practice Solutions). It is an easy-to-use, customizable solution for general and specialty practices that captures, organizes, and displays patient information in a user-friendly way. The solution allows for the electronic management of patient charts and scheduling, receipt of labs and hospital reports directly into the EMR, and personalization of workflows with customizable templates, toolbars, and encounter assistants.

But like others tested for COVID, it’s a 24-48 hour wait for results. Pop-up or not, how does the mobile team get results to patients who have no fixed address?

The CHC set up a centre for testing in a tent at the Waterfront Community Centre. Swabs are sent to the lab. “We are responsible for connecting back with community members and their results,” Robertson said.

“This is the value of having Parkdale Queen West being in front of the testing, because many of the community members who are homeless we know through our other services, and there is some trust in folks either coming to us to make arrangements to collect their results, or we know where they are.”

This is a key element of the program, said Kanji – leveraging community trust. In Vancouver downtown east side, for example, where there is a high concentration of marginalized members of the indigenous community, nurse practitioners are accompanied by native elders in a partnership with the Kilala Lelum Health Centre.

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