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Canopy Rivers dealmaker on Greenhouse, Headset, and future of marijuana

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It’s been a hot few weeks for venture capital deals in the marijuana industry, and one firm has been behind most of the headlines.

Canopy Rivers, the venture arm of marijuana cultivation giant Canopy Growth, has so far participated in a $12 million funding round for marijuana analytics startup Headset, invested $6.8 in convertible debt into Greenhouse Juice Company to develop CBD beverages, and landed an $80 million loan from two of Canada’s largest banks for a joint venture — all in the last two weeks.

The Greenhouse deal, announced on Monday, falls into what Canopy River’s VP of business development Narbe Alexandrian calls “wave three” of the nascent cannabis industry.

“We look at the cannabis industry as coming in waves,” Alexandrian, a veteran of OMERS Ventures, Canada’s largest VC fund, said in an interview. “Wave number one was cultivation, wave two is ancillary technology, wave three is CPG [consumer packaged goods], wave four is pharma, and wave five is mass-market, where you have your Coke and Pepsi-type oligopolies in play.”

‘If you talk to a beer company, they don’t own any hops farms’

Right now, it’s all about CPG, Alexandrian said.

“We’re really looking for brands in this new wave of cannabis,” said Alexandrian. It comes down to simple supply-and-demand economics: being only a cultivator doesn’t cut it — wholesale marijuana prices will eventually fall, and margins will collapse.

“If you talk to a beer company, they don’t own any hops farms,” said Alexandrian. “What they’ve developed is a strong marketing presence, and created a product that commands a premium because of the brand.”

Read more: Marijuana could be the biggest growth opportunity for struggling beverage-makers as millennials ditch beer for pot

That’s what led to the Greenhouse deal. Nominally an organic juice company, Greenhouse owns 15 brick-and-mortar stores as well as an e-commerce platform. But Alexandrian said they can easily plug CBD products into their suite.

“The technology behind how they develop their products is what really got us going,” said Alexandrian.

CBD or cannabidiol is a non-psychoactive compound in marijuana that’s become a trendy ingredient in food and beverages. The company aims to market CBD-containing products across Canada — and eventually, in every jurisdiction where the substance is legal.

“They’ve done a fantastic job of creating a brand locally, and we think that can be replicated over and over again,” said Alexandrian.

Creating the ‘Nielsen’ of cannabis

In order to make decisions about what products to develop, or what new markets to enter, they need data. That’s where Canopy Rivers’ Headset investment comes into play.

“Our thesis behind that was: there’s a lot of companies out there in the industry right now that are posting large growth and high revenue numbers, but they don’t follow the same DNA as traditional CPG companies where you do two years of R&D before pushing out a product,” said Alexandrian.

Because the cannabis industry is so new, there are scant data to base decisions off of, so companies just push out product and “hope someone buys it,” said Alexandrian.

Headset wants to provide that data — what Alexandrian calls the “Nielsen” of cannabis — to help brands and manufacturers understand trends, customer habits, and what the market looks like before making costly decisions about developing new products.

Overall, Alexandrian says it’s “such a greenfield” for investing in marijuana.

“If you believe like I do, that legalization is going to spread and the end of prohibition is inevitable in a lot of the industrial countries in the world, it’s very early in the game and you can get a lot of value for both companies and shareholders,” said Alexandrian.

Read more: Marijuana M&A is already hot in 2019, with a pot tech-vape tie-up worth $210 million

And that data is going to be crucial as more traditional CPG companies look to either make strategic investments or acquire marijuana companies outright as more markets open up. Expect these companies to become Headset’s clients, the startup’s CEO, Cy Scott, told Business Insider.

“We’re getting a lot of interest right now from consumer-packaged-goods industry companies like beverage/alcohol, tobacco, pharma, and even financial services who are all interested in the cannabis industry,” said Scott in an interview.

Already major food-and-beverage companies have either pursued joint ventures or taken equity stakes in marijuana companies.

Bill Newlands, the incoming CEO of Constellation Brands — the beverage maker behind Corona — said on the company’s earnings call earlier in January that marijuana “represents one of the most significant global growth opportunities of the next decade and frankly, our lifetimes.”

Last year, Constellation closed a $4 billion investment into Canopy Growth, paving the way for other major corporations to move into the industry. Molson Coors entered a joint venture with Hexo in August, and Heineken’s Lagunitas Brand has developed a hoppy, marijuana-infused sparkling water beverage for the California market.

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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