The cannabis business is emerging as a permanent fixture in society.
Recreational use is legal or becoming legalized in nearby states like New Jersey and Delaware with equity central to conversations in both, while decriminalization in Philadelphia is leading to new laws prohibiting certain employers from testing their employees for the drug.
During a Philly Tech Week 2021 presented by Comcast event led by Center City-headquartered law firm Royer Cooper Cohen Braunfeld LLC, three cannabis professionals discussed how technology is playing a role in the way their companies work, and shared insights on what led them to a quickly growing industry.
Addressing niche needs
Bryan Lopez is the CEO of Hunt Valley, Maryland-based Brytemap, a venture-backed software company that produces tools for cannabis-based businesses to function more efficiently. Now in his sixth year in the cannabis business, Lopez previously spent two decades working for an IBM business partner when he saw a need in the cannabis industry that was not being addressed. Working in Colorado exposed him to the cannabis industry as a viable economic option.
“I had been working on a project [for a former employer] in Colorado,” he said. “We were used to dealing with the largest companies in the world and knew that these multi-state companies would need the same support. We saw that there would be a great space in the market.”
Using existing technology in new ways
Lopez said using radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, which has existed for almost 40 years to help track products through shipping, has allowed Brytemap to more easily ship and track items needed for cannabis businesses to function. Brytemap Scout is an RFID-based handheld technology developed for Android to help businesses manage their shipping needs.
“Packages are tracked with an RFID tag … which has been used for decades,” he said. “We have an amazing opportunity to take advantage of the use of RFID.”
Before working in life sciences for the past 14 years, Agri-Kind CEO Jon Cohn worked as an enterprise architect in the financial services industry for 11 years. Cohn spent a lot of time in Colorado, a state where recreational cannabis use has been legal since 2012, and it provided him with a different perspective on the substance and its burgeoning industry.
“I was diagnosed with diabetes and used cannabis to lose 60 pounds in four months,” he said.
Using cannabis is not necessary for work in the industry, but it provided Cohn with unique insight and it provided the impetus for his research work on CBD topical creams at local academic institutions like University of the Sciences.
Controlling the environment
Chester-based Agri-Kind works to produce quality medical cannabis in Pennsylvania, a process which Cohn said involves technology that will mirror how a plant could grow in an outdoor environment.
“We use high-end LED lighting and stuff that will dim or mirror the sunlight,” he said. “We use a slew of other technologies, too, to help with growing cannabis in a craft-oriented way. Environment control is one of those aspects; control systems become high end and it’s not about control, but monitoring.”
Automation to streamline business practices
With growth, Cohn said automating aspects of the cannabis production process can help founders yield the most efficient results.
“If you get to a giant, million-square-foot facility, the more you can automate better,” he said. “It’s all robotics.”
The business of cannabis
Dr. Howard Goodwin, a partner at Conshohocken-based cannabis investor Intrinsic Capital Partners, said that as a medical school student at Thomas Jefferson University, he grew more interested in the business side of healthcare and saw an opportunity to help cannabis entrepreneurs develop their business concepts.
“We were more focused on the execution risk; a lot of entrepreneurs in this space are very talented, but may have not scaled a business yet,” he said. “As we dug in on the [medical data] front about chronic pain and inflammation, we became convinced not only that the product worked, but a benign side effect was that if you could control the psychoactive aspect of the CBD, all these other businesses were emerging.”
Planning for the future
With the cannabis industry still in its infancy, planning for success means planning for the long term. Goodwin said that Intrinsic’s first fund raised a more than $100 million. Goodwin and his colleagues believe it is only the beginning.
“We believe this is a multi-year growth theme,” he said. “We’re always in buying and growth mode — not only in nature of our business but the nature of where we are in the high-growth space.
Michael Butler is a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.