There is way more to cannabis than getting “high.” The United States alone has grossed a total between $71.4B-$87.5B in 2020 contributing to cannabis’s total economic impact (according to Marijuana Business Daily). Because of this, cannabis entrepreneurs and small startup businesses from around the world are harnessing their efforts with this plant to fuel their dreams of realizing success in this ever-increasing industry.
In this write-up, we highlight 20 cannabis entrepreneurs who are really making big waves within the industry. Having the pleasure to interview so many unique and remarkable cannabis entrepreneurs here on IdeaMensch we felt like it was the appropriate time to feature this industry (especially with the legalization of the plant occurring in so many new states).
These cannabis entrepreneurs are breaking new ground by introducing new products and services to existing markets. They open up new markets for established products, while simultaneously tailoring their innovations not just to the market in general, but the needs of cannabis patients and customers better than anyone before them. It is also noteworthy to say that most of these entrepreneurs have also had life-changing experiences with cannabis and CBD which has driven them to harness its seemingly endless uses for consumers and patients.
Do you know any cannabis entrepreneurs who should be on this list?
The new-comers and the seasoned veterans – pioneers creating new needs and desires for cannabis consumers and medical experts to make this plant more accessible to all. As a result, these individuals interviewed below all have something in common: determination and devotion to follow their dreams. Through these dreams, the cannabis entrepreneurs listed below gathered their strength to fulfill their visions and leverage their capabilities in such a flourishing market.
The list of interviews from cannabis entrepreneurs ranges from pharmaceutical practices, marketing software for cannabis owners, CBD infusions for sleep insomnia and for your furry companions, canna-technology for creating precise doses, to hemp seed genetic modifications. It truly seems like the sky’s the limit for cannabis entrepreneurs and these interviews take a closer look at what their process is and how they initially got involved in the cannabis industry.
We hope to inspire some of this in you as well by providing the following list of these cannabis entrepreneurs we are rooting for:
20 Ingenious Cannabis Entrepreneurs to watch in 2021
1. Abby Stoddard
Abby Stoddard is a pharmacist with ten years of experience across all facets of the industry including retail, hospital, managed care, and public policy. During her tenure as a pharmacy benefit manager, Abby held the role of principal state lobbyist, directing all advocacy, lobbying, and policy work across 13 states. Excited by the enthusiasm around this burgeoning industry and its potential to impact the prescription drug and insurance spaces Abby made a shift from pharmacy benefits to the cannabis industry. Seeing the massive transition a state makes when its market moves from medical-only to adult use, Abby headed to Oregon to create a program that carves out space for health and wellness-focused consumers in a crowded, adult-use focused market. Her program, The Client Centered Network, serves new wellness consumers by connecting them to resources from the state’s medical program, cannabis education, and providers looking to serve them.
2. Alex Malkin
Alex Malkin is a CBD enthusiast, researcher, co-founder, and the editor-in-chief at cbd.market, which is a trading platform for CBD products and continued education. He’s also the author of the book “CBD: A Door to Better Health” and a certified nutrition-and-wellness specialist. I’ve suffered from insomnia for almost ten years. I would wake up each and every day at 4 or 5 a.m. I couldn’t sleep as a normal person would at that hour. As an alternative, I started taking concentrated oil. After taking it for about 3 to 4 days, I noticed a true miracle with my sleep quality. I shared my discovery with my business partner, Alexander, and he immediately saw a huge number of weaknesses in the CBD niche today, such as the lack of multi-brand stores with a lot of different trusted brands, the lack of a niche system like Amazon, which would give the opportunity to sell manufacturers their products directly to the consumers at an affordable price, the inability to have a subscription consisting of products of different brands. Since we have been in digital marketing for more than 20 years and we have a large experienced team, we decided to launch our project cbd.market and now, step by step, we add all these opportunities so that buyers can provide the broadest possible choice at an affordable price, and the manufacturer has a regular income without serious advertising.
3. Ben Guez
Ben Guez left France 8 years ago to start his entrepreneur journey and founded his business venture as LAXIR a digital marketing agency in 2015, co-founded of Zentap a SaaS company for realtors in 2018, and just launched kloe a marketing software for CBD and Cannabis business owners. I’ve been doing digital marketing for the last 10 years and I after talking to a lot of people on the CBD and Cannabis space I realized how challenging it was for them to advertise online. Due to regulation on Facebook and Adwords they do not have access to typical ad platform; This is why I created, kloe, a specific marketing software for them.
4. Chelsea Rivera
Chelsea Rivera co-founded Honest Paws and currently serves as Head of Content for the brand. Chelsea graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Radio-Television-Film & Advertising. Her role at Honest Paws stems from a love of digital content and the adoration she has for her CBD-loving pup, Baby Rose. When my pup, Baby Rose was just 3 years old, she started suffering horrible seizures. As any worried dog mom would do, I searched for options to help her. However, all the anti-seizure medication came with negative side effects that would cause her to feel lethargic and curb her spunky personality. So, I decided to take the holistic route and look into alternative medicine. This led me to CBD. I knew it was already being used by humans to help with various problems, but I didn’t know much about the animal side. But – within a month – Baby Rose’s seizures stopped. This was the start of Honest Paws! I realized that many pet parents were in the same boat as I was and saw this as an opportunity to help pets everywhere live happier, healthier lives.
5. Isaac Balbin
Dr. Isaac Balbin is the founder of Parsl, a new type of technology company that is helping the cannabis industry communicate effectively through the utilization of blockchain and other cutting edge technologies including IoT, AR, VR, and AI / Machine Learning. Parsl’s aim is to give the industry as a collective the tools to operate as the most intelligent and data-driven supply chain in the world. Parsl’s SmartTag technology will serve as the infrastructure that the rest of the platform is built on top of and will enable Isaac to achieve his vision for the cannabis industry. Parsl is uniquely focused on the people in the cannabis industry, from consumers to businesses to regulators. Parsl will grant people access to the verified and immutable data that drives the global cannabis industry, from product ingredient sourcing to inventory insights to compliance.
6. Jeff LaBerge
Jeff LaBerge is an experienced finance and business development specialist with over 15 years of experience in renewable energy, agriculture, private equity and healthcare. His areas of expertise include project development, financing and business strategy. Jeff is the CEO and co-founder of Viaspace California, Inc. Under his management, the company was one of the first to legally plant hemp in California. Viaspace already has 105 acres of high CBD hemp settled with plannings to rapidly expand in 2020 and beyond. Viaspace is currently growing over 100 acres of hemp in Imperial California. LaBerge and his team have plans to expand to thousands of acres. Through their breeding and genetics program, Viaspace California is producing feminized hemp steeds containing high CBD content. This makes it ideal for growing in the low desert and other climates. Future plans are building a state of the art, GMP certified CBD extraction and manufacturing facility.
7. John Ramsay
Former U.S. Army Medic Staff Sergeant committed husband, and father of two children, John Ramsay understood from a young age that he was destined to care for people and use his abilities for good while also being a strong leader. In addition, John’s prior work exposed him to new technologies and made him aware of the fact that cannabinoids would be isolated at some point in the near future. John’s previous work in the cannabis industry helped him immensely when deciding to forge his own path. The marketing work John’s vast marketing knowledge guided Infinite CBD to capitalize before the extreme rise of most other CBD companies took place. John jumped headfirst and made it all about CBD due to the medicinal impact and because it is non-psychoactive and non-toxic, so kids and adults alike could consume it without feeling ‘high’. John offered CBD products to military buddies returning from war for anxiety help. After receiving so much positive feedback from friends and family, John knew that launching Infinite CBD was something he needed to do.
8. Justin Hall
Justin Hall registered bud.com in 1994, the year he launched his personal site “Justin’s Links from the Underground” and helped launch the first commercial web magazine HotWired. The NY Times later called him “perhaps the founding father of personal weblogging.” Hall has worked as a journalist, a TV host, a CEO, and a producer for mobile games, online games, and elaborate web sites. Justin currently serves as the Chief Technology Officer of bud.com, which offers curated collections of premium hemp for shipping and legal cannabis products for delivery.
9. Justin Johnson
Justin Johnson is an entrepreneurial marketing expert with a common name and an uncommon background spanning digital strategy, business development, software, and cannabis. In late 2018 he founded BudsFeed.com, a community platform where enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, and brands can “seed” the latest products, services, and content created for the cannabis community.
With 15 years in strategy and growth roles, Justin has held senior positions at some of the top creative and digital agencies in the country including WONGDOODY, Digitas, and Deep Focus, developing award-winning strategies for Fortune 500 companies like American Express, eBay, Walmart, Unilever, and Pepsico Frito-Lay. He was also a founding partner and executive director of business development for Moment Studio, which was named Digiday’s Best Content Marketing Agency in its first year.
After working with every major social media platform over the span of his career, and spending a couple years in the startup space himself, Justin saw a growing consumer audience for cannabis-related information and few platforms that condoned it. With BudsFeed, he set out to create the preferred channel for consumers seeking to discover a broad range of cannabis related products and services, and for brands seeking to build awareness.
10. Kat Thomas
Kat Thomas, along with producing partner Julia Reed Nichols, is the Co-Creator of The Green Light District. The GLD is a Las Vegas and Los Angeles based Event and Entertainment Group for the Cannabis Connoisseur. The GLD conjures up Classic Vintage Vibes with Experiential Activations, Large Scale Art Installations, Dapper DJs, and Live Entertainment including Musicians, Cabaret, Burlesque, and Specialty Acts.
The GLD has been featured at events in 4 states and 7 cities including MJ BizCon Week in Las Vegas, NV, Dope Cup High Desert in Adelanto, CA, the Cannabis Cup in Sacramento and Riverside, CA, and the World of Cannabis Summit at the Palms Casino.The GLD’s work has been featured in: Mg Magazine, Vegas Cannabis, Yahoo Life, Civilized, and CannabisTalk 101.
11. Kerrigan Behrens & Kaley Nichol
Kerrigan Hanna Behrens, CMO: Kerrigan spent five years at UBS Securities, where she held a variety of roles including hedge fund financing sales and capital introduction, in which she worked with hedge fund marketers to effectively market to West Coast investors. Her passion for branding led her to pursue work at Wolfgang Puck and Taco Bell, where she executed marketing campaigns. Kerrigan has her BA from Duke University and her MBA from UCLA Anderson (‘15). She is currently the co-founder and CMO of Sagely Naturals. Kaley Lillibridge Nichol, CFO/COO: Kaley spent five years at J.P. Morgan in Chicago and London, where she worked in Leveraged Finance, M&A, Capital Markets and Global Corporate Banking. Her entrepreneurial family roots inspired her to pursue a rapidly growing restaurant startup, LYFE Kitchen, in Los Angeles where she led strategy and operations as well as opened 10 stores across the U.S. Kaley has her BA from Indiana University, Kelley School of Business. She is currently the co-founder and COO/CFO of Sagely Naturals.
12. Kevin DeMerritt
In 1997, Kevin DeMeritt founded Lear Capital, a precious metals company. In 2008 he also co-founded Wilshire Finance Partners, a real estate investment fund, and currently serves as its president. Mr. DeMeritt holds his Bachelors Degree with an emphasis in business and economics from the University of Montana. He is nationally recognized as an expert on the markets, the economy and geo-political events. Kevin DeMerrit is a parent on a mission to help his daughter. He wanted Aspen to have a normal childhood and to run and play with the other kids. The goal was for her to grow up strong and healthy and be able to do whatever she loved in life. The CBD formulas and products he has developed are the radiant outcome of love. He continually seeks out the best ingredients, scientists and technology to get the best results. Today, his daughter is 14 years old and an accomplished athlete with an active and enjoyable lifestyle. He created Chil Wellness as a new-generation wellness company with the goal to help others.
13. Micheal Candelario
Always seeking to learn as much as possible and expand his horizons, Michael Candelario attended Virginia Military Institute and The University of Wisconsin-Madison for Real Estate Development, Finance, and Entrepreneurship. After graduating, Michael joined up with the U.S Marines and served his country for five years. Michael graduated Parris Island Boot Camp as the Honor Graduate and the first in his class of over 380 Marines. After a challenging but rewarding five years spent with the marine corps, Michael embarked upon his entrepreneurial journey. Over the last two decades, Michael Candelario has worked in the alcohol industry, the healthcare industry, and the cannabis industry, always maintaining an interest in and aptitude for real estate on the side. Michael has now found a home in the cannabis industry as the CEO and Founder of Original Goods, a nationwide cannabis company with assets spanning eight states.
14. Michael Sassano
Although Michael Sassano’s exciting career has led him to be involved in the fast-paced worlds of international real estate development, high-level banking, and cutting edge tech-investing, it is the cannabis space where he has shined the brightest. Michael is well known as one of the original movers and shakers in this sector, celebrated prominently in both mainstream business and cannabis media as an authority on large-scale cannabis cultivation, a pioneer of technology that affects entire markets, and an internationally respected expert on predicting long term industry trends. In July 2020, Michael led a merger of the cannabis cultivation company he built, Solaris Farms, with The Sanctuary, a local Las Vegas brand operating two dispensaries and an extraction facility. In four years with its beginnings in private equity, Michael was able to build Solaris out from a bare lot of land into one of the largest and most well-respected cannabis cultivation operations in the state of Nevada, and then further merged it into one of the top ten vertically integrated cannabis companies in the state.
15. Noah Miller
Noah Miller, Black Dog LED‘s CEO, has been engaged in the legal cannabis industry since its inception and is a cannabis cultivation technologist. Noah joined Black Dog LED as employee #1 and has over 25 years of management experience ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies. With a BS in Hospitality Management, an MBA and 3 startups behind him as well as 8 years’ consulting with C-level clients, Noah brings a business background to the exciting and rapidly-growing cannabis industry. “We’re continuing to push the boundaries of LED lighting technology and have grown the company dramatically while establishing a strong reputation as science-led leaders in lighting spectrum – allowing some of the largest growers in the country to maximize yield while improving efficiency per square foot, which saves hundreds of thousands of dollars for our customers.” – Noah
16. Ryan Lee
Ryan Lee is the co-founder of Los Angeles based CBD and cannabis brand Alive & Kicking. Prior to launching, Ryan was an advertising creative director where he led integrated marketing campaigns for many Fortune 100 brands. He saw an opportunity to bring his experience from a complimentary industry into the rapidly growing space of cannabis and CBD. Ryan and his partner started Alive & Kicking to offer a unique experience for CBD and cannabis consumers. They launched with a uniquely small pre-roll that created a light “sessionable” experience for both experienced cannabis users and the canna-curious. In a sea of homogenous products, Alive & Kicking stands out as a brand that doesn’t just speak marketing but behaves as a true brand.
17. Sidney Quitorio
Sidney Quitorio had been in love with cannabis from a young age, and it felt natural to move into the industry when he discovered how easy it was to make his own Cannagars (a.k.a cannabis cigars). He was familiar with Thai Sticks for a few years, the Cannagar predecessor, but it wasn’t until 2016 that he attempted to make one himself. The idea came to him when he was scrolling Instagram and saw a Cannagar for the first time. The price point and state restrictions prevented him from getting one. After trying and failing many times to make a Cannagar himself, he realized he needed an easy to use tool to get the job done, so he set out to create his own. With an Engineering background, he designed the CannaMold himself and changed how the people around him consumed cannabis. While pre-made cannagars are usually priced at a couple of hundred dollars and only sold in select dispensaries, he noticed how inaccessible it was for a lot of people, which strayed from his beliefs on cannabis bringing people together. He began selling Cannagar kits that allowed anyone to easily make their own cannabis cigar at home and opened the world of “luxury cannabis” to others. He grew the company along with his team and eventually left his job in tech to fully focus on Purple Rose Supply.
18. Socrates Rosenfeld
After graduating from the United States Military Academy in 2004 and completing his service as an Apache helicopter pilot in 2011, Socrates Rosenfeld set his sights on pursuing a graduate degree at MIT’s Sloan School of Management as a Tillman Scholar. There he was able to open his mind to the entrepreneurial spirit and discover new ways to serve his country, community, and fellow veterans. During his time in Boston reconnecting with loved ones, taking full advantage of the creative and diverse MIT community, and focusing on his own personal growth and health, Socrates discovered the medicinal benefits of cannabis. After completing his MBA program in 2014 and joining McKinsey & Company in Silicon Valley, it was not long before he co-founded www.iheartjane.com, the cannabis industry’s first end-to-end online marketplace, with his brother and fellow MIT grad Abraham. Socrates has a new mission to bring legitimacy and access to medicinal cannabis and serve as an advocate for veterans’ right to choose a holistic approach to physical and emotional healing.
19. Stephanie Inlow
Stephanie Inlow is the co-founder and VP of Vaporizers.ca, an online ecommerce based company that pioneered the vaporizer industry in Canada in 2005. She is hands-on, overseeing customer relations, sales and marketing. Seeing her husband find such relief from the use of a vaporizer for medical cannabis ignited her passion for sharing these products with anyone who could benefit. Stephanie’s compassionate personality has allowed her to really connect with the medical cannabis community understanding their hardships and helping them healthily find relief from their pain, allowing them to enjoy life again.
20. Stephanie Karasick
Stephanie Karasick was born and raised in Montreal, and left shortly after getting her degree in Graphic Design. She moved to Toronto, working as a copywriter at Leo Burnett, Saatchi & Saatchi, JWT, Taxi, and MacLaren McCann over a span of 15 years. Somewhere in that time, she began studying photography, left the corporate world to work as an editorial and family photographer, and a mom. The idea for Strainprint came to her after her first few months of using medical cannabis, when she was noticing how little information and scientific validation there was on various treatments.
Here are some more entrepreneurs we’re keeping our eyes on.
- Awesome Young Entrepreneurs to watch
- Remarkable Female Entrepreneurs to watch
- Ingenious Tech Entrepreneurs to watch
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.