Get growing: Cannabis business accelerator launches first cohort

(Photo: Grow Tech Labs/Facebook)

By Jessica Brown

Grow Tech Labs (GTL) is not your typical business accelerator.

Sure, it’s housed in a co-op work environment (alongside strategic partner Victory Square Technologies) featuring exposed brick in the heart of Gastown. But this woman-led company is helping cannabis entrepreneurs thrive in Canada’s emerging legal new industry.

“We want to make sure we’re working to bridge the cannabis industry with other business, community, and professional organizations,” Barinder Rasode, CEO and co-founder of GTL and founder of the National Institute of Cannabis Health and Education (NICHE) told the first cohort at the mentor meet and greet in January.

Charlie Snow, CEO of The Her(b) Life, a cannabis lifestyle magazine created and published by Gill Polard, was in the crowd that evening and a cohort-hopeful.

“We launched our first magazine in July 2018. We’re currently publishing bi-annually but want to do it quarterly,” said Snow, who is looking to GTL to help refine The Her(b) Life’s financials.

“We’re seeking advice on what to look for based on future financial projections and what we really need for operating costs to sustain that growth.”

Connor McNamee, co-founder of Farm & Florist Infusions – a line of elevated cannabis edibles- is also keen on the benefits of joining an incubator.

“Pretty much every component having to do with the physical operations has been completely dialed,” said McNamee who sees the accelerator as an opportunity to help execute the company’s marketing initiatives.

“I think a big strategy for us for customer acquisition is going to be very content heavy.”

In terms of challenges, McNamee said that there are a lot of moving pieces to coordinate. “We’re managing a budget so we have to be economical with our choices and our timeline.”

Hedieh Safiyari, founder and managing director of Prompt Health, is of one GTL’s mentors. Safiyari has extensive experience working with startups which helps her bring unique insights to the group.

“From consulting with startups, what I’m learning is a lot of incubators out there are very general which is why we’re introducing this business track to make it more customized and actually give the [cohort] the right tools they need to develop a proper pitch deck.”

Safiyari’s experience has shown her that many new businesses have a great idea but lack a proper execution plan.

“Some common mistakes I’ve seen are missing the right people for your team, and missing the right business plan.”

Part of Safiyari’s mentorship will include creating a module for developing a pitch deck and offering one-on-one consulting specific to each business’s needs.

Garrett Senez, Director of marketing at Emerald Health Therapeutics, has gone through the gauntlet as an entrepreneur working in the craft beer industry.

“Far too often people, particularly startups, have such lofty ideas and they expect revenue to come, they expect milestones to be hit. But these things take a lot of time,” said Senez who marks patience as a key component to success.

Speaking from experience, Senez also encourages entrepreneurs to “not sweat the small stuff.”

“Having your own business means you have to dive into the weeds. And when you’re in the weeds, everything that’s small looks really, really big but in the grand scheme it’s not. It’s tough but try and take a step back and look at things with perspective, particularly when it comes to financial investments and decisions.”

Senez is quick to point out that building a business can be lonely due to the long hours and time away from one’s family. Being part of an accelerator provides mentorship and access to resources and networks, but also helps create structure and a sense of comradery.

“Having the right people in your corner can make all the difference,” says Senez.

Rasode, a serial entrepreneur, calls herself a mom first having raised three kids who were often brought to meetings and boardrooms.

Knowing the challenges of building a family and a business in tandem, GTL is a pet and family-friendly environment, making it easier for members to achieve a work-life balance.

“People should not be be penalized in their professional lives for choosing to have a family,” said Rasode.

Part of GTL’s mission is to support entrepreneurs across various demographics and replace barriers with opportunities to thrive.