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You’ve Got a Genius Weed Idea, Now What?

Photo courtesy of Gateway


You’ve Got a Genius Weed Idea, Now What?

Let’s say you’ve just come up with that brilliant-but-practical cannabis idea that’s going to get you your share of the explosive new marijuana industry. Here’s the problem: perhaps you have insufficient business experience and you’re not exactly flush with cash.

The founders of Gateway Incubator in Oakland, California want to help you. If you’ll trade them 6 percent of your company, they’ll give you $30,000 in startup capital and have you move into office space alongside nine other aspiring cannabusiness entrepreneurs. At what’s essentially cannabis startup boot camp, a wide range of relevant mentors will train you to build a successful business throughout your four months.

Start with your one-sentence pitch. Gateway’s own one-sentence pitch, according to co-founder and managing partner Carter Laren off-the-cuff, might look like this:

“We’re the startup accelerator helping aspiring cannabis-related businesses learn how to build scalable, fundable companies.”

Obviously, you won’t be the only one who likes this deal, so you’ll have to apply. You’ll need to pitch your way in. Since opening the process in November, the founders say they’ve received around 50 submissions for a spot in the eventual 10 and they expect the number to grow in advance of the January 31 deadline.

You’ll make a four-minute video explaining your idea’s chance of success and why you’re the person to execute the plan.

That last part is key. Ben Larson, also co-founder and managing partner of Gateway, says he’s far less concerned about the production value of the video – the site even mandates that the video be a continuous shot to discourage using effects to enhance the pitch’s merit – than he is about the quality of the individuals behind the ideas.

“We’re very founder-centric,” Larson told Cannabis Now.

Indeed, both Laren and Larson learned the process they’re applying here from their previous collaboration at the Founder Institute. At the end of the day, it’s the people behind the ideas, they say. Your video application is only the beginning, essentially an initial screening. After moving ahead, the second step is testing: a psychology test for personality type, fluid intelligence tests, as well as a problem-solving portion.

This is important to the team, because while they know their successful backgrounds give them cause to believe in their own instincts about whom to choose, they want to build “validated metrics” behind their choices going forward for the purpose of constructing an ever-more-accurate startup selection model.

After this round, an internal advisory board makes the final cuts. If you’ve made it, you’ll move into the company’s Oakland office space in March. Gateway believes Oakland is on track to emerge as the top cannabis hub owing to its open embrace of the industry, its proximity to other Bay Area talent beginning to see the cannabis industry as the place to be, and its long history as a home to an array of leading cannabis figures, including Debby Goldsberry and Steve DeAngelo.

As to what types of ideas they say they’re attracting, Larson notes Gateway has specifically not identified what they’re looking for in a successful application. That’s a strength, he says, because having people outside the cannabis industry adds dynamism to the industry, as well as adds to the overall mainstreaming of the industry.

One example Larsen cited of such a submission had to do with food production. Another intriguing entry is that of the organic chemist who has developed a non-synthetic method to produce various cannabis strains keeping the cannabinoids intact without having to grow the plant.

By the same token, there’s also space for people who have knowledge and expertise in the industry going back years, but who perhaps need extra skills to truly blossom. Larsen pointed out that many of these people already have proven exactly the kind of risk-taking entrepreneurial drive they seek.

Of the 6 percent you’ll trade, most will go to the company – 5 percent. The other 1 percent is shared among the mentors. All the mentors will share in some reward, with an extra layer of incentive – mentors identified by the startups as being particularly instrumental get a larger share.

For the companies that do take off, new ground is being broken regularly already in the mainstreaming of cannabusinesses. Just this week, the merger announcement between publicly-traded Terra Tech and Blüm Oakland signified the second time a United States dispensary will be a publicly-traded commodity.

“That’s pretty cool,” said John Downs, Managing Director of MJIC, which created the Marijuana Index to track international and domestic cannabis stocks. “They’re blazing a trail,” said Downs, a pun he likely meant.

As for the current gray area with marijuana’s legality, it boils down to disclosure, said Downs, who also has joined with Gateway’s effort. The Securities and Exchange Commission doesn’t make its decision on legality, he observed, it’s whether companies can be transparent about their financial disclosures. That’s why Gateway will train its successful founder applicants in building companies that can meet such standards.

In choosing the name Gateway, Laren said he intended it “as a slap in the face to the DEA” noting the way the familiar term “gateway drug” is used by forces demonizing weed. He says he wants the word “turned on its head” to reference the cannabis industry’s new, inclusive entry from the shadows into the mainstream.

Do you have an idea for a cannabusiness? Tell us in the comments below.

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