Coverage of the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference in Chicago
At the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference in Chicago, a large group of cannabis executives shared their insight into the trends shaping the business now and in the future. From funding and regulations to brands and market opportunities, here is insight from four women in cannabis leadership positions.
The cannabis space is experiencing challenges around capital. “Capital market availability has shifted significantly over the last six months,” said Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve (CSE: TRUL) (OTCQX: TCNNF).
If you are an entrepreneur in the audience: first, the bad news. The easy money days are gone.
Codie Sanchez, Managing Director of Entourage Effect Capital
The good news…as an investor I don’t think there is a better time to invest in cannabis than right now.
As a private equity investor, Sanchez pointed on that a little bit of distress in the market can be exciting. Sanchez sees the market at a turning point. Companies need to demonstrate a path to profitability. “[Companies] are moving from a desire to be acquired or move to go to public to an execution phase,” she said. “Companies can no longer have an expectation to be acquired.”
While acquisitions may not be a given, M&A activity in the market will continue.
Our phone is ringing off the hook with smaller deals. We have been looking for smaller tuck-ins that fit our model,” said Beth Stavola, Chief Strategy Officer and Director of iAnthus (CSE: IAN, OTCQX: ITHUF), a client of New Cannabis Ventures.
We are in such a high-growth industry, it is impossible not to seek consolidation.
Beth Stavola, Chief Strategy Officer at iAnthus
Given the scarcity of cash to execute transactions, companies will likely begin taking a different approach.
It is not ‘we just need this market.’ Are they [companies] cash flow positive? What will it take to get them there?
Kim Rivers, Trulieve CEO
The quality of the deal is becoming much more important than just where it is located.
Many transactions in the industry will likely be cashless, according to Stavola. There may be more stock deals.
Brands are emerging as significant players in the cannabis industry. There is some question of retail brands versus CPG brands, taking into consideration that retail can control shelf space. While investors may be hesitant, brands will eventually become one of the highest margin areas in the industry, according to Sanchez. “If you don’t look at brands whatsoever, you are missing out on long-term growth,” said Sanchez.”
When it comes to developing brands, many companies in the cannabis sector are using data to inform strategy. “We are undergoing a hard look on brand segmentation right now,” said Rivers. “We do think that understanding data and your market is critical to [product development].”
Changing regulations create uncertainty in the industry and challenges companies to operate successfully. The burden represented by state taxes and 280E is one of the most important regulatory considerations, according to Sanchez. “These companies are being throttled by taxation,” she said. She spoke about legislation in California that could alleviate some of that tax burden for cannabis companies in the state.
From Rivers’ perspective, the variety of regulations is the greatest challenge. “We have to learn 50 different systems. They are all navigable, but it requires a different approach in every different market,” she said.
SaaS company Akerna (NASDAQ: KERN), formerly MJ Freeway, provides the cannabis industry with supply chain transparency. CEO Jessica Billingsley talked about the opportunity for transparency to combat issues related to vaping deaths. The company has formed a strategic partnership with solo sciences, which has tagging technology. Through that partnership, everything that Akerna’s software tracks, including additives, is available to consumers. Fake packages can be bought for the black market, but consumers can interact with the tag on their product, confirming it is not counterfeit. The company is “providing the consumer a way to understand traceability and transparency,” said Billingsley.
Though the recent vaping news has caused concern, industry growth remains healthy.
If you are considering the industry through an investment lens, demand has not decreased in any way.