One self-styled entrepreneur after another paraded to the podium. Dressed in chinos, blazers and loafers, these would-be moguls from all corners of the United States, Canada, South America and Europe tossed around trendy buzzwords like “diversity,” “due diligence,” “upstream,” and “special purpose vehicle” while trying to convince the audience that they were peddling a must-have item.
Four judges, watching the presentations from overstuffed easy chairs in the Starlight Ballroom at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica, took turns grilling the presenters at the Jan. 30-31 event.
Think Shark Tank. Only green. Very green. Not as mean, but nonetheless probing with the questions.
ARC Innovations co-founders Matt Kummer and Louis Cirillo of San Francisco won the $50,000 first prize for best pitch. They both said the money wasn't as important as the cannabis-industry connections they made at the two-day Investor Pitch Forum sponsored by the Arcview Group.
“The end of prohibition in California is not just an opportunity for cannabis users to come out of the shadows,” Cirillo said. “It's also a time for California businesses to get the jump on the industry of tomorrow.”
And boy, were they jumping.
More than 300 showed up to pitch or buy cannabis-based business ideas — everything from LEAF, a plug-and-plant system that automatically grows cannabis and can be controlled by phone, to cannabis edibles from candy maker Goodship of Seattle.
After two days of pitches, the judges awarded ARC Innovations the top prize for the company's electric self-igniting pipe that combines the portability and convenience of a vape with the experience of smoking.
The prize money came courtesy of Arcview Group, a consulting firm based in Oakland that specializes in teaching longtime cannabis businesses — think: your friendly neighborhood pot dealer — how to survive and flourish in the new age of legalization. The pitch forum also attracted potential investors willing to take a chance on the new, green gold rush.
“Many of these legacy businesses are facing peril but also promise,” said Stephen DeAngelo, who founded an Oakland dispensary before co-founding the consulting group with Arcview CEO Troy Dayton. “Many legacy businesses have operated in a legal gray area for decades and never developed business expertise.”
The forum connects legacy businesses with mainstream professionals and businesses, DeAngelo said.
“This forum gives them an opportunity to leverage that expertise, whether that’s to sell their business or bring on board business professionals who can help them. It’s a scary time filled with anxiety but there’s also a lot of excitement.”
The Santa Monica investor pitch-fest was the first of 2018, with others scheduled for Vancouver (April 30-May 2), San Francisco (July 19-21) and Chicago (Sept. 16-18). An Arcview “local event” is set to take place April 11.
Despite the state's slow response to legalization — resulting in a backlog of dispensary applications — DeAngelo said all he sees is excitement. “These are very buoyant and interesting times we live in. Sometimes I feel like a mountain man. I look over the side and see a town I don’t want to live in. But every now and then I look over and see the promised land.”
The folks pitching at this seaside resort were all hoping their product someday finds a home in the promised land.
Jody Hall of Seattle, founder of the Goodship Company (its slogan is “All Aboard”), told investors about her edibles and candies, some of which have as little as 2.5 milligrams of THC “so you can unlock your creativity and adjust your cruise control instead of playing recreational roulette.” Goodship products are in select Los Angeles dispensaries, but Hall wants to expand globally — law permitting, of course.
Cirillo and Kummer of the winning ARC Innovations team bowled over investors with their self-contained smoking apparatus, which they claim works better than any vape on the market. Load a plastic cylinder containing marijuana and fire away — easy peasy, they said. It was designed by Kummer, a former Boeing engineer.
Investor Maddi Hausmann of Sunnyvale was so impressed with the ARC pipe presentation that she committed a substantial investment to ramp up production. Cirillo said Hausmann is one of four investors they found at the Pitch Forum.
After their win, investors crowded around the Cirillo/Kummer team with their own pitches. According to the forum's rules set by Arcview, participants were not allowed to disclose publicly any financial information, including investment totals or even product prices.
“This brings together investors with people who need capital,” Hausmann said. “It’s about synchronicity.”
Kummer of the winning team couldn't agree more.
“This pitch forum is an opportunity for people who aren't necessarily tied into the cannabis industry to meet industry insiders,” Kummer said. “We don't have a lot of connections, and this was a necessary move on our part. Winning the prize is one thing, having investors believe in your product is another, but growing our network is what's going to enable our company to be successful.”