Just a few days after hosting Collision Conference for its final year before moving to Toronto, New Orleans welcomed over 3,200 professionals in the cannabis industry. MJBizConNEXT is a multi-city, multi-day cannabis business conference organized by the crew at MJBizDaily, a major trade publication. The conference — and The Big Easy — drew a crowd of innovators, investors, journalists, and the curious to explore what’s coming next.
A Weed Event with NO Weed
If you came to MJBizConNEXT expecting a smoke-fest, it was the wrong convention. As a business conference — much like Propelify — most people were affiliated in the industry and there to get connected to start or grow a company. If you were looking to get your ducks in a row for your Operational Plan as your state prepares to open up license applications, this was the place for you. All the equipment manufacturers were there that make the machines needed to operate a commercial cannabis company. Machines for trimming bud, de-stemming plants, grinding the bud, collecting the keef, filling cartridges, filling capsules were all there. I enjoy observing the complexity of the extraction and distillation equipment. In an industry where the raw product is the final product, i.e. flower — much like produce — packaging becomes more important. Packaging and design are how companies and consumers will differentiate their favorite brands, buds, and products. Walking around the expo floor, I saw many packaging and design companies in addition to more service related firms like legal, insurance, and accounting. No cannabis convention is complete without a classic safe company in attendance. That’s right, safes. Low tech. You can’t hack these with a computer. You will need old bank-robber skills to crack these safes big enough to fit a human or a few million dollars in cash. The event also showcased an Innovation Battlefield where cannabis startups in various categories pitched to a live voting audience.
Sharks and Rock Stars
It was no surprise that, because it was well marketed, Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank gave the keynote that had everyone in the room. Everyone was so excited and hopeful to hear if Mr. Wonderful will be eyeing out cannabis companies to invest in and to bring on Shark Tank. His message was quite the opposite. O’Leary says institutional financing from big VCs, like the $100 million Series A raises we see in tech, will not be happening anytime soon in cannabis until legalization on the federal level is established. That did not stop the room full of entrepreneurs from running to Mr. Wonderful off stage to get in that elevator pitch. What was a surprise, however, is when I noticed a small line of people waiting to take a photo with a tall figure that turned out to be none other than the CEO of Invictus, Gene Simmons. The former KISS rock star is now Chief Evangelist Officer for Invictus, adding to the list of celebrity musicians in the cannabis space.
The Art of The Dab
There I was, in an elevator with a friend who is an avid dabber who had just finished telling me about a new device that came out she is very excited about using. Another man steps into the elevator and as always our conversation comes to a halt with the introduction of a newcomer. But then she notices something, in his pocket. She points it out and demands to know “Is that a Dab Dipper in your pocket?” The man smiles and simply replies: “Haha, eagle eye!” He then removes it from his pocket to reveal that it is — in fact — a Dab Dipper, the very device she was telling me about. We all laughed about it and decided the universe wanted us to hang out. So we did. The next day, I run into my journalist friend again except this time she is with Mike Bologna, CEO of Green Lion Partners, the company behind this infamous Dipper device. Typically when dabbing, the patient must use a torch to get the glass red-hot before dabbing some wax which is very sticky. His device, Dipper, is a vaporizer that you dip right into your container of wax, saving you the process of heating the glass and transferring the wax out of the container to use. Dipper is just one of three companies Bologna and his partners operate which intrigued me to dig or dab a little deeper.
Since Green Lion Partners is an investor in companies and is also a holding and operating company helping cannabis companies grow, I’ve asked Mike to close us off with 3 reasons why cannabis entrepreneurs should be going to events like MJBizCon. Mike Bologna shares that “the opportunity to expand your network in an industry that is still very relationship based” may be the most important reason to be in attendance. It just takes showing up. Another reason why Mike believes going to events adds value is to “learn from other great investors, entrepreneurs, and world leaders from the panels.” There are business leaders on stage discussing and sharing their insights, perspectives, and experiences to help the entire room advance. And last but not least, one should be attending events especially in the cannabis space to “keep a pulse on the industry, its growth, trends, and new opportunities” as Bologna explains working in the cannabis industry is like working in dog years. The advancements and innovations are coming so rapidly, it is a struggle to keep up, especially with legal.
Peter Salib is a contributing writer at Grit Daily. He has been going to CES in Las Vegas consecutively for the past 7 years since the age of 21 and is an avid attendee of events nationwide. Having attended hundreds of events, he is now a co-founder of Event Integrity, the first integrity-based, vetted marketplace for event professionals. He also frequently works with startups to consult and advise on media, strategy, events, and fundraising. His dog, Scruffy, was featured on the Today Show with Kathy Lee & Hoda and was dubbed “Scruffy the Wonder Dog.”