All posts by Giles Gwinnett

Cresco’s acquisition of Origin House accelerates its advance toward 100% market penetration

Cresco Labs (CSE:CL) is one of the leading cannabis growers and retailers in the US, marketing several well-known brands across multiple states. The Chicago-headquartered company’s 2018 results showed increasing production and distribution, along with a near 300% increase in revenue compared to the previous year.

In April, Cresco announced plans to acquire California-focused Origin House for CDN$1.1 billion in what would be one of the largest public company acquisitions ever in the US cannabis space.  It would come on the heels of last year’s acquisition of Florida-focused Vidacann by Cresco for $120 million.

Proactive caught up with Chief Executive Officer Charles Bachtell recently to get his thoughts on the Origin House transaction and what lies ahead for Cresco and the cannabis sector in general.

Cresco has really gone from strength to strength over the past year. Let’s begin by having you tell us about your corporate strategy and what some of your advantages are compared to industry peers.

Cresco is one of the larger multistate operators in the US. We participate in all main verticals of the supply and value chain – from cultivation and extraction to the creation of branded products, carrying on into distribution of those branded products to stores we don’t own and then also bricks-and-mortar retail. Including pending acquisitions, we’re in 11 states and those states are arguably the most strategic footprint.

Some of our peers have more states in their portfolio but our 11 states – seven of the 10 most populated states in the US and four that aren’t in the top 10 – they all have very key strategic rationale behind them, like Nevada with Las Vegas and Massachusetts with adult use. We focus on the regulated market.  We have compliance backgrounds. The founders of this company come from the banking industry and a lot of the lessons we learned on the operations side, the legal side and the compliance side of banking have helped us create an operation in cannabis that is very focused on regulation and doing cannabis the right way.

Those are some very strong pillars. It seems that many companies in this industry are pursuing similar goals, but it’s the ones executing consistently on their growth plans that separate themselves.

The strategy behind our growth has not been just about trying to make as big a footprint as possible.  It was making sure that we were thoughtful in the states we launched in. We pride ourselves on execution and if you’re looking for maybe points of distinction between us and our peers, because to a certain extent you could say we look alike – we’re all trying to create multistate national platforms, we all want to create brands, and now we all have access to capital – I think this is what has always resonated with the investor community.

It comes down to three things with Cresco. The strength of management has always been commented on by investors. It is a unique background to have, specifically mortgage banking experience and what it was like to go through the economic downturn and not only survive, but we thrived in our prior lives when regulation came to mortgage banking.

Then we’ve built out the team with some phenomenal professionals with a ton of experience in big international CPG (consumer packaged goods), so the strength of management has always stood out. The level of execution – our ability to win these very competitive, merit-based application processes is second to none.  And then the ability to execute on M&A. We call it the ‘gets’ – we get access to the markets, we get operational, we get products to market and then we get disproportionate market share.

In Pennsylvania, for example, we all received licenses on the same day. We were able to go through all the things to operationalize and bring product to market 45 days faster than the second group that came to market, and 70 days faster than the third.

We execute at a different level and then we focus on market penetration and market share, which are fundamental ways of evaluating your success. But a lot of our peers were focused on the landgrab aspect and maybe a little less on operations.  But we’re operations guys.

We like the story of highest market share in Illinois, highest market share in Pennsylvania, largest distribution footprint in California. That’s how we judge ourselves and we like telling that story.

The third point of distinction is our focus on the creation of branded products more so than how many bricks-and-mortar retail stores we own. We like vertical integration. We think it’s important in some markets, but our goal is not to own more bricks-and-mortar retail than anyone else. Our goal is to make sure our products are on the shelves of every dispensary in a state and that’s a little different from our peers.

Tell me more about the acquisition of Origin House. How did you go about that and what was the rationale for the deal?

It came on the heels of another big announcement we made, which was the Florida acquisition. In order to create a national brand, you have to have that strategic geographic footprint.  You only want to be in the states that really matter. So, Florida, being the third most populated state in the US, of course really mattered. We were able to check that box and it really is the last of the tier-one states we needed. So, you create the geographic footprint that matters but then you have to get a meaningful position in those markets.

Our story is 100% market penetration – getting on the shelves in every dispensary and then having the most market share of any group. And so that’s where Origin House fits into the narrative. We were already in California – we already had operations. We closed that transaction last year and we were starting to produce, but how do we create a meaningful position in the most important, largest cannabis market in the world? That’s where Origin House really spoke to us as a transaction. They’re the largest distribution company in the largest cannabis market in the world. That in and of itself is a reason to do the deal.

The best part about the Origin House acquisition has actually been everything that came after it. They really do distribution because they’re fundamentally focused on finding and identifying brands that matter. They wanted to be in the branding space too so that was very aligned with us.

And now that we’re a publicly traded company, granted this has always been our mindset anyway, who we can and who we can’t do business with, we have to ensure that our standards are met when it comes to corporate governance and adherence with strict compliance with state regulations. With Origin House, you had a company that was publicly traded for over two years now and compared to its peers out there they’ve been held to a higher level, a higher standard of compliance and corporate governance.

Then you start looking at the human capital side of the space.  They’ve got a very astute corporate development department over there. Over 20 lawyers and analysts that have been working on cannabis M&A deals for the last couple of years. That was great and then the icing on the cake is their founder and CEO Marc Lustig. His capital markets experience is unique for cannabis. His understanding of the way that capital markets and Canadian capital markets work. The relationships he has, the reputation he has. You start layering all of those assets on top of each other and you can see why it was a very enticing transaction for us to want to complete.

Merger activity has really picked up in the US cannabis space. Why is this and do you see the trend continuing?

This goes back to the experience we had in mortgage banking. I think any time you have emerging industry meets high regulation you’re going to have consolidation. It’s going to get to a point where people are going to struggle to reach where they thought they would be able to get. Maybe it’s less realistic – whether timing, whether infrastructure, whatever it is, access to capital that’s going to limit them, that’s going to create great opportunities for consolidation by the companies that have built out the infrastructure, that have the experience, that have been able to get out in front. I think that’s what you’re seeing and are going to continue to see in the cannabis space.

Consolidation is a part of this next phase of growth in the industry for a lot of reasons. When you can find some of that bandwidth, when you can find that experience, when you don’t have to create it all from scratch, that becomes a faster, less risky way to expand than building from scratch every time.

How do you see the US federal landscape for cannabis in terms of legislation changing?

I think everybody is more bullish on this than we would have been a year ago.  You’re seeing the SAFE Act with a lot of support. You’re seeing the STATES Act with a lot of support. The feedback and the chatter out of DC seems very positive on both of those fronts. People are handicapping SAFE to potentially be a 2019 passage, but they are also looking at the STATES Act as likely getting figured out before the 2020 election cycle. It’s moving in the right direction, I’ll tell you that.

What are your plans for the rest of 2019 and beyond?

We feel like we’ve created that geographic footprint of substance and now it’s making sure we go as deep in those programs as we can. That we do accomplish that market penetration and market share that has become our calling card. I think you’ll see us focus on implementation and integration with Origin House and with Florida. And we’re opportunistic, so if there’s another state that comes up that fits into our thesis and growth strategy, we’ll evaluate it. But I think for the next quarter or two, any M&A would be focused on deals that help us go deeper in states that we’re already in. Acquiring another operator in a state that we’re already in to increase our position in that state is the likely future of M&A for us.

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on June 20, 2019 and featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Cresco Labs at https://www.crescolabs.com/.

MegumaGold: A fresh take on the gold exploration model for Nova Scotia

The province of Nova Scotia already has a rich gold mining heritage, but new theories and modern exploration technologies are re-awakening interest in the jurisdiction’s huge potential.

It was the site of one of Canada’s first gold camps and production of the metal dates back to around the middle of the nineteenth century.

Between 1862 and 1927 almost a million ounces of the precious metal were extracted from the province.

In those early days, however, the focus was on high-grade, narrow vein deposits. Today, the emphasis has shifted with the discovery of disseminated mineralization with bulk-mineable potential.

The Touquoy deposit

The move started with the discovery of shales at the Touquoy deposit, where a company called Atlantic Gold has now commissioned a highly successful open pit mine.

Now another firm – explorer MegumaGold Corp. (CSE:NSAU), which takes its name from the Meguma Terrane where the original gold rush took place – is getting in on the act. It has acquired 11,205 claims totaling more than 170,000 hectares, many of which are adjacent and along trend from the Touquoy deposit.

Meguma’s chief executive officer, Regan Isenor, explains, “Typically in Nova Scotia, everyone was always after the high-grade nuggety style quartz-hosted gold, which is quite expensive to extract and it’s hard to build models off of that type of mineralization. Atlantic Gold, here in the province, has shown that the disseminated model of low-grade, bulk tonnage is really where the projects that are economically viable are going to be found.”

Without getting too technical, the reason for the geology is this: glaciation in Nova Scotia caused the softer rock on the top to erode, exposing the harder outcrops, which excited those early explorers because the gold was often visible in the quartz veining exposed at surface.

Disseminated mineralization, on the other hand, often cannot be seen and is scattered across large areas at a lower grade but could potentially exist throughout the massive anticline structures within the Meguma Terrane.

Although such mineralization can’t be seen, exploitation of the gold is simple and cheap – simply digging the source rocks out of the ground from an open pit, while cheap processing methods can also be used.

Although the company doesn’t plan to put a deposit into production itself, Meguma wants to emulate the success of its neighbor Atlantic Gold.

Low-cost mine

The latter’s Moose River Consolidated gold mine has the lowest all-in sustaining cost per ounce mine in the world – between US$540 and US$588 – mainly due to the low strip ratio.

Meguma is currently in the middle of a 20,000 meter reverse circulation (RC) drill program focused on 10 highlight targets, whittled down from an original 40, which were identified from a major airborne geophysical and Lidar survey.

Isenor highlights that the company’s targets are predominantly on ground that has “never been tested before,” which is exciting as he believes disseminated gold could be present throughout the province.

He aims to have completed 10,000 meters of drilling by mid-summer, before stopping to have assays returned for evaluation ahead of a larger program, consisting of diamond drilling to focus in on the most exciting targets and RC rigs for more regional exploration.

With enough money in the bank to fully finance the current drill program, specifically around $5.5 million, Meguma hopes to succeed in Nova Scotia where others have had to throw in the towel before.

“People have come in and they’ve had an idea of what a particular model could look like, but they haven’t been funded well enough to actually really test these targets and that’s what we are doing,” says Isenor. “We are really aggressively drilling them.  If it’s there we are going to find it.”

MegumaGold was previously called Coronet Metals and was run out of Vancouver by mining executive Theo Van der Linde, with a tailings project in Nevada.

He became aware of the Meguma land package and could see the opportunity. Coronet struck a deal to buy a large land package in the historic gold district and Isenor was brought in as the CEO when the company name changed last June.

The operations base was also moved to Bedford in Nova Scotia and the firm started to raise capital for exploration.

Van der Linde remains as president at the company.

Big goals

Despite its early stage, MegumaGold has big goals as it looks to play a major part in Nova Scotia’s paradigm shift in the understanding and potential of its gold deposits.

Isenor reckons his company stands at the exciting beginning phases of people understanding that this disseminated style of mineralization is really where the future lies and is the economic mining model for Nova Scotia.

“People never really evaluated any of these targets for this disseminated style,” he explains, adding that often such geology was considered by miners to be mere waste rock.  New theories indeed.

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on March 8, 2019 and featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about MegumaGold Corp at https://megumagold.com/.

West Red Lake Gold Mines going for gold in legendary Canadian district

Anyone who knows anything about Canadian gold mining will be familiar with the legendary Red Lake Gold District in Ontario.

It’s home to the Red Lake mine, one of the world’s most prolific mines owned by one of the biggest producers of the yellow metal: Goldcorp (TSX:G).

The district has produced over 30 million ounces of high-grade gold, and other major operations in the area include the Madsen and Starrett Olsen mines, owned by Pure Gold Mining (CVE:PGM), and Goldcorp’s Red Lake, Campbell, and Cochenour mines.

Well on the way to making its own mark in the district is junior explorer West Red Lake Gold Mines (CSE:RLG).

The company’s 3,100 hectare property hosts three former producing mines, lies just 20km from Goldcorp’s Red Lake mine and boasts a management team that is expert in bringing gold projects to the point where they are bought out by bigger producers.

“We explore and develop gold projects – outline a gold deposit or what could be an underground mine in the case of our present project,” explains president John Kontak.

“We would, say, take a company of $20 million market cap and develop the project for a transaction that could be worth a couple of hundred million dollars. That’s what we’ve done before and that’s what we’re working towards now,” he said, adding that it’s a two- to three-year strategy.

And this team certainly has form.

Entrepreneur Tom Meredith is Executive Chairman. He was formerly head of VG Gold, where he worked with West Red Lake’s exploration manager, Ken Guy, and took a $3 million market cap firm to the point where it was sold to Goldcorp founder Rob McEwen in a transaction valued at approximately $200 million.

Meanwhile, Kontak was formerly president of Victory Gold Mines, where Meredith and Guy were also involved. It owned a former open pit east of Timmins that was later sold and is now part of Osisko Mining (TSX:OSK).

The team (including Meredith, Guy and Kontak) took on West Red Lake in 2014 during the gold bear market, sorted out some legacy issues, and in February of 2016 filed a NI 43-101 inferred resource estimate for the Rowan mine target of 1.087 million ounces at 7.57 grams per tonne (g/t) gold.

West Red Lake has three former mines on the property – the Rowan, Red Summit and Mount Jamie mines. The latter two are owned 100% by the company, while Rowan is 40% owned by joint venture and funding partner Goldcorp.

Rowan is currently the focus of attention, where the company is operator and over 500 holes have been drilled to produce that NI 43-101 estimate.

The Rowan project consists of two main exploration targets. At the former mine, the goal is to significantly increase the resource to allow for a long mine life.

Then there’s blue-sky potential at another target, a structural intersection where two regional gold-bearing structures meet.

“That’s what happened to Goldcorp,” exclaims Kontak. “It found a zone and that took it from a junior to a multi-billion dollar company.”

It’s worth noting here that Goldcorp’s Red Lake mine produced a whopping 375,700 ounces of the precious metal in 2015 alone.

The geology of the Rowan mine is a fairly simple archean greenstone, Kontak explains, whereas the intersection target is more complicated, involving folding rocks.

However technological advancements in exploration nowadays means finding that “needle in the haystack” is increasingly plausible.

West Red Lake started drilling again at Rowan in January, having completed two programs last year, and plans to start a campaign every quarter while releasing assays from the preceding program.

The near-term aim is to expand the existing resource and in the future to upgrade into the higher-confidence “indicated” category.

The resource is open at depth and to the east and west, and there’s a 12km strike length so there is plenty of opportunity to work at increasing it, though there’s no specific time set for the release of the next estimate.

“This could be turned into an operating underground gold mine,” Kontak said of Rowan, pointing out there were many mills with spare capacity around in the area, along with good infrastructure and water.

The Red Lake region’s propensity to yield high-grade gold is also key to the story.

The 1.087 million ounces of inferred resource at 7.57 g/t was at a 3 g/t cut-off, and at a higher 5 g/t cut-off there were still 850,000 gold ounces inferred from just 2.5 million tonnes. The basic message is the higher the grade, the lower the costs.

Kontak explains: “You have to dig less rock out of the ground, you have to transport less rock to the mill and you have to crush less rock at the mill to get the gold.”

West Red Lake has a team in Toronto already trying to attract potential production companies who may be interested in buying the project in two to three years.

Financially, the company has around $1.5 million in the treasury, and is funded for its drill programs in the first and second quarters.

Management are significant shareholders, so they are obviously keen to see value enhanced.

With some attractive targets and apparent multi-million ounce potential, West Red Lake Gold Mines has it all to play for at a time of rising sentiment in the gold market.

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on Feb 14, 2017 and featured in The CSE Quarterly.

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Learn more about West Red Lake Gold Mines at http://www.westredlakegold.com/ and on the CSE website at http://thecse.com/en/listings/mining/west-red-lake-gold-mines-inc.

MOBI724 at the vanguard of payments and coupon revolution

We all know that shopping isn’t what it used to be since the arrival of smartphones and e-commerce.

What you might not be aware of is that the payments, promotions and coupon landscape is also undergoing a seismic shift due to emerging technology.

At the vanguard of this revolution is rapidly growing fintech (financial technology) company MOBI724 Global Solutions Inc. (CSE:MOS), which provides consumer services that weren’t available as recently as two years ago and is participating in an expanding global market that this year has an estimated worth of $10 billion.

Specialising in card payments

The company specialises in card payments and its core business, explained Chief Executive Officer Marcel Vienneau, is its card-linked platform, which when combined with digital marketing represents a new ecosystem allowing banks, merchants and customers to transact more efficiently with each other.

Card-linked technology is transformative for credit card points programs, and in addition enables card users to receive a tailored stream of offers and promotions on their smart devices.

To give a sense of scale, the company’s website says there will be just over 1 billion mobile coupon users by 2019, up from just under 560 million this year.

MOBI724 also offers digital payments solutions.

“This type of technology simply didn’t exist two years ago,” said Vienneau. “We are selling our solutions primarily to card issuers or banks in different countries,” he adds, pointing out that the company has customers in Canada, Asia Pacific and Latin America. In the Canadian market alone it has 400 customers.

“Most banks, anywhere in the world, have points programs where they issue points when you spend with their cards. Most of these cards enable customers to redeem points and get a reward,” he said.

Reinventing the technology

Perhaps the most significant aspect of MOBI724’s technology is that it has reinvented a clumsy, 20-year-old cost and payment structure, and thereby helps banks to make more money from card transactions.

Vienneau offers some examples of how the system worked in the past and how MOBI724’s better approach makes a difference.

A credit card customer has been awarded 25,000 points for using his or her card and can therefore buy a product with a $250 gift card. The card-issuing bank bears the cost of producing a rewards catalogue and the shipping costs of any product bought.

Now, say that a customer goes to an actual store and wants to buy a gift for $400 and include the $250 gift card value as partial payment. The current system is disjointed and the balance can be made up from cash, or another credit card, which might not be linked to the points system. Obviously, the customer doesn’t get the benefit of gaining more points.

MOBI724 simplifies the process by bringing all the strands together. It links the credit card, which issued the points, with the gift card. A customer can make a payment with an app and it both acknowledges that the gift card has been used and applies the balance owing to the credit card that earns points.

Similarly, when someone is in a store MOBI724 can send a coupon based on location or the customer’s profile, then the coupon can be used moments later at the cash register. The system can also send offers directly to a smartphone at any time, regardless of whether the shopper happens to be at a store or not.

In the preceding case of the $400 purchase, the bank charges a percentage of the transaction value when the points are redeemed, and so does MOBI724. The bank also wins by avoiding the necessity of having to pay for catalogues and product shipping.

“This is a new way to transfer a cost structure into a revenue-driven model, and it is seamless for the user and the bank,” said Vienneau.

It also taps into the way people engage with their banks and financial institutions nowadays – namely, instead of going into branches and using ATMs, people are putting “plastic into phones” and want more personalised interaction.

“Banks are losing their branding abilities but this gives them more channel opportunities,” Vienneau explained.

MOBI724 has invested considerably in its “business intelligence” capabilities, which allow it to map out people’s past purchases, social media interests and other distinguishing characteristics so that it can target them with specific coupons and offers.

“We are not just throwing everything at them,” said Vienneau.

The digital marketing aspect of MOBI724’s technology should also be of interest to advertisers, he points out, as it reveals consumer spending habits and other tendencies.

To that end, the company has struck strategic alliances with several agencies to help further grow the business.

Sales projected to reach $2.75mln for 2016

And growing it certainly is. Two years ago,annual revenue at MOBI724 was just over $100,000, and last year came in at $450,000. For 2016, sales are projected to reach $2.75 million.

Vienneau, a tech entrepreneur who became Chief Executive Officer when the group listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange in February 2015, expects to double revenue in 2017, along with crossing the line into positive EBITDA territory around mid-year.

In the next 36 months, the aim is to have $50 million in annual revenue and an expanding sales pipeline.

Vienneau designed the card-linked technology himself, planning the concept on a single sheet of paper four years ago.

The digital coupon market is projected to be worth $50 billion in the next three years and he reckons MOBI724 is well positioned to win a meaningful piece of this.

The group already has a respected backer in the form of institutional investor Fidelity, which has been involved in four rounds of funding, the latest for a $1.5 million convertible debenture.

MOBI724 announced plans to raise $5 million in July, around half of which has already been obtained. The money will be used to drive growth, as the research and development phase is over and the various technology solutions are fully functional.

Significantly, MOBI724 owns all the intellectual property supporting its platform and has a patent pending.

Vienneau reckons that at a market cap of approximately $5 million, or around twice projected 2016 revenue, the share price offers good value to new investors. “The challenge for us is to go out there and tell our story,” he said. “In time, this should lead to the market understanding our huge potential.”

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on Nov 24, 2016 and featured in The CSE Quarterly.

Learn more about Mobi724 Global Solutions Inc. at http://www.mobi724.com/ and on the CSE website at http://thecse.com/en/listings/technology/mobi724-global-solutions-inc.