All posts by Katie Lewis

Developing sustainable projects for the next generation of mining exploration

Participants:

Anne Turner, Executive Director, Yukon Mining Alliance

James Rogers, President and Director, Global UAV Technologies; President and Director, Longford Exploration Services

Angela Johnson, Corporate Social Responsibility, SSR Mining

Shauntese Constantinoff, Senior External Project Relations Advisor, New Gold

To the outside eye, mining is often seen as an ossified industry, with visions of backhoes digging and drills turning.

But that’s not the whole picture. And the picture is evolving quickly thanks to millennials.

There are a host of millennials behind the scenes influencing change: enabling the industry to be more efficient and sustainable, alongside working with local Indigenous communities.

Public Entrepreneur spoke to four millennials who are part of the wave of change.

To register for an exclusive CSE Talks session at PDAC 2019 featuring the new faces of mining, click here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/cse-talks-new-faces-of-mining-tickets-57041685216

How is new technology changing modes of work in both exploration and development?

JR: What we’re seeing is a trend towards safer, more efficient data collection. In particular, new technologies are being fostered by large corporations that have health and safety protocols that are far more robust than, say, a junior miner.  I think that’s driving a lot of the technology and where it’s going. That’s not just about reducing cost but also reducing working hours in the field, such as data collection in inclement environments. Risk management is definitely one of the biggest drivers.

AJ: I think one of the biggest things I’ve seen in exploration is increased efficiency. So, even on our drills, the drill foreman has his iPad, and data that used to be captured on pen and paper in the field is now all streamlined and bluetoothed in real time.

AT: Low-impact technology, like droning, is critical, especially for early stage. If you’re in these areas and you’re not really sure what’s happening, it’s great to use low-impact tech and get that initial assessment. At the more advanced stage, you’re starting to see things like directional gyro-drilling, where you are able to send the gyroscope down the drill and get instant readings. This kind of tech is useful but costly. The tech is there. But it’s not always in the budget.

For people considering getting into the mining industry, what career opportunities are there? What are the best growth sectors from an employment perspective?

AJ: If I was to give anyone advice, I would say data analytics. I think that’s becoming huge in the mining industry as far as re-targeting, or looking at data for exploration projects, compiling data, or looking at data in a new way. That’s a new and exciting field.

JR: I agree that data analytics and data management are huge. Lessening impact is also important.  When you consider coming into the industry, think about how you’re going to reduce the impact of your work. The use of drones is just one example.

AT: I think our industry needs to do a better job of communicating the benefits of working in the industry in our day-to-day lives and in our communities. We’re not communicating all the benefits of this new tech and safety. There’s a lot of room for people in social media, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and relationship-building. Anyone that can build a strong relationship will be able to have a strong hold in this industry.

SC: The opportunities in this industry are many, enabling people to provide for their families and support their communities in a substantial way. Communicating these opportunities and benefits is key.

Further to that, resource exploration and development must take into account local communities, such as First Nations, and any impact it may have. How do we do a better job of communicating the benefits from an employment perspective?

SC: I would say get out into the communities, hold information sessions, etc. so that people not only understand the impacts, but the many benefits as well.

As an example, we helped facilitate an Indigenous-led Training and Employment Strategy with several of the local First Nation communities near the project I work on to get everyone better prepared for future opportunities and start to identify and address any barriers to employment.

AT: I think what you’re doing from a company perspective is incredible. We’re working on an initiative that will launch this spring, to go into communities to host a mining day. We’re also working to get mining-related curriculum into schools as well. Connecting with that age group of 5-18 is really important.

We’re also trying to work really closely with politicians and influencers. When you talk about it to media, about green technology and clean jobs, there’s this sentiment that mining doesn’t have that. The fact is you’re not getting clean tech without mining, as you need these minerals to come from safe, regulated parts of the world to truly have clean industries and products – like electric cars. Lastly, one of the things we forget to communicate is if you want to stay and work in or near your community, mining is going to be an option for high-paying, rewarding, growth careers.

SC: Having a local workforce, at the end of the day, in their own territories, can benefit an entire community. It is crucial to start learning about the communities and what is important to them at an early stage. It’s a good idea to find out where people’s skill levels are, having transferable skills is important too in a finite industry, and the potential to work with and train in local Indigenous communities could be one of the biggest assets for a project.

So where’s the gap?

JR: I feel like the biggest gap is the juniors, because they are jumping on and off of projects and there’s a short period of engagement. Or they go test the water with a 1000-meter drill program and expect to come back the next year with a fully funded drill program but it doesn’t happen.

How can we mitigate that? Sometimes these projects just aren’t feasible. Even if a junior is responsible and tries to engage the community, there is just a general fickle nature of the finance community around resources and the ability to advance a project.

AJ: On that point, that’s the challenge that we face as explorers, is that social chain of custody. We’re all told, engage early, engage often, continue engagement even when you’re not exploring. But it boils down to funds. This is a real challenge and it’s a real debate and topic we have to tackle in the industry.

I do think it’s getting more noticed. We’re talking about it far more.

What haven’t we talked about?

AJ: One thing I find interesting is governance, in terms of what investors are asking us to disclose. That’s a huge part of something that is changing, right as we speak. ESG, or governance scores, are becoming increasingly important for investors. Investors are now calling companies, asking about disclosures: from climate change to human rights policies. They’re asking for that. I had no idea a few years ago that this would become so important and is an evolving piece of the industry.

AT: One of the initiatives we just launched is Virtual Yukon, which is a virtual reality tour of the Yukon. We’re using it both as a CSR and engagement education tool as well as an investor tool. We’re going to be taking drones over most of the major communities and you’ll be able to visit different places. You can see some of the individual mining projects and companies can use it. We will also use it in the communities. Overall, using digital tools will be a huge asset to companies, investors and communities.

The new faces of mining: engaging the millennial investor in mining opportunities

Participants:

Andrew Nelson, CPA, Mining Investment Analyst, Dundee Goodman Merchant Partners

Jamie Keech, Founder & CEO, Ivaldi Venture Capital

Sean Kingsley, Vice President, Corporate Development, Cabral Gold

They’re young. They’re powerful. And that wave of power is growing – quickly.

Meet the millennial investor. Now, the catch: getting them interested in investing in the mining and metals industry. It’s a relatively untapped investor demographic, on the back of a tough half-decade in the space.

But the potential for opportunity is growing, and this group of investors is demanding more of the industry: from more connectivity to increased transparency (and beyond).

Public Entrepreneur spoke to three up-and-coming millennials who are helping push the space forward.

To register for an exclusive CSE Talks session at PDAC 2019 featuring the new faces of mining, click here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/cse-talks-new-faces-of-mining-tickets-57041685216

Tell me a bit about your background. How did you get involved in the mining industry?

AN: I began my professional career as a financial auditor while simultaneously completing the Chartered Professional Accountant designation. Later, I transitioned to investment banking, joining Dundee Securities, which recently became Dundee Goodman Merchant Partners, a mining-focused merchant bank. The clientele and deals I’ve been involved with have always exclusively been mining.

JK: I’m a mining engineer. I’ve worked in a variety of places: Albania, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Baffin Island and have had a lot of different jobs on the technical side. In Vancouver, I worked primarily with a small management team that built a company that is called Equinox Gold. I left about a year ago to start my own venture: it’s called Ivaldi Venture Capital. We also run an investment research service called Resource Insider. We’re focused on deploying capital into mining and metals projects. We’ve done several deals over the last year, ranging between $1 million to $3 million.

SK: My family has lived in Vancouver for over 125 years – we are one of the oldest Chinese families here so being a part of a legacy has always driven my interests into building something long-lasting. There’s nothing more constant than the need for minerals in the world. I’ve been hooked in the industry for over 12 years and plan to be for as long as I live. I currently do corporate communications and development for two Brazilian-focused junior companies.

We’ve moved from a landscape dominated by resource exploration/development companies to one that now includes a major cannabis presence and increasing prominence of tech stories.  How do you look at this new environment and what appear to be the challenges?

JK: When it comes to mining, younger investors haven’t really had the chance to come into the space. I’m a millennial and during the last bull market, I was 24. I didn’t have any money to spend and most 24-year-olds are in that same situation. There hasn’t been much interest in mining since that time because there hasn’t been much opportunity to be interested. That money has gone to the cannabis space, the crypto space: these are industries that millennials are able to relate to very easily because people smoke cannabis and people grew up on the Internet.

AN: What’s going to get millennials interested in mining is a broad commodity bull market in the resource space. Most millennials aren’t familiar with the wealth creation the resource space can offer and have recently been attracted to high flying sectors such as cannabis, cryptocurrency, and blockchain, until the financial hangover set in.

A recent resource example were the parabolic moves in lithium and cobalt which was due to the electric vehicle trend. This was very engaging for millennials who can understand Tesla and lithium-ion batteries in their cellphones. Many of my friends who are not resource professionals would be talking about these commodities as a reaction to the rising share prices and they wanted a piece of the action.

SK: Alternative companies and sectors outside of mining have done well to get their stories and opportunities out to a new wave of investors, millennials. Ten years ago, you wouldn’t see my generation investing in stocks yet now they all have brokerage accounts.

It’s now up to us as an industry to capture their attention through avenues that they could relate to and not just the stories of how the industry titans like mining billionaires Robert Friedland and Ross Beatty got their investors and themselves very rich. We need to teach millennials that mining is the most constant sector and has tremendous upside and applications through avenues such as video, virtual reality, social campaigns, and telling stories that would resonate and engage their curiosity and understanding of the resource sector. It is time for our industry to innovate, rejuvenate and disrupt how it once was.

Gold and silver have long been a primary focus for investors in the mining space but new market segments, such as battery metals, have the potential to attract a different type of investor. What do you think about this?

JK: I think it’s happened. The energy metals sector, be it lithium, cobalt, vanadium, has done a very admirable job of piggybacking on the tech industry. Elon Musk has inadvertently become one of the most successful mining promoters in history. There’s been a demand and companies have done an impressive job of tying their product into something people care about, as compared to mining.

SK: There is money to be made in these new segments. I’ll take us back to 2006-2008 when the craze in the sector was rare earth metals. Unfortunately, China came in and flooded the market with supply and that quickly stopped the demand, but the run-up saw investors making money. Come 2011, it was all about graphite and graphene. Again, the market got flooded but investors made money. Here we are, now comes energy metals: cobalt, lithium, vanadium. Yes, these battery metals are desperately needed as we revolutionize the way we live and do things and investors will make money, but these run-ups are not constant like precious metals gold and silver.

AN: From a market observation, most battery metals such as lithium and cobalt are very small markets, each approximately sub-US$10 billion relative to gold and copper, which are around US$100 billion-plus. It doesn’t take much capital to move these smaller markets and those are trades that you need to get in and get out of within a 12 to 24 month timeframe. A lot of those companies are speculation, rather than investments. The point is, if you want to speculate in these small markets, make sure you have impeccable timing.

What is the entry point to getting a millennial investor to begin researching a mining stock? How do you get them interested in the first place and what feedback have you had from this generation of investors?

JK: I think about this a lot. In other industries there are influencers. It’s not a coincidence that Kylie Jenner’s makeup company is a billion-dollar company. It has nothing to do with the quality of the product, it has to do with her persona. There are not a lot of young influencers within the mining industry. There are a few people my age (30s) and there are a lot of people in their 60s.

There’s a gap and I think we need more public-facing influencers – letter writers, CEOs, leaders in the industry of any type that can generate interest – and that will bring them into the industry. That said, influencers have to get the timing right. If there’s not money to be made, no one is going to care.

When I think about mining, there’s an adventure aspect to it: there’s travel to exotic locations and we know millennials are the best-travelled generation yet. This is an aspect that can engage people and enable them to see the potential in the space. That’s what’s going to bring investors in. It’s a multi-step process. You need an interesting story, you need the potential to make money, and you need public facing personas that people trust.

SK: For me, it’s got to be about the tremendous upside in value creation and I often point to the discovery phase of the Lassonde Curve chart which outlines the life of mining companies beginning at exploration and ending in production, showing value that the market attributes to each stage.

Once millennials really start to understand that everything in the world is only possible with the minerals that we discover and mine and of what opportunities that creates for our generation will they realize the endless possibilities and upside potential of the sector.

AN: There’s a massive opportunity here to shift the way millennials look at investing in mining. Millennials are now the largest generation in Canada, but are the least invested in stocks, but are the most likely to participate in an online financing. Recently, I received a shell opportunity in my inbox.  I passed but another millennial I know subscribed. To partake only required 5 minutes and was a very simple process. The company raised 324% over their targeted funding and brought in 201 investors in a matter of six days. This is one of the major platforms I believe will be used to complete resource financings with millennial investors.

Gabriella’s Kitchen: Healthy foods and cannabis-infused products take wellness to a whole new level

When you first meet Margot Micallef, chief executive officer and co-founder of Gabriella’s Kitchen (CSE:GABY), her authenticity shines through: her firm handshake, her warm smile and her clear words.

It shines through particularly strongly when she talks about her sister: Gabriella, the namesake of Gabriella’s Kitchen. Although Gabriella passed away after a battle with cancer, she remains the company’s inspiration.

The pure-play cannabis wellness company has come a long way since creating its original award-winning skinnypasta, a high-protein, low-calorie and low-carbohydrate fresh pasta. Other product lines have been added to the shelf: noodi, gabbypasta and most recently alto, which includes the company’s cannabis-infused products. Today, the vertically integrated, branded, consumer products company focuses on utilizing cannabis for the lifestyle consumer.

Not to mention the benefit of having Micallef at the helm. Her resume is impressive, to say the least: a lawyer and philanthropist, founder of Oliver Capital Partners and a former Senior VP at Shaw Communications.

Public Entrepreneur spoke to Micallef about Gabriella’s Kitchen’s origins, its new line of cannabis products and global expansion plans, and how the company is seeking to change the conversation around cannabis health and wellness products.

Q. Can you give us some background about how Gabriella’s Kitchen started?
My sister, Gabriella, and I decided to move to a healthier lifestyle and identified a derth of products in the market, primarily around food, that supported a healthy lifestyle. We saw the business opportunity. As we were launching our business, my sister was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.

The diagnosis really brought home the need to change our lifestyle and focus on our health and well-being that was within our control. Her doctors couldn’t do anything for her and they told her that. The pasta line was inspired by the dietary restrictions Gabriella faced throughout her cancer journey.

The beauty of what we did was that we were able to prolong her life for five years.  She had great quality of life and really learned to value the foundation of health and wellness through diet and lifestyle.

Q. I don’t think many people realize the effort it takes to get a product on the shelf.  Can you walk us through it?
It’s tough. In order to get your product on the shelf you have to dislodge somebody else’s product.  That’s something most people don’t understand. We knew going in we were going to make amazing products, that there was a demand for these products and we were going to get them to market.  But it’s a lot more work and a lot more money and takes a lot longer than anybody thinks it’s going to.

We started it in a little retail location in Toronto — we moved to Toronto from Calgary because that was the biggest market in Canada.  We’d make the product in the back and sell it out the front. At 3:00 pm each day, Gabriella would close up and go pound the pavement — and slowly and surely, we got more retailers.  We got up to around 200 when she passed away in 2011. I ended up taking over the business in 2015. I’ve invested about $5 million and raised another $19 million to date.

Q. What have you used the funds for and walk us through how you leverage the infrastructure you have in place?
We’ve used that money primarily for product development and to build out our team and infrastructure.

That’s our differentiator.  With our strong infrastructure, we can move into any channel we want to, including the licensed cannabis channel.  We came upon the cannabis space about a year ago when we examined the healthful properties of cannabis.

In many ways, our approach was opposite that of many other companies, which have an idea, raise the money and then build the infrastructure.  We already have the infrastructure and the team with the knowhow to get the product on our shelf. Our existing business line has more than 30 unique products that cater to health-conscious consumers, whether they shop in the mainstream shopping channels or in the licensed cannabis retail channels.

Leveraging our existing infrastructure means we can move product into a channel much more rapidly than anyone else can.

Q: Talk about the cannabis space and what kind of consumers you’re looking for.
Our goal is to serve consumers wherever, however, and whenever they want to consume cannabis wellness products – and that means in the mainstream channel or in the licensed cannabis retail channel.

We’re looking at a diverse range of products as vehicles to assist them in their chosen modality for consumption.  We already know that the mainstream market is going to start carrying CBD-infused products in a big way. I believe that once federal legislation in the US changes, there will start to be a move afoot to get all cannabis infused products into mainstream channels.  We will be ready for that opportunity.

Consumers are changing their perspective on health and are looking for new ways to supplement or replace traditional medicine.

Q. Can you talk about how your team continues to be built out?
We’ve got a whole research and development department.  One to note is Mara Gordon, who is a pioneer in the cannabis space and our chief research officer. She has amassed a database of formulations and health attributes associated with the cannabis plant that she has garnered from her own experience in working with physicians, clinicians, researchers and patients over the last 10 years.

We also continue to build out our expertise in the cannabis channel, having just hired a VP sales-licensed channel and acquired Sonoma Pacific, a licensed cannabis distribution company in California.

We also have a business development team that is scouring North America for brands that we want to bring under our umbrella. We want to grow through acquisition as well as through innovation.

Q. What does your next year or two look like?
We want to be the category leader in the cannabis wellness space. Not “one of” the leaders, rather, “the” leader. We know that the category leader takes 70% of the economics off the table. We want to be the one that everybody else wants to chase.

We want to do that for two reasons. One is that we believe that when the federal landscape changes in the US and the big players move into the market, we think that they will look for acquisitions that will move the dial for them.

We believe that if we can build a significant platform in North America that we can then partner with a global player and benefit consumers in a much broader way and, of course, benefit our investors.

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on December 4, 2018 and featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Gabriella’s Kitchen at https://gabriellas-kitchen.com/ and on the CSE website at https://thecse.com/en/listings/diversified-industries/gabriellas-kitchen-inc.

Gianni Kovacevic: One-on-one with the realistic environmentalist

Sharp. Focused. Radical. Three words that describe Gianni Kovacevic.

He’s also passionate about the energy industry in a way that is unparalleled. In 2016, he published My Electrician Drives a Porsche and drove across the U.S. to promote it on the world’s first zero-emission book tour.

Public Entrepreneur recently sat down with him to chat about the energy industry and his latest venture, CopperBank Resources Corp. (CSE:CBK), a company that is engaged in the acquisition and development of mineral properties.

Who is Gianni Kovacevic and what drives you to be so passionate about the energy industry?

I’m an investor. Within that, I’m a curious investor, and I want to look at investing in the future and all that it entails. I’ve been captivated by the energy space. Effectively, I look at it like technology now. It’s moving forward at a faster pace than most people will appreciate and recognize.

I’m Croatian. My brother and I have been fascinated by the scientist Nikola Tesla, a Serbian born in Croatia, who invented the modern way in which we create and transfer electricity. That spawned our studies – we both went to BCIT and took electrical studies and I’ve followed it like a Harlequin Romance ever since.

What it taught us was that fairytales at the time are now becoming commercially viable when it comes to the electrification of transportation, solar power, wind power and the integration of that. It will be led by the consumer, in my opinion.

What is the future of batteries, and related to that, and how does that shape the future for companies in the battery metals sub-sector?

When it comes to understanding energy, there are three silos: 1. The generation, or creation, of energy, so the creation of electrical energy. 2. The movement of energy. There are three ways to move energy from point A to point B, you can do it with a pipeline, with a ship or a railroad or you can do it with electrical cables. 3. The utilization of energy and that’s where we can look at batteries.

The lithium-ion battery has gotten a lot of press. It’s good for devices, tools, transportation. When you get to the larger, commercial-scale batteries, you’re talking about vanadium-redox or iron-salt batteries. They’re huge – the size of a building – with very simple and abundant ingredients.

So what’s the glue of every system I just went through? Copper. Electricity demands copper.

You are executive chairman of CopperBank.  Tell us about that company and what excites you about its future.

CopperBank is a unique company. It’s a company built by investors, for investors. We appreciate that the future of energy will be copper. We look at investing in junior mining as the highest of high-risk industries.

Our strategy is to acquire projects that have had a significant amount of capital already invested. When the copper price is low, they are un-economic, when the copper price rises, there’s optionality. Our portfolio has growth, optionality and development potential. We can enhance the value – even in a lower-priced copper environment – to offer investors not just the optionality play, but also accretive growth.

We specifically like copper because as a commodity, it will have strong CAGR demand growth. Unlike the oil and gas industry, copper mining has a window where in the next three to four years we have no major copper mines coming online. That’s big news.

You label yourself a realistic environmentalist. What does that mean?

It’s recognizing that about two billion people in the world don’t live like we do. Eventually, they will have access to running water and electricity. There’s nothing that can prevent that. It’s how we do it in the most proactive way possible. All of these things will be led by the consumer. As much as you want to adjust or pivot the behaviour of people, you can’t do this.

What impact will technology have on emerging markets, and particularly on commodities in emerging markets?

You have to look at the per capita usage of commodities. We currently have 7.5 billion people in the world and we’re probably going to climb to about 9 billion. As these developing nations become more developed, the trend is (and we’ve seen this many times) that birth rates fall. So eventually we will go into decline, but that’s an issue for 2050 and beyond. When you look at the per capita consumption of commodities in the next 10, 20, 30 years that’s where I think – as an investor – there are going to be winners and there are going to be losers.

As we pivot to a low-carbon society, things like thermal coal and crude oil will no longer be growth businesses. We’ll see other commodities become the blue ribbon champions – things like copper because it will continue to grow. We will pivot. That amplitude will increase.

What commodity investment opportunities can you not ignore today?

What Tesla has done with its supercharger network. Effectively, they have disrupted the entire incumbent energy system. You can now drive an electric car anywhere in the developed world, due to their super charger network, and it only took Tesla about three years to achieve that.  Think of the gravity of what they have developed in a very short time.  Royal Dutch Shell by comparison, is a $300 billion company that sells 6 million barrels of oil every day through their 44,000 forecourts. Shell is an energy distribution business and good part of their market cap is attributed to selling transportation fuels. That is no longer a growth business.

What have I missed? What else should we have talked about?

The consumer. The consumer will eventually guide the way. The gentrification, urbanization and behaviour of the millennial generation is profoundly different than the generations before. Where is the largest millennial population in the world? It’s in China. There are 415 million millennials and over 100 million have graduated from university. Those educated, urban Chinese want no part of factory jobs anymore. The European/American millennial is saying they don’t want to live in the suburbs of cities anymore. They are more than happy to live in the gentrified area of Kansas City in a condo, and they don’t have a car nor do they want one — they don’t even have a drivers licence, so they are never going to be the customer of Big Auto or Big Oil.

So if one aggregates any 100 of these people. Many don’t have a drivers licence, and if they do it’s for something like a car sharing service like Car2Go. They don’t want ownership, they want access. Or, they will use a service like Uber. So how does this reverberate into what we’re talking about? If we aggregate 30 or 40 of these young people, they require one car, car-sharing, or an uber driver.

When you look at the consumer, guess what? They all used to buy a car. No longer. These types of consumers, that count in the hundreds of millions, are never going to be the future customer of VW, GM or Toyota. If the Big 3 automakers each sell around 10 million cars a year, I will suggest to you that in the future, their car sales will stop climbing. And I believe car sales in general will actually start to fall. Additionally, a good portion of those cars become more fuel efficient and for professional drivers increasingly so they will buy electric. It’s all about cost, not price – the total cost of ownership, not to mention the governmental pressures that are forcing industry to provide zero emission transportation.

We’ll see technology companies getting in the game: Tesla, Apple, Dyson, you name it. There’s a cool factor, green factor, price factor. It’s going to disrupt the whole business model. It’s all been turned on its head. And then you look at one other thing.

I also think it’s always important to think about the Ernest Hemingway quote when you think about car companies: “How’d you go bankrupt? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on September 8, 2018 and featured in The Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Copperbank Resources Corp. at http://copperbankcorp.com and on the CSE website at https://thecse.com/en/listings/mining/copperbank-resources-corp.

Revisiting the Blockchain Revolution: Three tech leaders take stock of the industry’s rapidly shifting landscape

The blockchain revolution: we speak to three industry leaders about how the landscape is shifting

Blockchain is an ingenious invention. That much is clear. It’s distributed. Permissioned. Immutable. It has the potential to be one of the most disruptive forces in business in decades.

Momentum is strong and changes are moving at a rapid pace. But how can blockchain actually be used in the future? Who is moving the space forward? Will the promise of it all be delivered?

Public Entrepreneur spoke to three executives who are leaders in pushing the space forward.

Interviewees:

Kate Hiscox, Founder, Venzee Technologies Inc.

Dean Sutton, Chief Executive Officer, Northstar Venture Technologies

Shone Anstey, Executive Chairman, BIG Blockchain Intelligence Group (CSE:BIGG)

Tell me a bit about your background. How did you get involved in this sector?

SA: I am Executive Chairman of Blockchain Intelligence Group having gotten my start with mining cryptocurrency in 2012. Since that time, we’ve done a number of things in the bitcoin space: industrial bitcoin mining (for clients), and built out cryptocurrency technologies and bitcoin mining pool software. At the tail end of 2014, we started work on leveraging our knowledge of search/analytics as it applies to bitcoin. In 2015, we formulated our company, which focuses on cryptocurrency-agnostic search and analytics solutions.

DS: I’ve been involved in the space since 2014, starting with working with friends doing mining out of a garage, and looking at models like a crypto-funded blockchain accelerator, and enabling rent payments with cryptocurrencies. It was quite early and we realized that the market was not quite there yet. I got heavily involved in working with data systems and integration, focusing on enterprise applications in things like health care. In 2017, BlockTech Ventures, now Northstar, was formally established to focus on the development, integration and commercialization of the core technology into existing markets.

KS: I’m a self-taught software engineer. I started coding many years ago and I’ve always had a fascination with technology. As bitcoin started to come into play in 2011/2012, that’s where it became very interesting. Probably about five years ago is when I understood the impact of what blockchain was really going to look like. For Venzee, we started looking at this in 2016.  We focused more on what was the threat or the opportunity to our business and we realized quickly that our software was positioned perfectly.

What is blockchain and why is it important to the future? Explain it to me like I’m your grandmother.

KH: At Venzee, we see blockchain as networks that are just a different type of database in our world. For me, blockchain isn’t actually new, it’s based on an architecture that’s been around for many, many years. It’s great to see it now being applied in a way that’s safer for accountability and transparency.

SA: We’re really focused on cryptocurrencies, in our case bitcoin, which we call the public blockchain. So, we don’t say: what is blockchain? We say: what is bitcoin? It’s a new trust layer of the Internet itself which you can think of as layer 8 to the 7-layer OSI stack. This is the missing component to the Internet that has not been available since its inception 30 years ago. Bitcoin is blockchain, blockchain is bitcoin. The two are connected in ways you cannot separate.

DS: It’s a core foundational technology, like the Internet, that holds all data in an open ledger that cannot be altered and allows for frictionless peer-to-peer transactions of value, replacing the costs and intermediaries that are commonplace in business and finance.
It’s important because of what it can enable, but it takes time for technology to be understood and then adopted. In the future, without knowing it, you and the businesses and platforms you use on a daily basis will be functioning with this technology in one form or another.

How is the market for blockchain solutions doing?  IBM has a big unit and there are lots of smaller companies with various solutions.

DS: The market for blockchain solutions is immense and global and is the key area of focus for Northstar. The reason is, industry knows the technology holds immense value. The challenge is in identifying the opportunities, then being able to build, test and integrate the new technology into existing systems. Commonly, companies are engaging with Ethereum, IBM’s blockchain protocol, or Hyperledger (Linux Foundation). If you look at who is engaging with the technology in a meaningful way, from the Fortune 500 level it’s easier to create a short list of the companies not engaging with it than to describe who is. This is increasing at an incredible pace.

SA: It’s still early. IBM is one company leading the charge. I don’t think we’ve quite seen who has the mantel yet, but I do believe the open-source movement will lead it.

In your view, what will the market respond to in the next year?

SA: I think you’ll see more majors moving into the pure cryptocurrency market.  Companies like ours will help them get through the anti-money-laundering compliance issues. When you look at the amount of money these cryptocurrency exchanges are making, it’s a given. Companies have to play in this field or they will lose their edge. That fact is clear.

KH: At Venzee, we work with a range of clients, from huge retailers (Walmart, New Balance) on down. We’re having a lot of conversations about how blockchain is definitely of interest on an enterprise level. The industry is really starting to think about it — not necessarily implementing it — but they are finding that they are going to have a strategy or a use for this within the next three to five years.

DS: In the next year, we will see continued adoption, understanding, and the market generally understand more about the technology and what it means for industry. Less hype and initial euphoria, and more examples and use cases we can refer to. The technology itself will continue to advance, as it needs to, and we’ll see things like regulation that will come in and really bolster new innovation and capital markets participation in a whole new way.

The industry went through a profile and funding frenzy in the latter part of 2017 but has since gone relatively quiet.  What takes us out of the quiet period?

DS: Further to what I just mentioned; reality, regulation, understanding and a simple precedent for what the technology is doing in the real world. All new technology has this initial “innovation trigger” followed by speculation, and a pullback. That’s where we are, and what was needed. Now we’re in a very exciting time where the tree has been shaken, and the market is in a place to allow for sustainable and pragmatic growth based on more factors than speculation.

SA: Technology is taking a bit of time, which makes sense, particularly when you’re dealing with cutting-edge technology. There’s only value in solving difficult issues. If you’re looking to do something that’s never been done before it will take you three times as long and three times the cost. People don’t understand the mechanics of how everything is being built. From a fundamental standpoint, a lot will change and certainly, from a market standpoint, more money is going to come in, but regardless, the technology and the network is growing and people will continue to latch onto it.

I know I’ve missed something. What have I missed? What are you excited about?

KH: In terms of Canada, I think it’s great to see the CSE moving up and paying attention to blockchain. Canada has the potential to really be a leader in the space.  I was talking to someone recently that out of the 15 known cryptocurrency billionaires in the world, five of them are Canadian.  That’s incredible. A lot of that innovation is coming out of Canada and we’ve got an opportunity here as a country to grab onto this industry and move it forward.

DS: We’re excited for a number of things. We’re excited to see this technology continue to evolve and advance, making its way into the businesses and platforms we all use. We’re excited to see baseless ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings) disappear into memory. For regulation, which will open up this new asset class, namely securities tokens (real equity, real assets) to the capital markets in a way never before done. To continue building real solutions for industry, helping advance the sector at large.

SA: Investors want to be able to draw the line between “what’s this technology” to actual real-world use cases. The CSE has been doing a ton of work on this and I think investors are going to be able to wrap their heads around this soon. That’s starting to come. The foundations are being laid. So, what will the next era bring? It creates an incredible opportunity for investors and for entrepreneurs as the new era marches forward.

This story was featured in The Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Women in weed: meet four women helping to shape Canada’s cannabis industry

It’s a common story thread: women entrepreneurs blazing the way for cannabis, taking over the sector and inserting themselves into a market that is booming, complicated and fast-evolving.

Stop. Back it up. Wait a moment. This is not one of those stories.

It’s an easy – perhaps a bit lazy – trend to latch onto, one that weaves itself through the cannabis daily news cycle. “Women in weed: charting change for male-dominated cannabis culture,” blared a CBC headline earlier this year.

This is not to say that women aren’t powerhouses in the world of cannabis. They are: just like they are in each and every other sector, when put in positions of power to do so.

In order to survive in this sector, you have to have strong chops, a killer resolve and the tenacity to do whatever it takes. It’s that entrepreneurial spirit that is key. Being a woman just happens to be one part of the equation.

Proactive Investors spoke to four women who touch different corners of the cannabis industry. From financiers to investment bankers, from equipment manufacturing to recreational advocates, we chatted about their past, predictions and what might roll out ahead.

Interviewees:

Meris Kott – CEO at Redfund Capital Corp. 

Redfund Capital (RFND:future symbol) is a cannabis merchant bank that provides an alternative source of capital through a debt facility to bridge finance and helps revenue producing cannabis related companies build their valuation, and grow their company without diluting their equity prematurely, while helping move them toward being publicly listed.

Yasmin Gordon – Senior Investment Advisor at Canaccord Genuity

Yasmin Gordon is co-founder of the Gordon Group, as part of Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management, and advises private clients, corporate entities and institutional investors.

Rosy Mondin – CEO at Quadron Cannatech Corporation (CSE:QCC)

Quadron Cannatech (QCC) is a market and technology leader in end-to-end automated processing and extraction laboratory solutions for the international cannabis industry. QCC also provides a range of innovative value added services including custom ancillary products and cannabis accessories.

Ria Kitsch – VP Human Resources at Hiku Brands Company Ltd. (CSE:HIKU)

Hiku is a cannabis house brand. Hiku’s subsidiaries include Tokyo Smoke, DOJA, Van der Pop and Maïtri.

Q: Tell me about how you got into this industry. What led you here?

MK: I come from an investment banking family, which funded emerging market growth companies. About 12 years ago, we started looking at the cannabis industry, and we didn’t touch it, figured it wasn’t ever going to happen. We got into the industry in 2012, after Amendment 64 passed in Colorado. We’re now launching the first debt facility merchant bank, Redfund Capital Corp., focused on funding cannabis related revenue producing companies.

YG: I am a Senior Investment Advisor with Canaccord Financial, specializing in non-traditional wealth management strategies with a niche in providing financing opportunities. I came into the cannabis sector, quite honestly, out of necessity – I could see there was a shift occurring as we got more clarity with regard to full out legalization in Canada. I saw the opportunity and decided to add exposure in a more significant way. It’s been an exciting ride.

RM: As CEO of Quadron Cannatech, and a leading advocate for the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada, I’m thrilled to be at the forefront of this emerging industry. I’m the director for the Cannabis Trade Alliance of Canada (CTAC) and I also serve as a Special Advisor to the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries (CAMCD). In my role with CTAC, I work with industry leaders, government legislators and educators to develop an inclusive, safe, and ethical cannabis industry.

RK: I’m the vice president of HR at Hiku. Back in 2013, we saw an opportunity in getting into commercial cultivation, so we put in our application. We received our license to sell just this year. It’s been a long road but here we are. We merged with Tokyo Smoke in January. We then just recently merged with WeedMD in a pretty transformational transaction: combining a premium cannabis brand house and retail-focused operator.

Q: For some women, this might not be a sector that immediately comes to mind as a place to be. What advice would you give others who may not have considered this sector as a career path?

MK: Jump in! Because right now we’re creating a whole new industry. That said, it has changed and it’s become harder to break into the industry as a woman because it’s becoming more mainstream. Women are generally the chief medical officer in their family and looking at cannabis products more closely. I also think because it’s such a new industry people don’t consider it as a career path and it is still a risky avenue for work to some women.

RM: We are building a new industry – we currently have just over 100 Licensed Producers across Canada. If you think about most industries, 104 commercial licensees nationally in the sector is not a true industry. We are slowly seeing more ancillary businesses coming into the fold: legal, accounting, marketing, government relations, business development, branding, packaging – and banking (slowly). In addition, the cannabis industry has been operating in an under-regulated space (as there was no other option). Now there’s a lot of opportunity during this transition into the regulated market. There’s just so many areas that you can jump into as we build a whole industry so it’s really up to your own imagination as to which way you want to go and how to get your feet wet.

Q: What trends do you expect to see when recreational comes online later this year?

RM: I think the biggest shift will be the consumption of cannabis moving away from smoking traditional flower to products that are extract-based. Extracts form the basis for the majority of cannabis products outside of smoking: vapor-oils, capsules, tinctures, sublinguals, transdermal patches, edibles, topicals, suppositories, infused beverages. I have no doubt that we’ll see different consumption methods and further product innovation. I think the sky’s the limit.

MK: I’m going to wear my American hat here. I think we’re going to see a huge influx of American companies that have already been working with Canadian companies on many of their products, move more into the market. I think the Americans are going to flood our market with new brands, technologies and licensing agreements, as well as other countries who have approved recreational cannabis already. It can only help create a successful global marketplace.

YG: I see a shifting consciousness as to what legalization means for cannabis as many people will be forced to redefine what they know about the potential benefits of cannabis as a therapy option.  You know I find it very interesting with my clients. There’s a divide in my book of clients: there are those that are for investment and those that still believe it’s a gateway drug. I believe perceptions will swing more positively as the public receives further education about the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

RK: It’s interesting when we talk about recreational. It’s a national movement that’s going to have so many ripples of effect. I’ve always believed that vaping and very clean, efficient methods are going to be preferred. However, we also believe that there’s a segment of the market, maybe 10% or so, that wants a curated strain and they want it in its entirety. It’s similar to going to a winery. You want to talk to a winemaker about how it’s grown, what it looks like, feels, tastes, etc.

Q: We’re seeing a lot more mergers and consolidations in the space. How do you differentiate yourself in a crowded market?

MK: In Canada, the companies are much smaller than other global players, although they are financed with plenty of capital. That said, you will see more consolidation between U.S. and Canadian companies. It is going to be about a recognized branded product first off.

RM: Like any industry, we’ll see consolidation, mergers, acquisitions and we’re going to see some businesses that will not make it – it’s the nature of any business. Look at the restaurant industry. It’s one thing to have a good idea: it’s another thing to actually execute it, using the restaurant example, understanding how to run a kitchen, avoid food-waste, or manage front-of-the-house. There will be consolidation, as licenses get scooped up through mergers. It’s just the normal course of a new and growing industry which continues to shift and evolve.

RK: There’s room for a range of different products in the competitive landscape. At the end of it, it’ll be key to have a really quality product, and maybe do fewer things but do them really well.

Q: If there’s one lesson you’ve learned in the industry, that you think other women should know, what would it be?

YG: Being aware of trends as an investor in the industry. It’s shifting so quickly. It’s almost mind-blowing. Retail investors need to be aware of how quickly the industry is transforming and the trends that are coming out that make a buy and hold strategy not likely the most effective way to play this market given the volatility we are witnessing.

RM: This is a 21st-century industry and women can play a leadership role from day one. For example, as a business leader in a new industry, I don’t think sitting back and just accepting the regulations at the government tables is acceptable. We’re getting out there and helping define the rules as the country moves forward. I think this kind of thing is really important. How do we encourage business investment and faith into the industry? I think having strong leadership, especially more women, can help.

MK: When I started in the industry it was two camps: medical marijuana and marijuana. Then we started talking about cannabis. It’s an industry now, a true marketplace. I think that from an entrepreneur’s point of view it’s become a cannabis investing haven. Just the fact that there are so many people involved, and that you can go on the CSE website and find a company directory in cannabis is exciting. There’s a mining sector, and now there’s a focused cannabis sector. Welcome to the industry.  It’s not going anywhere.

RK: Don’t be afraid to be visionary.  The industry is moving so quickly. Look to something you think you understand or that you can replicate with confidence. Another country, another model, don’t be afraid to try unique things. Don’t feel that you have to do what everyone else is already doing. The future is ours to create.