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SLANG Worldwide: Brands at core of efficient business model that naturally scales with cannabis industry growth

The power of a brand is an amazing thing. A good brand touches our heart, gets people to buy more, to pay more, and the best of them can even become everyday words that transcend the boundaries of the company that created them. SLANG Worldwide Inc. (CSE:SLNG) is well aware of this potential and that’s why brands are its thing…lots of brands. Some, such as O.penVAPE, District Edibles, and Firefly rank among the top-performing brands in the entire cannabis industry.

Public Entrepreneur spoke recently with Peter Miller, SLANG’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, to explore this fascinating side of the cannabis market. From developing strategies to suit specific jurisdictions to the wisdom of pursuing growth through acquisitions, Miller speaks with the experience of an executive who has been there from the beginning, yet in terms of the potential to take SLANG to new heights is perhaps only just getting started.

Give us a brief introduction to SLANG.  How did you and your partner build the company into such a force in the cannabis consumer packaged goods space?

SLANG Worldwide is a consumer packaged goods company that owns, licenses, and markets 11 cannabis brands serving the flower, concentrates, edibles, and beverage categories. Our portfolio is one of the highest selling of all time, as tracked by a third party, with over $250 million in sales at retail. SLANG is a multistate and multinational operator, with brands and products available in over 2,600 retail stores – one of the largest distribution footprints in the cannabis industry. Our brands are more widely distributed than any portfolio I’m aware of. We source biomass, extract it and manufacture it into finished goods with our brands and formulations, then wholesale and distribute to retail accounts. That focus has allowed us to scale quickly and grow to where SLANG is today.

My co-founder Billy Levy and I previously founded a vertically integrated limited-licenses cannabis business in Canada. We came from the tech world and didn’t have a lot of experience in cannabis, so we spent a lot of time visiting markets that were maturing. We got to watch cannabis retail go from unbranded jars of bud to more sophisticated form factors like edibles and vaporizers, which really excited us. Our licensed producer was sold to Canopy Growth and we thought about where we wanted to be, so we started making investments and formalizing partnerships in the US.

SLANG recently launched a CBD-focused health and wellness division. How does this fit within your strategy going forward? Is it better to acquire brands or build them up on your own?

SLANG’s goal is to offer cannabis products to a wide variety of consumers. CBD products have proven to be extremely compelling and popular to consumers, but just producing CBD products doesn’t necessarily guarantee success at the cash register. CBD products require a different set of skills and relationships than THC. We identified a powerful opportunity with Greenlane to distribute our products into retail environments that aren’t your core cannabis retail environments. Greenlane is the largest online and smoke shop distributor in the industry. It represents an exciting go-to-market strategy for us. SLANG will continue to round out the products that we offer within the health and wellness verticals, initially on the inhalable side, and in the near term moving to the edibles side as well.

A number of SLANG products are best sellers. How do you develop these brands into winners? What lessons can be learned from your experience?

No two markets are the same. Canada has strict rules on promotion and advertising, but brands aren’t built solely through promotion and advertising. Brands benefit most from being trusted by customers, and you establish that trust over time. SLANG products have been leading in the most competitive and oldest legal markets in the US. How do we do that? SLANG establishes trust with our retail customers by consistently delivering them exactly what we say we will, which makes them inclined to continue carrying our products on their shelves. You start developing a subconscious attachment between your brand and the consumer. That’s when you really form that close relationship.

SLANG’s head of sales likes to say that the best ability to create a brand is to make it as broadly available as possible. Making our products widely available and then ensuring that our customers are aware of that availability are the keys to developing these brands.

When it comes to the question of organic growth versus acquisitions, which approach do you prefer?

The US is really a series of markets within a market. Each state is at a different point in its market maturity, so you have to use a tailored approach. In the more mature states like Washington or Colorado, we can look at acquiring brands that are proven winners that have been operating at scale for years in competitive environments. In new markets, it’s difficult to say who’s going to win it all. The deal SLANG announced with Arbor Pacific in Washington and Oregon was a situation where we were picking winners.

When we looked at other exciting markets like Florida, which is a limited-license market, it wasn’t as simple as picking a winner, so we decided to grow organically through a partnership with Trulieve, the largest retailer in the state.

Trulieve is an example of how we go about buying into a market. Instead of acquiring a Florida operator, we partnered with one who would help us get our brands on the shelf in the near term.  SLANG can help drive more customers to their stores to buy our brands, but we could also help support and share our product knowledge with them. We’ve been extracting cannabis for many years and can help them avoid some of the pitfalls of starting an extraction unit. We saw that as the best way to address new markets that are limited license.

What do you think makes the most sense for shareholders in the current environment?

As this market continues moving toward a consumer packaged goods framework, investors will pay close attention to branded unit sales. It is the most apples-to-apples way to understand the competitive landscape. How are consumers voting with their dollars and whose brands are driving the most sales? Consumers spent $32 million on SLANG branded products in the quarter.

Another key metric for investors is branded servings, which measures the number of experiences consumers have with cannabis brands. Quantified by 5mg servings, 52 million SLANG branded servings were purchased by customers in Q1. By branded servings sold, SLANG is one of the largest cannabis companies in the world.

How can investors make sense of the frenetic pace of M&A activity that’s going on in the sector right now?

There’s always going to be the temptation of the new shiny object and the trend of the moment. I think investors need to look at the kinds of assets people are putting together and support a cohesive thesis and strategy, rather than just looking at revenue figures or exciting markets and thinking it will be better together. In fact, it’s rarely the case if you look at M&A across other industries historically. It’s easy to get distracted. I think it’s important to make sure that there’s a central mission or strategy around all the M&A.

What are a few upcoming catalysts for SLANG shareholders?

I’m incredibly encouraged by the macro tailwinds we see in our industry, generally, but as each state-level market matures, we’re seeing validation of the SLANG business model. From the manufacturing process through the marketing of finished goods, SLANG’s business is scalable, capital efficient, and its success is repeatable in new markets. In fact, our business model improves with more competition, meaning the more retailers that open their doors, the more points of sale for our brands. Our business model lends itself to growing with the industry and we’re doing everything possible to grow more quickly than the broader industry. All the catalysts we have a line of sight on right now provide net benefits to our business model and our strategy.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

SLANG’s business model is simple and focused on sourcing biomass. We’re extracting and formulating it into finished goods and distributing our brands to as many stores as possible. It’s the same business model that has allowed some of the biggest consumer package goods companies in the world to scale up operations. A level playing field, in terms of regulation and unit economics, will only highlight our approach and the value of our brand portfolio.

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on June 19, 2019 and featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about SLANG Worldwide at https://www.slangww.com/.

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/.

Harvest Health & Recreation turns modest investment into largest cannabis footprint in US

It isn’t often that one looks at a company and it’s as though they have thought of everything, with no obvious gaps to fill, no apparent weaknesses. That’s the impression one gets speaking with Steve White, Chief Executive Officer of Harvest Health & Recreation (CSE:HARV). A lawyer before making the leap into running a cannabis company some eight years ago, White is adept at navigating challenging regulatory environments, and communicates with the tone of a professional who knows he’s at the top of his game.

A commitment from a single investor last month to fund the company with up to US$500 million is just the latest sign that Harvest has not only a great track record, but also the vision and ability to execute that separates winners from also-rans in any industry. Public Entrepreneur spoke with White recently about his philosophy on building a successful business in the cannabis sector, and a recent acquisition that will give Harvest the largest presence in the United States cannabis industry.

We’ll get into your recently announced acquisition of Verano Holdings with our second question, but so we have some context, tell us how Harvest got started and some of the key milestones in your development to date.  And where do you stand now in the industry vis-à-vis other companies with similar business models?

We started in Arizona in 2011, so we were really early in the cannabis industry compared to many others in the space today. In terms of key milestones, in 2012 we won two licenses in Arizona.  Those were vertically integrated licenses. What’s important here is Arizona became a helpful training ground for us. We had to get good at cultivating, manufacturing and retailing cannabis – seed to sale. It was completely by happenstance that it was a teaching moment for the future of our growth and ability to master the various aspects of the industry.

Some of the bigger milestones have to do with expansion, and there have been so many that it is hard to isolate any. But one to note is on July 1 of 2017, we merged with a company called Modern Flower, led by a gentleman named Jason Vedadi. That was a moment that really helped to accelerate our growth as an organization.

From there I would have to say the next big milestone was the announcement of our agreement to acquire Verano Holdings, headquartered out of Illinois. That acquisition made us the largest cannabis company in the United States by ability to open revenue-generating facilities, subject to regulatory approval. We’ll have more licenses and licenses to open more facilities than any other cannabis company in the country.

That helps to answer your second question, which is what makes us different relative to our peers. Beyond the ability to win licenses organically and make strategic and accretive acquisitions, I would say the second thing is we have been consistently profitable as a company for many years. The only other multistate operator I knew of that was also consistently profitable happened to be Verano.

The Verano transaction brings two very successful companies together to make you the biggest multistate operator in the US.  Why is Verano such a good strategic fit for Harvest’s existing assets?

It was a perfect fit on three fronts. First, the Verano leadership team and their employees are people who are very easy to integrate into Harvest’s culture because they are a lot like us. And I think most importantly, we like them and vice versa. They are just great human beings with mindsets and focuses that are very similar to ours. So, the human capital in that acquisition was really important.

Second, the assets that we acquired pair perfectly with what we were hoping to put together in the near future. The acquisition has brought us into Illinois, Nevada and New Jersey in a very meaningful way. That represented our list of markets that we really wanted to enter in the near term.

And lastly, they have some great brands that do not overlap with some of the brands we are already producing. For example, in Illinois they represent about a quarter of the wholesale business, and their emphasis is in areas that we don’t have a big emphasis in yet, like edibles.

There is a “landgrab” taking place in the US cannabis industry, playing out partly in a large number of acquisitions. Harvest is growing both organically and through acquisitions. What is your competitive edge versus other well-funded companies in the space?

First, I would say that we can acquire market access organically, meaning we can win licenses when states issue them. Second, we have found that people we look to acquire are believers in Harvest’s stock. With a lot of these acquisitions, the sellers have to decide whose stock they want to hold, and we have a reputation in the industry that allows us, in some instances, to acquire people for less than what they would charge other potential acquirers. And we have seen that in a couple of instances, so that is very helpful for us.

It is difficult to say when federal legalization might take place in the US, but what is Harvest’s industry outlook?  You must have some vision of the industry of the future as you formulate corporate strategy.

Long term, you are going to see a shift away from cultivation.  Phase 2 will be about retail, and Phase 3 will be about brand development. We are planning in everything we do to take advantage of, and create, the infrastructure necessary to capitalize on that evolution of the market.

It’s really interesting in that each individual market evolves separately. So, while you might have a very mature market like California that is, in our minds, almost purely a brand game, there will be other states that just recently came online, and new states where you can see tremendous returns in cultivation. But those new states will eventually become mature states, and so we gear our business to take advantage of cultivation opportunities when we are early and one of few. But generally speaking, our emphasis is on developing a large wholesale and retail footprint.

Harvest recently announced completion of the first tranche of a US$500 million convertible debenture financing. Can you talk about two things: first, the use of proceeds, and second, what convinced the investor to back Harvest to the magnitude, potentially, of half a billion dollars?

First, that half a billion dollars is solely dedicated to growth.  That is acquisition capital and rocket fuel. It allows us, in conversations with acquisition targets, to use more cash. In times when we don’t think our stock is trading appropriately, we can add more cash, so we can keep more of the stock if we think it’s too cheap.

The reason that financier was interested in Harvest was because they are a believer in the long-term outlook of the company. They saw that as an easy transaction for them, and one where they did it on terms that they haven’t done for other people previously.

On a personal level, you are one of the more experienced executives in the industry, and as Harvest’s leader you are pushing the company to grow faster than everyone else. Talk a bit about your background and how that has positioned you to drive the company’s success.

It’s been helpful to be a lawyer in my previous life. The way you plan a case in the law is you evaluate the facts available to you early on, and then you plan a strategy, or a path, to victory. In this case with cannabis, what we were doing is we were evaluating an ever-changing landscape and we were developing a path toward long-term significant profitability.

Your biggest obstacles are regulatory in nature, and as a result the ability to navigate regulatory hurdles – laws, in other words – is really helpful, because you can interpret things in a creative way to give you advantages over competitors, when appropriate, and you are looking toward the end goal, which is long-term, sustainable, and significant profitability.

Any student of markets will know that inefficiency is often a good place to search for opportunity. Given how the federal laws in the US differ with those of the states, and then from state to state, does this fragmented regulatory environment present opportunity?

It presents obstacles, and with any obstacle there is opportunity.  It presents obstacles to people who are not well-capitalized and who don’t have the experience to overcome those obstacles. But for those who are determined and well-capitalized, it presents opportunities to reap benefits that are sometimes better than a normal market would yield, particularly in limited-license markets.

Is it fair to assume that being one of the more high-profile companies in the cannabis industry, opportunities often find their way to you?

Unfortunately, we are constantly scanning for them. The great opportunities don’t find you; you have to find the great opportunities. The opportunities that find you are the opportunities that find everybody, and we pride ourselves on finding opportunities that others don’t. And that requires just good old-fashioned hard work and thinking outside the box.

Is there anything we have missed – any important points to get across that we have not touched on?

One of the things that’s most significant about Harvest is that at the time we went public we had very little access to capital. We developed one of the largest footprints in the country by deploying less than $18 million in total invested capital. So, at that time we were a $1.5 billion company with that small of an investment. We have a history of doing a lot with less, and the lessons we have learned that have allowed us to do that are things we deploy each and every day.

A big part of that is a demonstrated ability to execute. Whether that is winning a license or creating a profitable business with very little capital, we have demonstrated time and time again that we are able to do that, and there are not a lot of people who can say the same thing.

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on June 24, 2019 and featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Harvest Health & Recreation at https://www.harvestinc.com/.

After winning Florida, Trulieve Cannabis is taking its business model multistate

According to Trulieve Cannabis (CSE:TRUL) Chief Executive Officer Kim Rivers, cannabis is emotional.

“In many contexts, either you or your loved one has felt relief from a medical condition using cannabis,” Rivers says. “It makes it an interesting business space because folks are predisposed to feel something towards what you’re selling. Understanding and embracing that is part of the brand strategy.”

Trulieve built its brand selling medicinal cannabis to over 158,000 customers in Florida, the fastest-growing cannabis market in the United States. The company is the dominant player in the state, with a network of 28 retail locations and a statewide delivery program. Now, Rivers and her team are turning their attention to the rest of the US, confident that their vertically integrated business model is repeatable in other states.

Founded in 2014, Trulieve was one of the initial applicants and license winners in Florida.  According to Rivers, the company’s impetus was to build a “true brand” that could penetrate the Florida market, a 21 million-strong population of socially and economically diverse inhabitants.  This diversity makes it an ideal testing ground for franchise-building, which is what Rivers and her team set out to accomplish.

According to Rivers, if you build scale, you build a brand.  Trulieve’s team did this by creating a “seed-to-sale” operation that produces nearly 35,000 kilograms of private label medical grade cannabis products, representing over 195 SKUs marketed at Trulieve-branded dispensaries.

The company went public on the Canadian Securities Exchange in 2018 when it felt that it had become the dominant player in Florida. The decision was also driven by management’s sense that the time had come to move into new markets.

“We’re ready to take the show on the road and prove out the next stage of growth by building a true multistate operational footprint,” Rivers says.

Multistate expansion
In the fourth quarter of 2018, Trulieve announced acquisitions in Massachusetts and California, two very different markets.

In Massachusetts, where Trulieve acquired Life Essence Inc., the state’s regulatory system is similar to Florida’s, making it a natural fit.  Currently, Trulieve is applying for licenses to build and operate three medical dispensaries, three recreational licenses, and permitting for a 140,000 square foot cultivation facility it would like to begin operating in the fourth quarter of 2019.

In California, the world’s single largest cannabis market, Trulieve is using a somewhat different approach.  Here, the company acquired a controlling interest in Leef Industries LLC, a licensed medical and adult-use dispensary in Palm Springs. Rivers is conscious that saturation of the California cannabis market could pose a challenge for new operators to build up in the state, which is why the team is adopting a more patient approach to grow the brand. The retail location in California will serve as a research base for Trulieve to learn about what people are buying.

While having a presence in California will be great for brand recognition, Rivers is particularly excited about the opportunity to grow in the northeast United States.

“Massachusetts is a catalyst win for us because we can build synergies around that hub in the northeast,” explains Rivers.

More recently, Trulieve completed its acquisition of The Healing Corner, a dispensary located in Bristol, Connecticut.  The state is an important market for Trulieve, as it is located in the Northeast where the company is focused and is home to more than 34,000 patients and 1,100 consulting physicians.

“The Healing Corner also shares our philosophy of growing a business profitably and has generated consistent profits.  The acquisition was based on trailing EBITDA and we anticipate it will be accretive.”

Coast-to-coast brand building
Building a brand on both coasts is not as simple as having a presence, however. Rivers sees what she calls an “east coast, west coast philosophy” in the cannabis market that can make expansion even more challenging.

“How can we create a company and a consumer experience that bridges this cultural gap?” she asks. “We try to be cognizant that we want to create connectivity to local markets. One way we do this is to invite local providers onto shelves.”

According to Rivers, the company could speed up its retail lease in Massachusetts, but the team needs to be confident that they can deliver the Trulieve experience, which hinges on whether they can get the growing facility built in the face of significant supply constraints in the state.

It’s one of the lessons that they learned by watching other companies who stumbled in Florida. “Some of our competitors rushed to open retail with only two or three SKUs, and it does irreparable damage to the brand,” Rivers says.

For Trulieve, the challenge is to be able to replicate its Florida success in new states with different market dynamics.

“When moving into other markets, it’s important to be confident in what differentiates you from your competitors,” Rivers points out. “For us, it’s having pipeline management and the ability to offer superior customer service and competitive pricing.”

Trulieve chose early on to set a national pricing strategy that is competitive in mature medical markets so that every customer can have a similar, state-agnostic retail experience. “If we want to compete nationally then we have to have prices that can translate,” says Rivers.

Strategy pays off
If early revenues are any indication, the brand strategy is paying off. In May, Trulieve reported revenue of US $44.5 million for the first quarter of 2019, up from $15.2 million during the year-ago quarter. 2018 full year revenues were around $103 million, up almost 420%.

Income was also up exponentially from the same period a year earlier, at $43 million compared to $3.8 million.

Of course, these reported numbers don’t include any ramp-up in Massachusetts or the recent acquisition in Connecticut, and only a low single-digit percentage from California. In the current business year, Rivers and her team anticipate revenue topping $220 million.

There are a few external factors that could influence that revenue figure. Two bills in the US House of Representatives are expected to be tabled this year that could open new financing streams and fast-track the cannabis company’s ability to move operations forward.

The STATES Act would allow states to craft their own policies on cannabis. While it wouldn’t legalize the drug nationally, it would largely resolve conflicts between state and federal law.

Meanwhile, the Secure and Fair Enforcement banking act, or SAFE Act, would allow banks to service cannabis companies that comply with state laws, enabling them to access new streams of capital south of the border.

Both bills have a significant amount of bipartisan support, but Rivers and Trulieve are not relying on legislation to take the business to the next level.

“With respect to stability from a banking standpoint, the SAFE Act is not necessary, but is needed,” Rivers explains. “Larger institutions are charging absurd fees, especially for a business like ours that is driven by fundamentals. Typical debt structures are not available in the cannabis industry. If I want to raise debt, I have to talk to a fund that is cannabis-specific.”

Unlike other merchandisers, a retail license for a cannabis company is tied to the location specified on the license application. If a landlord raises the rent for that building, for example, the company has very few options to consider if it wants to keep the business open.

Emotional journey
What both bills signify is that the cannabis mindset in the US is changing from stigmatization to acceptance. A large part of that shift is thanks to the industry itself, and players like Trulieve.

In Florida, the company supports the advocate community through sponsorships and outreach efforts. It recently sponsored the “silver tour” in Florida led by cannabis pioneer Robert Platshorn, AKA Bobby Tuna, who spent some 30 years in federal prison on marijuana charges and now travels to senior citizen facilities to educate residents on the benefits of medical cannabis.

It all circles back to Rivers’ observation that led to the company’s founding and informs its strategy – that marijuana is emotional, and consumers form an almost personal attachment to brands. For Trulieve, that attachment is the driving force behind its growth and profitability.

“We’ve built Trulieve into a customer-first company with a focus on profitable growth,” Rivers concludes. “I believe strongly that you can be successful in this industry and build long-term value for shareholders by being a true operator.”

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on June 21, 2019 and featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Trulieve Cannabis at https://www.trulieve.com/.

Go Cobalt: Battery metals the target with promising projects in the Yukon and Quebec

It was serendipity that led Go Cobalt Mining Corp CEO Scott Sheldon to the exploration company’s flagship Monster property in Yukon, Canada’s Wild West which is seeing a modern-day minerals-rush. The Monster property is located 80 km north of Dawson City, in Yukon.

“In 2011, I ran into a friend from university who had been living in the Yukon since graduating,” said Go Cobalt CEO Scott Sheldon. “My dad and I had recently discussed a collaboration and took this opportunity to move into a gold play together leveraging some great Yukon contacts.”

As the material needs of the world’s seven billion people continue to grow, there has been a rush to exploit the Yukon’s exceptionally rich resources — gold, zinc, cobalt, and more.

As a junior mineral exploration company, Go Cobalt is focused on copper, gold and cobalt projects in Canada. Yukon’s industry-friendly regulations attracted the battery metals company which has been in the resource rich region since 2011.

Go Cobalt is on the right track as the fundamentals supporting the cobalt sector such as the electric vehicle and energy storage booms continue to grow stronger.

Sheldon has mining in his veins. His father Don Sheldon raised capital for junior resource companies for nearly three decades.

“I started working in the industry when I was 16 years old up in the Golden Triangle of northern British Columbia,” said Sheldon. “I continued to do this every summer through university to help pay for my degree” added Sheldon, who graduated from Dalhousie University in Halifax.

The Monster advantage

Interest in Yukon began in the 19th century when gold prospectors pushed northwards and plied creeks with picks, pans and shovels. Today, the Yukon in the northwestern wilderness of Canada is considered one of the best mining jurisdictions in the world.

Co Cobalt’s Monster property in the Yukon is a copper, cobalt, gold prospect covering 63 square kilometers of the Ogilvie Mountains in the Dawson Mining District. The company believes its Monster project represents a large, prospective opportunity because it lies on the Wernecke Breccia, a region of the Yukon known to host iron oxide copper gold (IOCG) style minerology.

“Our VP of exploration even wrote his thesis on comparing the Wernecke region of the Yukon to similar hydrothermal deposits in Australia. Some of the biggest copper mines in the world carry an IOCG signature,” said Sheldon. “Olympic Dam and Candelaria are two examples.”

The tremendous size, relatively simple metallurgy and relatively high grade of IOCG deposits can produce extremely profitable mines. The Monster has zones of elevated copper and cobalt concentrations across the entire 19 km length of the property. The Monster’s IOCG mineralization is hosted within and directly adjacent to the Wernecke Breccia.

“Major iron ore copper gold deposit trends have recently been recognized for hosting cobalt and offer high-tonnage potential,” said Sheldon.

Go Cobalt now covers 6,000 hectares of the Wernecke Breccia in the northern Wernecke Breccia belt and has high grade copper (over 3%) and cobalt (over 9%) on the property.

“There is also anomalous gold and silver. Traditionally IOCG deposits will be polymetallic and offer a range of minerals,” explained Sheldon.

Drilling in 2020

Go Cobalt has started work on the Monster using satellite imagery and roped in geoscientist Rodrigo Diaz, an expert in IOCGs and remote spectral geology, for optimizing the mineral exploration process.

The CEO said Go Cobalt had over $300,000 budgeted to spend on the property this year “to get it drill ready for 2020.”

“We are also redoing some of the historic gravity surveys using updated elevation models,” said Sheldon. “We expect to extensively expand the gravity survey this summer. In addition, we are planning a site wide electromagnetic survey and continued mapping to follow up on historic zones of interest.”

Go Cobalt doesn’t require additional environment permits at this point in its exploration program.

“We have had discussions with Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation about our work on their traditional territory and will continue to keep them notified as we move forward,” said Sheldon. “The old road to the property is currently in disrepair and would need a special permit.”

The company will use one of the two air strips within 10 km of the property to stage its 2019 program. Go Cobalt says it has adequate funds for the mining season.

“We have about $1 million in the bank. Half of that is flow through funds to be spent this season. We also have about $1.8 million from outstanding warrants that are all ‘in the money’, said Sheldon.

Barachois Vanadium project

Some miners have really concentrated positions because they are focused on the short term. However, Go Cobalt is aware a complete absence of diversification can be painful for performance. Therefore, it also has a Barachois project, a sediment hosted vanadium-selenium-silver-lead-zinc prospect in the Gaspe area of Quebec.

The project covers 1,801 hectares where carboniferous aged sediments have been shown to host sedimentary vanadium-zinc-lead mineralization.

The latest, greatest utility-scale battery storage technology to emerge on the commercial market is the vanadium redox battery, also known as the vanadium flow battery. V-flow batteries are nonflammable, compact, reusable over semi-infinite cycles, discharge 100% of the stored energy and do not degrade for more than 20 years. These batteries use the multiple valence states of just vanadium to store and release charges.

“Barrachois helps us add another excellent battery metal in a good mining province. We are excited to further that project this summer,’ said Sheldon. “It is the polar opposite to the Monster. It has road access and is relatively flat topography.”

Investment case

Go Cobalt is leveraging the global shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy by banking on a basket of battery metal projects. Global demand for cobalt, nickel and silvery-grey, malleable vanadium has skyrocketed in recent months with high demand from electric car and laptop makers.

“We are giving our investors exposure to a variety of battery metal projects,” said Sheldon. “Our flagship in the Yukon is a polymetallic style prospect. It has high grade surface mineralization for both copper and cobalt.  Also, we have a Vanadium project in Quebec, and we are actively searching for a Nickel project in Quebec as well.”

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on February 15, 2019 and featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Go Cobalt Mining Corp. at http://www.gocobalt.ca/.

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/.

Idaho Champion Gold Mines: Carefully chosen gold project meets with early success in a great state for mining

From his offices in Toronto, Jonathan Buick sees the glitter of opportunity more than 2,000 miles away. On the outskirts of Elk City, Idaho, is Buick’s Xanadu, the Baner project, where he has just struck gold.

“We drilled 19 holes and we hit mineralization on every hole. The further to the north we got, the shallower it was and the better the grade,” says Buick of the 1,705 hectare exploration site.

If history is any guide, Baner’s potential is substantial to say the least. The Elk City area had numerous alluvial gold deposits dredged from the tributaries of the Clear Water River, which runs through it, between the 1850s and the late 1980s. And Crooked Creek, an area just north of the Baner project, yielded about 1.5 million alluvial ounces between 1880 and 1910.

Before moving to acquire Baner in November of 2016 and set up Idaho Champion Gold Mines Canada Inc. (CSE:ITKO) via a reverse takeover, Buick and his colleagues reviewed over 250 gold projects globally. The scope of the search was narrowed to places within an appropriate time zone and a favorable, English language legal jurisdiction. Idaho emerged as the best bet.

“We’re in a good environment. We have great relationships with various agencies and both the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. They’ve been very supportive. We’ve also made it a real focus to try to hire as many of the local people as we can,” says Buick. “We think it’s important for people to know that we’re here to be good stewards, but also to participate in the economy.”

Baner was purchased for US$500,000 from a local family, who had owned it since the 1890s. Last June, the first exploration of the site in modern times began.

Idaho Champion’s first drilling effort at Baner yielded a discovery zone which is about 500 meters north to south by 200 meters east to west. As much as 5,200 meters of core was drilled in 19 holes as part of this maiden campaign. And the results included an assay from a hole which intersected 5.76 grams of gold per tonne over 12.65 meters.

The company recently purchased six additional claims, which allows it to increase its strike length a further 2 kilometers.

“I believe that we have only scratched the surface on our first exploration program at Baner. We have made a new gold discovery through the drill bit and encountered great initial grades in the highly oxidized zones near the surface,” said Buick. “There was good continuity in the holes and our newly acquired Sally claims will provide us the opportunity to expand the strike length an additional 2 km to the north.”

Particularly exciting is that the drill results show highly oxidized zones near the surface, which improves the grades and makes the gold project “much more economically attractive.”

The results at Baner are being analyzed to plan the exploration program for this year’s field season. Baner remains Idaho Champion’s focus, but just a couple of counties away sits the Toronto company’s second gold project, Champagne, not far from Arco, which it staked in February of 2018.

While the property was in production from 1990 to 1993 as a heap leach gold mine, the previous owners never drilled below 100 meters. Idaho Champion’s geologists think there’s a much bigger system at the 10 square kilometer property that could be characterized by “Midas”-type deposits, consisting of high-grade gold and silver epithermal systems. “We think there’s a much bigger target and a much bigger system underneath,” says Buick. “Our goal in 2019 is to go ahead and do some grassroots exploration.”

Buick is a businessman who likes to have options as a hedge against uncertainty. So, last November, in a bid to diversify, Idaho Champion purchased 822 federal US cobalt mining claims in four blocks – Victory, Fairway, Twin Peaks and Ulysses – (about 6,871 hectares) in the Idaho Cobalt Belt, just outside of Salmon, Idaho, from American Cobalt Corp. for a price of 4 million shares. Buick reports that his investors supported the move.

“When we picked up the cobalt, I went out to each of my investors and said I’m going after some cobalt because I think it’s important to have exposure to the market and also to protect us should we not be successful at Baner,” notes Buick.

Despite a sharp price correction in 2018, growing demand for lithium-ion battery elements are predicted to sustain cobalt prices into the 2020s. And the Idaho Cobalt belt represents a top district for primary cobalt discoveries.

“The standalone cobalt groups are having a challenge finding the capital. But that’s a pause in the market,” says Buick. “Cobalt is going to continue to be a focus and a priority for the end user and capital will come back into the cobalt space. I’m very confident that cobalt will again shine.”

Field work including site surveys, ridge & spur soil sampling, rock sampling and geologic mapping kicked off at Idaho’s four cobalt ventures last November in a bid to gather information for a more robust effort this year.

Buick describes the four cobalt projects as “life jackets” offering protection on the Baner program. Thanks to the recent gold discovery, it looks likely that the cobalt projects will be used to support the work at Baner. “If we had been unsuccessful at making the discovery, we would look to change our focus and apply it to spending on the cobalt,” explains Buick. “We’re now in active conversations with third parties to allow for the monetization of the cobalt to allow us to expand on our gold focus.”

Under review now is whether to spin out the cobalt projects into a new company; to sell them and keep an interest; or bring in a partner. “Right now, we’re reviewing all of those options on the cobalt that will allow us to come back and focus on the gold,” Buick reports.

Having raised more than $400 million throughout his lengthy tenure in finance, Buick, who specializes in securing strategic capital in Korea and Japan as a managing director of Harp Capital and his own investment firm, enjoys a reputation as a money finder.

Before Idaho Champion started trading on the CSE at the end of September, Idaho raised more than US$3 million. It remains pre-revenue, however, and posted a net loss of C$2.36 million in the three months until the end of September, according to its latest regulatory filing statement.

But business is percolating, and Buick is confident that money can be found. “We have shareholders who said they would commit to the next source of funding when that is needed,” he says. He also points out that the company is not only engaged in conversations about its cobalt projects, but it’s also been approached by some larger gold companies about how they can participate in Baner.

Over the next two years, Buick intends to make the mission of Idaho Champion as public as he possibly can. “We’re a newly minted company on a project that hasn’t had modern exploration,” he concludes. “In our first program of exploration we made a discovery, but we’re an unknown story. It’s my job now to get out and get in front of the investor.”

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

Learn more about Idaho Champions Gold Mine at http://www.idahochamp.com/.

Irving Resources: Steady progress on gold projects in Japan serving investors in this explorer well

When the Canadian Securities Exchange featured Irving Resources (CSE:IRV) in its quarterly magazine two years ago, the company had assembled a portfolio of attractive projects in Japan and done some early groundwork.

At the time, President and Chief Executive Officer Akiko Levinson and director (and chief geologist on Irving’s projects) Quinton Hennigh spoke of a commitment to exploring methodically and at a measured pace. It was as if they knew they had something special. No need to rush.

Fast-forward to the first quarter of 2019 and their thesis is proving right. With samples up to 480 grams per ton gold and 9,660 grams per ton silver, permits in hand and targets ready for drill-testing, progress to date shows that not only are there excellent projects in Japan, but that exploration can indeed be conducted in an efficient manner.

The market clearly agrees, having boosted Irving’s share price in the past two years by over 100%. This increase in valuation is even more impressive given that many precious metals exploration companies have seen their share prices implode during that period.

Public Entrepreneur spoke with Levinson and Hennigh in February 2019 to get the latest on achievements to date and what investors can look forward to over the balance of the year.

Why did you choose Japan as the focus for Irving’s exploration work? What initially attracted you and why is Japan a good place to explore?

AL: The idea of exploring in Japan began making sense when Quinton and I went there in 2012 and visited the Hishikari mine, which is one of the richest gold mines in the world.  Quinton said, “Look, there can’t be just one of these.” So, we started looking for a way of exploring in the country ourselves. That opportunity came in 2015.

QH: Japan has not had any exploration conducted for perhaps 30 years.  The last major discovery was the Hishikari mine Akiko just mentioned.

Japan has been perceived as a country that is difficult to explore in, but when we looked into it we found the situation to be the opposite.  Japan is actually quite straightforward to explore in, and now here we are, looking for the country’s next high-grade gold deposit.

Talk to us about the regulatory environment. What is the permitting process like? How does it differ from that in countries such as Canada or the US?

QH: I would say that the regulatory framework is actually not all that different from in Canada, the US or Australia.  It is fairly predictable in terms of the expectations placed on companies. It is straightforward to get permits and so forth.

I think the biggest challenge was that some of the people overseeing the permitting process had not really encountered much in the way of mineral exploration for many years, so there was somewhat of a learning curve as they worked on our permits because they simply were not familiar with some of the processes involved. But I think we are past that now and the whole structure is working quite well.

AL: When we started this three years ago, this was new to everybody – to METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry), to Irving, and to the people who help move us through the permitting process.

But Quinton says all the time that there really are no surprises.  It is very predictable if you go through the process and if you do it diligently.  I think that because of Irving and others who are trying to do similar work in Japan, the regulatory system has a better understanding of this process. It is becoming faster.

Japan is a highly seismic area – explain how this influences the types of deposits found in the country and how it influences your exploration strategy.

QH: The seismic activity is related to the fact that Japan sits on the Ring of Fire. It is part of the Circum-Pacific Belt associated with volcanism and earthquakes as the plates collide.  You have the Oceanic Plate under the Pacific Ocean, and the Continental Plates. In this case you have the Eurasian Plate. As those two converge, you generate quite a bit of magma down deep that then rises to the surface and can produce volcanoes – there are numerous volcanoes up and down the Japanese archipelago. That volcanism is actually what leads to the formation of a lot of these gold deposits. The heat associated with the process is very near surface and heats the groundwaters. Those waters carry minerals, including gold, and redeposit them as they come to surface and emerge as hot springs.

Japan is well endowed with this environment – there are hot springs from one end to the other. This has been the case for many millions of years. So, Japan has seen a long history of hot spring formation, and we are looking for paleo hot springs – basically old hot springs that would have carried gold up to surface.

As a result, deposits in Japan are relatively shallow. Usually when you find an old hot spring, at surface what you see is a terrace of silica, a silica sinter. It is kind of a flat body of silica deposited by the hot springs. From the feeder below, cracks in the ground fed the hot spring water through, and that’s where the gold forms. These deposits are present within a couple of hundred meters of the surface.

We’re interested to know about your top projects and why you chose them as the focus of your exploration.

QH: The Omu Project is in northern Hokkaido.  Omu is centered on a volcanic system that was active about 12 million years ago.  We have a history on the property of not only volcanism but extensive hot springs.  There are at least three major centers where hot spring waters have surfaced. One of them is at the Omui mine, which is an historic mine that produced maybe a ton of gold in the 1920s.  It was very high grade and has seen little, if any, exploration since.

The second area we are focused on is the Omu sinter.  This is a new discovery that we made a few kilometers due north of the Omui mine. The system is intact, basically preserved in its entirety. The silica sinter is on top and we believe there is potential to find high-grade veins underneath like we see at the Omui mine. It has never been drilled or tested and is thus a brand new exploration target.

The third area is in the western part of the Omu property.  It is called Hokuryu. Like Omui, it is an historic mine and produced a few tons of gold. It was shut down during the Second World War, well before its resources were mined out. We are a little deeper into the system, as the sinter has weathered away – we are down into the vein system beneath it. There are pieces of vein at surface with an average grade of 50 grams per ton gold and 500 grams per ton silver. It is a very rich and promising new target.

I love the story you told once about finding a project after noticing interesting rocks in a local garden. Can you each share with us a favorite story about your exploration work in Japan?

AL: Those rocks were actually being used at a kindergarten in an ornamental fence.  Our team went to the school and asked where they’d found them. They guided us to the location and that is how we located the sinter.  The town wanted to get rid of the rocks because they planned to build something else. They put up a poster saying, “Anyone who wants these, please take them.”  We said, ”Yes, we’ll take them!” And now some of them are in our office. They were just going to throw them away.

QH: I usually judge geologists by comparing what they talk about to what you see in the field.  In other words, if they say, “This is the biggest thing since Ben Hur,” and then you get into the field and it’s disappointing, you know they embellish.  Then there are geologists who are low key. They’ll say, “Oh, there is something kind of interesting,” but then you get out in the field and it’s the biggest thing ever.

One of our advisors is a gentleman by the name of Hidetoshi Takaoka.  Two years ago, we went to Sado Island to visit a historic mine. The mine has a tourist shop in front with a box of rocks you can buy as souvenirs.  I picked one up and Mr. Takaoka said, “We can find one better than that. There is a creek near the mine and pieces of ore have washed down the hill over the years.”  We crawled down this steep valley just in front of the mine, and after about five minutes at the creek, Mr. Takaoka reaches down and picks a rock out. We crack it open and it is literally full of gold.  I knew then that he tends to understate things. It is one of the nicest specimens of epithermal vein I have ever seen.

You have tremendous partners in Japan. Tell us about them and how they have contributed to your success.

AL: How Irving started was that Quinton and I worked for a company called Gold Canyon and that merged with another company. What was left in Gold Canyon was a joint venture in Africa with the Japanese government mineral agency called JOGMEC. We worked in Africa with Mitsui Mineral Development Engineering Co. (MINDECO). They are probably the top engineers in Japan for mining and exploration. We had already worked together for about 10 years, and when Quinton and I asked MINDECO engineers if they could help us if we did work in Japan, they said they’d assist in any way they could. It has been amazing to have a built-in team from the beginning that is likely the best in Japan.

And previously Quinton mentioned Hidetoshi Takaoka. He is the one who recommended we look into the Omu project. He was chief geologist for Sumitomo Metal Mining and found the Pogo mine in Alaska for Sumitomo.

If Irving puts projects into production, your plan is not to build a mill or facility onsite yourself, but rather to supply smelters, is that correct?

QH: The rock is rich in silica, and silica is needed by smelters as an agent called flux.  Flux is added to copper, zinc or other concentrates and it helps retain heat in the furnace – it acts as an insulator to keep heat in the molten material.  It also extracts some of the nastier elements – it takes out iron and other things. So, silica is very important to the smelting process.

In Japan, they use perhaps a couple of million tons per year. Traditionally, Japanese gold mines have supplied the sinter for smelters, but as gold mines have diminished in Japan, this has become less and less so.

When the ore is added to the furnace as flux, gold and silver come straight out into the copper matte, and they recover them through further refining in the smelter – they are a byproduct of the smelting process.

We thus saw a huge opportunity.  If we find a high-grade deposit we feel it is easy for us to integrate into the smelter flux market in Japan. It saves us from building a mill, which is capital intensive and requires more permitting.

AL: When Omui was in production they shipped ore to the Kosaka smelter back in the 1920s.  Kosaka remains a large smelter today in full operation. When we spoke to them two years ago, they said that if we were to make a discovery they would welcome our supply.

You have a busy 2019 planned – tell us about the first half of the year and how it sets up the activity in the second half.

QH: For this year, we are working on getting our drill program lined up in Omu. We brought a drill rig from Canada and a drilling company we worked with in the past is seeking visas for some of its drillers.  Once we get those, we can start drilling, I suspect some time in March. The drill program should last most of the year, say from March to October. We will probably test the Omu sinter first and the Omui mine second.

We are also going to conduct trenching and bulk sampling at the Omui mine site. We plan to open up some of the veins with excavators and not only study the geology but extract a bulk sample, say up to 1,500 tons.  The plan is to ship the material to the Kushikino mine and smelting complex in Kyushu. They are prepared to handle our material and we are planning on selling it to them directly.

Other than that, our focus will be earlier-stage exploration on Hokuryu, which is on the Omu property, and we are also going to undertake greenfield prospecting and mapping on our other projects in Hokkaido.

Is there anything we have missed?

QH: We are one of a handful of exploration companies that have waded into Japan recently, but I would put us at the head of the pack because we have very good relations with the entire Japanese mining community – government, the mining companies, regulators, the towns.  We built this company purely to operate in Japan. We have a good Japanese team. I think we are in the best position to make a discovery in Japan.

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on March 3, 2019 and featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Irving Resources at https://www.irvresources.com/.

Delrey Metals: CEO Morgan Good is bullish on materials supporting innovation in energy storage, EVs and the steel of tomorrow

Delrey Metals Corp. (CSE:DLRY) is a growing mineral exploration company powered by a focus on battery metals.

It has acquired the Star, Porcher, Blackie and Peneece vanadium properties in British Columbia and intends to review and acquire other projects showing potential for materials used in strengthening alloys for steel and titanium, as well as energy storage and electric vehicles.

Last year, the company completed Phase 1 work at the Sunset property in British Columbia, which showed a significant new cobalt, copper and zinc anomaly. Delrey has an option agreement to purchase a 100% interest in the highly prospective property.

On the heels of raising $1.5 million in Delrey’s October IPO, chief executive officer Morgan Good is excited about the company’s prospects. Public Entrepreneur caught up with him and got his take on mining, finance and commodity prices.

How did you get into the corporate world?

I was born into a stock brokerage family. Several of my relatives were floor traders, brokers, promoters or financiers. Growing up, I played competitive golf at Point Grey Golf & Country Club in Vancouver, where those relatives and other supporters gave me a deep understanding of money and the stock market. As a teenager, I had a serious interest in finance and venture capital.

What are your company’s most important projects?

All of Delrey’s current projects are important, particularly our recently acquired vanadium- focused assets. Of those, the Porcher and Blackie properties have unique features that jump out. We’re initiating geophysical work and airborne magnetic surveys on all four of the vanadium projects and are keen to see Phase 1 results. From there, we’ll be in a much better position to decide next steps. I think it’s worth mentioning that we are in advanced stages of making a strategic acquisition that could add significant value to the Delrey story.

Delrey’s Sunset project is near the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort. Do you ever have time for outdoor activities such as skiing or hiking?

When I travel for business, which is quite frequent, I like to try and enjoy activities that are consistent with the parts of the world I’m in. Being born, raised and currently living in Vancouver, skiing and snowmobiling are two outdoor Whistler activities I enjoy. But I do like warmer locales near a beach or desert.

This isn’t your first job as a CEO. What was your previous gig like?

I was previously CEO of ALQ Gold Corp., now ‘Ignite International Brands Ltd.’, a company focusing on cannabis-related investments. Dan Bilzerian, the celebrity poker player, is now CEO and Chairman after we assisted in launching his global cannabis brand, Ignite. My complete focus is now on Delrey.

You founded Patriot Capital in 2013 to invest in public and private companies. What were the highlights of that?

Patriot is my private firm that invests directly in every entity I attach my name to, thereby aligning my personal investments with my professional efforts. Patriot also takes positions in several other, primarily public companies and has profited in many areas. Included are mining resources in the Yukon Territory and British Columbia’s Golden Triangle, as well as notable cannabis plays, which, as you know, have boasted monumental returns for investors.

What was it like going through Delrey’s IPO? Your company raised $1.5 million in October, right?

Creating Delrey and conducting its IPO was a great experience. We’re fortunate to have been able to work with an incredible management team, legal team and, of course, our sponsoring brokerage firm: Leede Jones Gable Inc. It assisted very closely in our launch. I have to give a lot of credit to the Canadian Securities Exchange and British Columbia Securities Commission for making the journey efficient, informative and educational. Delrey closed on $1.5 million last fall and began trading October 24.

How much cash does Delrey have on hand? How long is it funded based on the current burn rate? Any other big fundraisings on tap?

Currently Delrey has about $1.4 million in the treasury. Our initial commitments technically and corporately are minimal as we roll out Phase 1 on our British Columbia vanadium assets. Once we make our next major move, you’ll see the capital requirements increase and at that time we’ll make the necessary plans for further financing.

Vanadium prices have dropped since an impressive spike upward last year. What’s your outlook for that market?

What goes straight up must come down, as the price of vanadium proved. It was a healthy correction, and the price has since consolidated and started moving back up. We believe the outlook for the commodity in 2019 and beyond is more than positive and the market will continue to see bullish signs from the metal.

What can we expect from the battery metals industry in general?

We will see a lot more excitement in the future. A major catalyst is China’s new laws requiring more vanadium in steel alloys used in the country’s construction and infrastructure buildouts, which are mind-boggling in size. At Delrey, we believe vanadium redox batteries will jump from the current 1% to 2% of vanadium consumption and usage.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Delrey Metals at https://delreymetals.com/.

Nerds On Site: Clever solution for small business computing needs drives fast growth in highly fractured market

In today’s global connected environment, with laptops, servers, mobile devices, and other digital equipment collectively running millions of different software applications, in-house IT and network security work is no joke. A single IT professional cannot cover all aspects of this vast technological universe and be up to date on every topic, as things change every day.

In recent years, network intrusion, ransomware attacks and other black-hat activity has reached such proportions that it’s no longer random bad luck when it hits someone. Internet vulnerability is day-to-day reality for companies of all sizes.

If you work at a large company, you’re in luck relatively speaking, as there is likely in-house help to lean on if you have an issue.

For small companies, however, external support is often the only place to turn. There goes the rest of the day, for starters.

Nerds On Site (CSE:NERD) is a practical solution for small and medium-sized enterprises to consider. The company has a large team of carefully chosen technology specialists ready to visit your home or place of work to diagnose problems on the spot and offer ongoing managed solutions to prevent problems occurring in the first place.

Oftentimes, a fix will be at hand and the team member will be able to find and implement solutions before leaving. If software, parts, or a security installation is required, Nerds On Site works closely with suppliers to get things fast and at fair prices.

When it comes to software, Nerds On Site also has the ability to develop unique, state-of-the-art solutions through third-party developers. Examples include electronic records processing and security applications. It’s kind of like having your own IT department without needing to be a large company.

Eugene Konaryev is a director at Nerds On Site and did much of the necessary financial work leading up to the listing of the company on the Canadian Securities Exchange in late November. Sporting a computer science degree from the University of Toronto, he immediately understood Nerds On Site’s capabilities and the concept of addressing its large market when he first met CEO (Capability Expansion Orchestrator) Charlie Regan in 2014.

“What the company does is mobile IT services to small and medium-sized business,” says Konaryev. “We still have a small portion of residential customers, but what we really do is enable SMEs to enjoy high-quality IT service and support without the need for high-priced contracts.”

It is not just hardware and software the company helps with, mind you. Once hired, Nerds On Site provides round the clock network and device monitoring options, on-site and remote support, IT asset management and much more. “We take care of pretty much everything there is in SME IT,” says Konaryev.

Nerds On Site was founded in 1996 and has established a solid presence in 10 major cities across Canada. One way to explain its scale is to refer to the number of Nerds in the network. At present, there are 125, the largest concentration being in Ontario, and specifically Toronto.

Clients include a large number of Canadian Tire locations, with a broader corporate relationship in the works.  Importantly, Nerds on Site has also been named an Apple mobility partner.

When entering a new city, the game plan is to have at least five Nerds, and preferably 10. For example, the planned expansion into 10 US cities entails 100 Nerds – 10 in each city. The company uses a subcontractor model and is starting to use franchising as well in the United States.

“When you enter a new urban market, a sophisticated Nerd force makes a difference,” says Konaryev. “Talent is very important. They call one another ‘enterprise nerds’ in a positive way.” He explains that set-up expenses for the company when it enters a new urban market are around $250,000 for a 10-person team, a pittance compared to almost any other type of business with 10 highly motivated employees serving an entire city.

Underlying the growth opportunity for Nerds On Site is that it operates in a highly fragmented market with the majority of companies in the space being small and short-lived, according to Konaryev. The big IT service companies focus on large enterprises and charge such high fees to their well-heeled corporate clients that catering to the SME market does not make sense for them.

Even though the SME market is largely there for the taking, no company has established itself as the segment leader on a national scale, although there are good local and regional players both in the US and Canada. Nerds On Site sees them as potential M&A opportunities.

“When someone asks who our biggest competitor is, I can’t even give them a name,” says Konaryev. “There are small IT shops in cities and often when you need help, there is nobody available to answer the phone, or you call and they have gone out of business.  That’s why this is such a great opportunity.”

The strategy for the coming year involves an aggressive rollout into the 10 fastest-growing cities in the US, most of them in Arizona and Florida. The plan is to launch in the first 10 US cities in 12-16 months.

“We have the capital to launch Nerdmobiles in these cities thanks to the funds raised during the IPO,” says Konaryev. “And then it’s all about finding talent, and fortunately, talent is in abundance if you know where to look. For example, we did a small campaign about six weeks ago to attract prospective Nerds in Florida and in one week we received over 400 applications.”

The follow-on expansion phase is slated at 50 cities, after which would come a 100-city expansion, the ultimate goal being to offer national coverage in the US. Continued expansion in Canada is also part of the plan.

When it comes to choosing Nerds, applicants need not only IT education and appropriate practical experience, but also the self-starter attitude that all successful entrepreneurs possess. The initial telephone interview has a pass rate of only about 50%, with those making the first cut moving on to a video interview, and then an interview in person with a local team leader.

Qualified applicants get about a month of training at Nerds on Site headquarters in London, Ontario. For US Nerds, training would take place on site in Florida.

Typically, for every 10 applicants, only one or two make it through the process. Once qualified, Nerds get access to competitively priced lease or buy options for a Nerdmobile, a network of other Nerds that is always there to help, a local customer database, low-cost inventory, and any other support they might need from the broader Nerds on Site team.

“We promote a collegial network where knowledge is shared and if someone does not know something, they can reach out to a colleague through IAAN (the company’s ‘I am A Nerd’ tablet-based control system), and the helper can share in the revenue because of their contribution,” Konaryev says.

Nerds On Site raised $4.7 million through its IPO.  Revenue in fiscal 2017 was around $8.3 million. Fees related to the listing are weighing on earnings, but the company would have been profitable had those one-time fees not been incurred, says Konaryev. The 10-city US rollout will use a significant portion of the capital but once that is complete Konaryev says the company anticipates being in the black.

Konaryev recalls that when Charlie Regan joined the company and the team considered how best to scale, they called as many IT specialists as they could identify and found that 80% did not answer. “From our experience, about 95% of SMEs are massively underserviced,” says Konaryev. Slowly but surely, Nerds On Site seeks to make this a problem of the past.

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on January 30, 2019 and featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Nerds On Site at https://www.nerdsonsite.com/.