Tag Archives: cse issuer stories

Global Gardens’ Veggemo beverage targets fast-growing dairy alternative space with fresh approach

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on December 8, 2015 and featured in The CSE Quarterly.

With typical acerbic wit, the late columnist Mike Royko once offered his readers a simple rule for eating healthily: “If you enjoy it, you can’t have it; if you don’t like it, you can eat all you want.”

That was a little over three decades ago, when there was probably some element of truth to Royko’s tongue-in-cheek guideline. Today, however, the list of products that not only are tasty but also good for you is long and growing.

Global Gardens Group (CSE:VGM) made that list a little longer on November 5 when it released a product line aimed squarely at the highly popular almond and soy milks that many health-conscious adults view as a refrigerator staple.

Veggemo is a vegetable based dairy alternative that tastes delicious and feels so much like milk, according to the company, that even devoted milk drinkers will be hard-pressed not to give it serious consideration. Factor in the absence of bad stuff like trans fats and cholesterol and one begins to understand why the Global Gardens management team so deeply believes it has a winning combination on its hands.

That combination might never have come together were it not for a fateful meeting four years ago between now president and chief executive officer (CEO) Rob Harrison and vice president (VP) of  Marketing, Wade Bayne.

Harrison had traveled to Vancouver from Ontario to see an early version of the product at an incubator group founded by executives from Lululemon. Bayne had been invited to the office that day as well, and the two experienced consumer goods executives quickly found themselves on the same page. “We both perceived a huge opportunity,” says Harrison.

Bayne, whose background includes executive positions at names like Molson Coors and Procter & Gamble, explains that being in the right business at the right time is everything. “In an industry that is enjoying great growth, even an average company can do well, whereas in an industry that is flat or declining, a strong company will struggle,” he says.

“So, before you choose where you want to be, find an industry that has strong growth driven by factors that are sustainable.”

Harrison, who has advised the likes of Heinz, Nabisco and Nestle, claims that the dairy alternative beverage category is growing at double-digits per quarter, which compares to 1-2% growth for consumer goods overall in Canada.

And then there is dairy itself.

“You see dairy milk declining on a per capita basis for the last 25 years and people migrating to our category,” explains Harrison. “As marketers, you see exponential growth, a new category, great margins and strong demand from consumers, and we believe this shift is going to continue.”

Harrison says the alternative dairy industry is now valued at over $2 billion in North America.

In the four years since Harrison and Bayne met at the incubator, countless versions of the beverage have been created, a number of which were taken out for testing with large groups of consumers. The main tests took place in two waves: the first led to the conclusion that protein was breaking too strongly through the flavor matrix, thus causing consumers in the trials to report a slightly bitter taste.

“Protein doesn’t taste good,” says Bayne, “so you have to mask it and we spent three months getting that right.”

The next wave of testers liked the taste but said they would prefer the product to possess a little more body, “so we dialed up the texture to replicate a 1% or 2% milk,” says Bayne.

One might wonder how a vegetable-based drink manages its slightly off-white color. Bayne credits ingredients such as potatoes, organic potato starch, tapioca and a white-yellow pea sourced from Belgium for the milk-like hue. “It is not an artificial colour,” he points out emphatically, adding that genetically modified, or GMO, ingredients are similarly banned from the Veggemo recipe.

With the product perfected, the fourth quarter of 2015 was chosen for the start of an aggressive yet prudent roll-out.

“There are two things you measure in this business, and the first is distribution,” explains Harrison.

“We had set out to be in 450 stores at the end of the first quarter of 2016 and it appears the number is going to be closer to 800.”

Six months from the beginning of product roll-out the goal is to be in approximately 1,800 stores across Canada, including those run by several of the leading chains.

The roll-out continues in further stages to include chilled Veggemo (the first phase involves shelf-stable product, which is packaged in an environment such that the beverage remains fresh on the shelf for up to 14 months) and the addition of stores in the United States.

Looking a bit further out, Harrison says the company has its eye on the global marketplace, as North America accounts for only 18% of dairy alternative beverage sales volume worldwide. There are many attractive markets for Global Gardens to consider, he says, both for sheer size and, in some cases, high levels of lactose intolerance within the population.

A product can be fantastic, but if people don’t try it they will never know. Harrison and Bayne have already considered the appeal factor from multiple angles and have a game plan to ensure that consumers across the country find the product if not one way, then another. This, of course, drives the second metric Harrison was hinting at: sales per point of distribution, or how many units you are selling at each store.

Key to this is the brand and its character, which Bayne describes as “light-hearted, approachable and playful.”  A naturopath in Colorado that Harrison and Bayne refer to as a “guru” asserted that many healthy food choices brand in such a way as to appeal to hard-core health food consumers; because of this, however, they effectively alienate a large percentage of “average” consumers not drawn to a product branded in that fashion.

The packages for Veggemo’s three flavors – original, unsweetened and vanilla – are each different but share a common visual theme characterized by happy animals in fantasy-like nature settings. To say they stand out sitting amid rows of competitor’s containers, almost all featuring a white beverage splashing into a glass or cereal bowl, is an understatement.

Then there is in-store product demonstration, which begins this month.

“We will be doing product tastings at about 1,000 stores so that shoppers can come and try Veggemo before they make a purchasing decision,” says Bayne.

Prices for Veggemo, which at first will be offered only in the 946ml size, will differ from region to region and by retailer, but the company’s suggested retail price is $3.49. This is in the middle of the category and at a level that leaves a very nice margin both for the retailer and for Global Gardens, and the company’s margin can be expected to climb in later years as economies of scale and other efficiencies take root.

Research indicates that a consumer making a health and wellness purchase decision tends to be less price sensitive than an average consumer, and because Veggemo is so innovative it is essentially creating a new segment of non-dairy beverages. Indeed, at the recent Grocery Innovations Canada show, Veggemo was chosen as one of the 10 most innovative products, which is quite an accomplishment given that there were some 300 products at the show.

While one eye will always be on profit, Harrison understands that execution of the business plan is the most important thing as the company begins to establish the brand.

“The gross margin is great and the selling price is great, but it is really about the management team, the category growth and how we have positioned this product,” he explains. “We have a point of differentiation that is research-based and are selling an everyday consumer good resistant to recession.”

Investors seem to share Harrison’s belief. When the company went out to raise capital in the second quarter of this year, its target was $2.5 million. It ended up with $4.3 million.

A commitment to running lean and mean should help to make those funds stretch a long way. A team of just five people has brought the company to its current state, with an aversion to owning fixed assets serving to keep costs mostly on the variable side of the ledger. “We are a company that fits the times,” says Harrison. “Who wants to own fixed assets and a factory with lots of people when there are groups whose business it is to do that?”

Going onto shelves in the likes of Walmart, Save-On-Foods, IGA Market Place, Calgary Coop, Metro Quebec, Thrifty Foods and London Drugs there is bound to be at least one retailer close to most people in Canada carrying Veggemo no later than April. Try it. You might like it, and if you do…you can have as much as you want.

Learn more about Global Gardens Group Inc at http://globalgardensgroup.com/ and on the CSE website at http://thecse.com/en/listings/diversified-industries/global-gardens-group-inc

Golden Leaf shows way for public marijuana companies with strategy timed to perfection

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on December 9, 2015 and featured in The CSE Quarterly.

The rush of junior public companies into the marijuana space over the past couple of years has been fast and furious as laws regulating the drug’s use changed in Canada and some US states.

Despite the best of intentions, many of these companies have not fared well, though in fairness regulatory hang-ups undermined momentum for those focused on operating in Canada.

Golden Leaf Holdings (CSE:GLH) chose a decidedly different path by positioning itself to take advantage of regulatory change in states on the US west coast. It turned out to be a shrewd move, as the company has gone from strength to strength literally since day one.

Golden Leaf was established in May 2014 and in the one-and-a-half years since has succeeded in growing sales to over US$1 million per month. Oregon has proven to be the perfect jurisdiction for its operations, with the company having been able to legally sell its refined marijuana oil products to medical marijuana users since inception.

Recreational use was legalized in Oregon on October 1 of this year, but the only products that can be purchased through approved dispensaries at the moment are dried leaves and buds. Golden Leaf chief executive officer (CEO) Don Robinson anticipates that the second half of 2016 will bring permission for dispensaries to sell oils and edibles to recreational users, a move that would expand the market for Golden Leaf’s products by leaps and bounds.

All Golden Leaf products are based on the extraction and refining of oil from marijuana plants. The oil is sold in a variety of delivery systems, including vaporizers and edible products, the latter slated for introduction late in the current quarter or early in 2016.

“Our business model is built around the lowest cost production of the highest quality oils, based on competitive advantage, economies of scale and intellectual property,” explains Robinson.

“We think we have a different approach to the industry than other companies.”

Well-funded (the company raised a total of US$17 million in two financing rounds prior to going public on October 14 of this year) and with a strong team, Golden Leaf has proven its ability to move quickly when opportunities present themselves.

“We believe we are the biggest extractor in all of North America – we don’t know anyone bigger,” says Robinson in describing the company’s market position.

“Our growth has been explosive, from $150,000 in revenue in September 2014 to over $1 million in April 2015. We have added equipment in the last month, and by the end of this year will have doubled our output capacity and be at a monthly run rate of $2.5 million.”

Robinson explains that the company has been able to sell all of the product it makes, and that further capacity will be needed once refined products become legal for sale to recreational users. So far, Golden Leaf’s sales have come entirely from the medical use market in Oregon.

Right next door to Oregon, of course, is Washington State, where the market is twice the size of Oregon’s.

“When you put Washington and Oregon together, you are looking at a combined market of US$2.5 billion, and almost 1.4 million consumers,” says Robinson.

Keeping up with demand will require significant capital spending. “Capex for us,” explains Robinson, “is all about acquiring more machines. Each machine is close to $300,000 dollars with a two-month payback. We had three machines and added two over the summer, and by the end of the year will have 11. With each extractor you need support and auxiliary equipment because you extract with one machine and refine with another. That is the bulk of our capital spending.”

Funds have also been used to enable production of marijuana itself. “We are attempting to grow all of the feedstock for our extraction process and the reason we want to be self-reliant on feedstock is we believe it is important to be organic. You also get a better quality of feedstock if you do it yourself as opposed to buying it on the open market, where it is inconsistent.”

That claim was borne out in a November 18 press release from the company giving quality control through in-house production part of the credit for extraction yields reaching 14%, up 50% from the year-to-date average to the highest level ever experienced by the company.

From a structural perspective, part of that credit belongs to a Golden Leaf subsidiary in Israel called Green Point Science, which conducts research and development work.

“Everything that happens in Israel with cannabis is best practice,” explains Robinson. ”They have been experimenting with cannabis since the early 1970s and we are adopting their best practice in growing, breeding and greenhouse operations. In a perfect world, we would have our own strain optimized for extraction that would grow faster, with less light, less water and more disease resistance, and therefore be organic.”

Golden Leaf has grown at breakneck speed so far and with recreational use of oils in Oregon seemingly on the horizon, demand looks like something the company may never have to worry about. Still, it is hardly a bad thing that ongoing regulatory change in other parts of the country, and even nationally, will likely to add to its demand prospects.

“Four states and Washington DC are legal medically and recreationally, the states being Alaska, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon,” says Robinson. “In addition, 23 states are in some form of decriminalization.”

Then there is the national front. “The Obama administration took a big step earlier this summer and now allows research into medical marijuana,” Robinson explains.

“Up to now it has been illegal so claims as to the efficacy of marijuana from a medical standpoint are all anecdotal. Once medical studies start coming in that prove efficacy in a formal way, you will see a sea change.”

Getting back to the principle of positioning for change before it happens, Robinson points to the strength of his team and says that when it comes to management, “we have invested ahead.”

It is all about striking the right balance, mixing team members with years of experience in various aspects of the marijuana industry with executives from outside the space who bring branding and other valuable skills.

“This is going to be a very big business and we believe it requires the best of big business practice applied to cannabis,” says Robinson. “It is that marriage of talent plus ready access to capital that will enable us to continue taking advantage of opportunities as they come our way.”

Learn more about Golden Leaf Holdings at http://goldenleafholdings.com/ and on the CSE website at http://thecse.com/en/listings/diversified-industries/golden-leaf-holdings-ltd

DNI Metals sees vertical integration as key to success in tough market

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on February 23, 2016 and featured in The CSE Quarterly.

DNI Metals (CSE: DNI) is lining up all the pieces to become one of the world’s leading graphite producers, using a three pronged approach of exploration, distribution and refinement.

Exploration

Success begins with finding the goods, and this is a base DNI has covered, having purchased a high-quality graphite project with a mining license in Madagascar in 2014. Some of the best large flake discoveries are in Madagascar and Stratmin Global Resources PLC (LON:STGR) owns and produces there from one of the top graphite deposits in the world.

That deposit happens to be just down the road from DNI’s project, with both sitting along the same trend. DNI chief executive officer Dan Weir points out his site is also close to the main shipping port and has ready access to a paved highway.

“I believe that DNI sits on a world class graphite deposit,” said Weir, “as we are located on the same trend as Stratmin.”

Working in Madagascar has some important benefits as compared to other parts of the world, including Canada; while there is good graphite in Canada, Weir concedes, it is difficult to get at.

Currently, only one small mine in British Columbia is in production, and it can only operate for six months of the year. “Most other North American graphite deposits are hosted in hard rock. They have to drill it, blast it and grind it up really, really small, and process it – there’s a huge cost to do that,” Weir said.

Conversely, Madagascar has material which is “like going to a sandbox, where you go in with an excavator or a shovel and you dig it up and process it.”

Another benefit to being in Madagascar is that it has one of the best mining codes in the world.

“To get a permit in Canada probably takes around three to four years – it’s very difficult,” Weir said.

Weir joined DNI in November 2014, and since then the company has acquired a full mining permit in Madagascar. He would likely still be waiting for the go-ahead in Canada.

The combination of a good permitting environment and soft host rock that makes for easier processing culminates in a reasonable price tag to go into production. Weir expects to begin commissioning the facility in the first quarter of 2017, with the mine set to be operational midway through the same year.

Overall, the project is slated to cost $10 million to $15 million, which is a fraction of the spending proposed in North America by other graphite companies.

Moving toward production, DNI plans to complete a resource estimate, with drill results and a preliminary economic assessment expected by the end of this year.

In tandem, DNI is acquiring two copper-zinc exploration companies with $2.3 million in working capital that will be directed to development costs at Madagascar over the next year, as the project heads toward the construction phase.

Distribution

While the company takes the Madagascar project forward, Weir is also looking to add value in other ways.

This is where part two of the plan comes in – establishing a reputation in the graphite space.

Success in the industrial metals world begins pre-production with off-take agreements and relationships; with this in mind, Weir has established a distribution network buying graphite from Brazilian producers and selling into North America.

“I am making a little bit of money from that,” he said, “but not a lot. The whole point is to build off-take relationships with buyers of graphite, so that when we come to market for financing to build DNI’s mine in Madagascar the end users will know us, respect us, and DNI will have established a reputation of high-quality graphite and partnerships with buyers,” he said.

Refinement

The third and final stage to DNI’S vertical integration strategy is the acquisition of a laboratory 20 kilometres outside of Toronto.

DNI looks to establish this lab as a hub for innovation, not just in the mining sector, but in batteries, pilot plant development and clean tech. In the future, DNI will purify its graphite at the facility. The lab works with some of the largest companies in the world.

DNI is buying the laboratory for $4 million, and while this seems like quite a large chunk of change for a small company Weir points out that the assets and property value are around $3.6 million, making it a low-risk proposition.

The transaction is expected to be completed over the next few months, Weir said, giving the business some cash flow to help toward building the mine in Madagascar. “The shining star in this whole transaction is, what other junior mining company is cash flow positive?” said Weir.

While the company builds relationships with buyers, builds its project in Madagascar, and acquires the laboratory, there is one overhanging issue that Weir is also quick to address – the graphite price.

The graphite graph

“Graphite prices in 2012 were twice what they are today,” he said, though he is not concerned, and his reasoning is two-fold.

Firstly, new supply is unlikely to come to market in the near term, particularly in North America, where he believes that economically, the more expensive hard rock projects will be difficult to commission and put into production at current graphite prices.

“We see a lot of growth around the world,” Weir said, noting that demand from new sectors such as lithium batteries was beginning to pick up.

With a potentially world class project in Madagascar, relationships with most of the major graphite buyers in North America, its own laboratory, and a positive outlook on the price of graphite, it is no wonder that the chief executive is “extremely excited” about his company’s future.

Learn more about DNI Metals Inc. at http://dnimetals.com/ and on the CSE website at http://thecse.com/en/listings/mining/dni-metals-inc

Captiva Verde: growing greens and making money

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on May 17, 2016 and featured in The CSE Quarterly.

A neat carpet of green can be seen stretching as far as the eye can see, like a well-tended lawn of some grand country manor. But this is right in the middle of the California desert.

It’s just one of Captiva Verde’s (CSE:VEG) many organic vegetable farms in isolated patches across the California and Arizona desert.

Being organic, the farms deploy no chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.

There is a big cultural shift as organic becomes the mainstream, with 78% of US families buying organic produce, which means it’s big business… if you can get it right.

Organic farms are 35% more profitable than the average farm and in retail stores organic prices are typically double conventional prices. Yet currently only 0.5% of US farmland is suitable for organics.

According to the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, global retail sales of organic food are estimated at US $72 billion. North America represents 48% of this global demand.

From renewable energy to organic farming

Captiva Verde is taking a run at this giant market. Worth just CDN $20.5 million, it is fair to say the company is a comparative minnow in the field of agriculture.

But founder Jeff Ciachurski is ambitious: “You’ve got to have a lot of guts,” he says. “You need to go in with a big operation and take the chance.”

Ciachurski made his fortune in sustainable power after he founded Western Wind in 2002 with an initial investment of CDN $250,000.

Just over ten years later he sold the company to Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners for $420 million.

As important as the project is the person behind it; the man or woman with the relentless drive and will to win.

“I made a very big success for my shareholders; in fact I was one of the few guys in the entire worldwide market place that made a whole lot of money in the wind and solar space,” says Ciachurski.

“So I’ve got a knack for finding high quality deals and ones that really take a lot of perseverance, a lot of emotional energy and challenges.”

And he thinks there are lessons he learned from his former employment that are directly applicable to the world of organics.

“There is a huge regulatory landscape you need to navigate. But we successful entrepreneurs take on the big challenges,” Ciachurski says.

Captiva Verde was founded in 2014 and is certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Ciachurski’s team now farms 3,700 acres, the majority of which is leased, and the group is looking to add another 2,270 acres in the southwest US for organic cultivation.

The farmland is managed by a team with extensive experience in organic vegetable farming, food processing, clean energy and land development in California and Arizona.

The isolated fields in Arizona, Imperial Valley and Tehachapi are all at different elevations for production synched to optimal climate conditions, allowing for 365 day a year harvesting and crop rotation.

If the vision above is one of man in harmony with his environment, then the state of California, with some 20,000 organic farms, reveals what happens when agriculture of this sort is done on an industrial scale.

A big risk with big money

It has been a challenge for Captiva Verde, not just meeting the exacting farming standards, but winning over retailers.

“The certification program in California is so tough. The reality of organics is that the standards are way beyond what you’d call sustainable,” said Ciachurski.

“The US is a very litigious place, California especially so. There is a very large and robust food safety program. You want to make sure the buyers know you have a top rated food certification.”

Scrutiny was intense to gain National Organic Program certification. And meeting the food standards and safety criteria can be very costly, which is often a deterrent or inhibitor to smaller, less well-funded groups.

How many small businesses could fund a four-mile fence to avoid cross-contamination from animals? Captiva was forced to bear these costs to gain USDA certification for just one 600-acre farm.

“We take 300 tissue samples per acre to test for bacteria,” states Ciachurski.

“All this can be a big setback for the smaller guys, who often have to sell at the farmers market because the big end retailers would not find their standards remotely adequate to get onto their shelves.

“That’s why you have to raise the capital; it’s a big risk with big money at the start.”

Captiva also had to convince potential buyers of produce that its farms were capable of producing enough to meet the demand from retailers such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

It was stuck for five months in the spot market, where prices fluctuate minute to minute, while it proved its output was reliable.

“The risk is no one will buy from you until you can prove to them you can grow big quantities. At one time US $9 million worth of supply had to be re-ploughed back into the ground,” Ciachurski laments.

It’s only really in the last month Captiva has found itself in the happy position of selling all its production on contract.

“That means that everything we grew already had a buyer by the time it goes in the ground,” adds Ciachurski.

So what does the future hold?

“Tremendous growth,” Ciachurski says.

The organic vegetable market is worth around US $35 billion a year and is expanding at some 12-15% annually. That rate is forecast for the next 10 years.

Captiva, meanwhile, is making remarkable financial headway.

In 2015 it reported US $9 million of losses. By November it was producing US $500,000 a week worth of vegetables but selling it at only $200,000.

As of 8 May, Captiva has 455,000 pounds of produce a week fully contracted, which brings in US $570,000 a week in sales (the equivalent of almost CDN $30 million of annual sales).

“We are the only company that even has those kinds of revenues on the CSE and the only publicly traded 100% organic farming company,” he points out.

Further expansion is on the books as Captiva looks to some strategic acquisitions.

The company announced last month that it was considering buying two companies – a large food broker and a substantial salad making operation – to expand right through the organic produce supply chain.

The acquisitions will add a further US $13 million of sales a year for the group.

“We’re a growing company in a growing market. Since October 2015 we started from zero sales to now US $1 million a month. Now, as of May, we are moving to US $2.5 million a month,” explains Ciachurski.

“We are fast making money in a dynamically growing sector, and that’s what investors want to see.”

Learn more about Captiva Verde Industries Ltd. at http://www.veg.net/ and on the CSE website at http://thecse.com/en/listings/diversified-industries/captiva-verde-industries-ltd

Laguna Blends – Combines Unique Product, Technology Edge to Put Own Spin on Network Marketing

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on May 25, 2016 and featured in The CSE Quarterly.

Technology companies are renowned for their rapid growth rates, but apparently even they can’t keep up to successful groups in a tried-and-true business that many of us are in contact with all the time.

Network marketing, also known as multi-level-marketing (MLM), is the practice of individual direct sales coupled with recruitment of new direct sellers by existing salespeople.  If you are thinking Amway, you’re on the right track.  With some 3 million salespeople worldwide, Amway is the MLM king, recording US $9.5 billion in sales in 2015.  Avon (NYSE:AVP) and Herbalife(NYSE:HLF) are among other big MLM names.

Laguna Blends (CSE:LAG) is the latest entry onto the MLM scene and the potential to go from zero to 100 overnight was one of the key factors that convinced its founder to go all in.  “I have put over $1 million of my own capital into the company,” says Stuart Gray, Laguna’s CEO.  “Successful MLM groups grow faster than tech companies so one of the nice things about Laguna is that we have the ability to get bigger really quickly.”

Laguna began its sales quest in March focused on the nutritional and health benefits of products containing hemp.  Hemp is known for being rich in protein, as well as omega fatty acids 3, 6 and 9, plus magnesium and other nutrients important to a balanced diet.  Gray summarizes the product category as “functional beverages” given that a hemp-infused instant coffee and four flavours of a sports drink mix called Pro 369 (after the omegas) comprise the initial product line.

Gray originally learned about the benefits of hemp as a consultant to several companies in the medical marijuana industry.  But while the health benefits of hemp strains used for food, as opposed to intoxication, were obvious, he felt that the approach to selling these products could be improved upon.

“We see hemp-based products on the shelves at many of the biggest food retailing names in the world, but in some cases the product has not sold through as well as the producers thought it would,” says Gray.  “There remains a lot of education that needs to take place as to the true value of hemp, so we chose direct marketing because it enables potential customers to really learn about what they are buying.”

Gray understands that MLM is an ultra-competitive universe and as such is relying on more than just unique products to set Laguna apart.  “We are definitely differentiating ourselves by pioneering hemp-based products that nobody else has,” explains Gray.  “But really, how we separate ourselves is through technology.  We have virtual 3D technology that replaces the need to go to hotel meetings to learn how to recruit.  Everything you need to build your business is on there.”

The objective of a company such as Laguna is to provide products, infrastructure, support and training for independent affiliates, he explains, whose role it is to then go out and build the business through sales and recruitment.

Gray says the combination of unique product and what might be the industry’s only 3D training and administration platform enabled the company to grow its affiliate network from zero at the beginning of March to 700 members in Canada and the US less than one month later.  “We have proven that we can do this,” he says.

It is not only affiliates that Gray has been able to attract to Laguna.  In early May the company announced that Ray Grimm had agreed to come on as president.  Grimm has some 25 years of experience in direct sales of weight loss and nutritional products, and is credited with leading three companies in the space to north of $50 million in sales in their first five years.

“Ray is considered a legend in this industry and he told me we have not only great products, but the best technology he has ever seen,” says Gray.  “I really think that if you look at digital disruption, we are one of those companies that changes the game.”

Another key member of the team is Stuart Kawasaki, president of wholly owned subsidiary Laguna Blends USA, who has been in network marketing since 1988.   “One of the companies he was a consultant with early on did $1 million of sales in its first year, $15 million in the second, and by year five was over $300 million,” explains Gray.

Experience is deep on the technology side as well, with Martin Carleton and Charles Carleton – early contractors to the team that built Skype – overseeing technology for Laguna Blends.  Martin also sits on Laguna’s board of directors.

The company has inventory ready to go with a retail value of about $1.65 million, so at a 40% payout on sales to its affiliates, Laguna looks set to generate good numbers as product begins to make its way out of the warehouse.

With proven management in place and product straining at the gate, Gray anticipates meaningful levels of revenue are just around the corner, following in virtual lockstep with expansion of the associate network.  “It is no different than when a stockbroker goes to a new firm, his clients follow him,” says Gray.  “If you are an MLM leader and you move, some of your people follow you.”

Given the company’s technology leanings, social media is also proving to be a worthwhile recruiting tool.  “With Laguna having the leading technology, a lot of people found us through social media,” explains Gray.  “I ask newcomers who they were referred by, because we always want to make sure that the affiliate gets credit, but in many cases they just found out through an article or a video.  MLM can now even spread through networks where people e-mail their base a video or put it on social media and it goes viral.”

Not on that dangerous edge where you are re-inventing the wheel, nor on the lost-in-the-crowd track of doing the same thing as everyone else, Laguna Blends has apparently positioned itself in something of a sweet spot by introducing modern tools and unique products to an established industry.  With an experienced executive team in place and sales underway, the company and its investors will soon find out just how many tech companies Laguna can leave in the rear view mirror.

Learn more about Laguna Blends Inc. at http://www.lagunablends.ca/your-company and on the CSE website at http://thecse.com/en/listings/diversified-industries/laguna-blends-inc

Beleave – advancing smoothly through medical marijuana approvals with eye on big sales, margins

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on May 17, 2016 and featured in The CSE Quarterly.

Marijuana sales reached nearly US$1 billion in 2015 for the state of Colorado, where the drug was cleared for recreational sale just over two years ago

As the social narrative and legal argument surrounding marijuana continues to evolve, an intriguing dilemma is posed for a typically conservative mainstream investment community.

Investors looking at Beleave Inc. (CSE:BE) will likely have polarised opinions depending upon their age, politics and life experience.  Indeed, the issue of marijuana’s decriminalisation and commercialisation is very much loaded.

But, whatever an individual’s standpoint on the moral or ethical merits of this emerging industry, one thing is quite clear; a pragmatic look at the business case reveals a compelling argument for the growing sector.

Marijuana sales reached nearly US$1 billion in 2015 for the state of Colorado, where the drug was cleared for recreational sale just over two years ago.  According to the state’s authorities some US $135 million was collected in taxes and fees related to the pot business that year.

Colorado is one of four US states to legalise marijuana for recreational use (the others are Alaska, Oregon and Washington).  Twelve others, including big markets such as California and Nevada, now allow consumption for medical purposes.

In Canada, the medical marijuana business has legalised progressively over the past 15 years.

But, the major turning point came in 2014 with the introduction of the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (or MMPR) by the government’s Health Canada arm.

Newly-elected liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in November announced that marijuana would be legalised for recreational use in Canada during 2017.

It represents a major opportunity, particularly for Beleave.

Although there’s a lot going on around the edges for Beleave – with the company working on various research and development projects – at the moment the story is quite a simple one.

Beleave is the next man up for regulatory approval

Around 30 companies have been given the regulatory green light for medical marijuana.

And as Beleave chief executive Roger Ferreira explains it, his company is currently in the advanced stages of the regulatory licensing process with Health Canada.  Being in the final stages of the approval process, the regulatory decision is expected soon.

With the help of chief operating officer Bill Panagiotakopolous, and his construction industry ties, the company has now built at low capital costs a 14,500 square foot production facility designed to meet Health Canada’s requirements.

The facility, in Hamilton, will be capable of producing some 550,000 grams of marijuana each year and, crucially, it is designed to be scalable so that the production line can grow in lock step with the commercial side of the business.

That scalability will be key. Ferreira says initial market research to date indicates Beleave could sell out its entire capacity within a year from the start of production.

Prescribed patients on average consume between one and three grams of marijuana per day, he explains.  As such just 270 to 800 registered patients would be needed to max out the group’s supply in year-one, giving the company revenue of $4.2 million with margins of 72%.  As demand for the product increases the company has already laid the groundwork for expansion of up to 270,000 square feet with margins increasing to 83% and revenue growing past $100 million.

At the same time the demand for licensed marijuana in Canada is forecast to soar.

The number of registered patients has grown at a rate of 20,000 patients per year since the regulatory framework was brought in during 2014, and the introduction of a recreational use market is expected to see customer numbers swell further.

So what’s next in the medical marijuana licensing process?

To be green lit in Canada, a grower has to complete a three step permitting process.

First, the company needs Health Canada to approve the drug for cultivation (i.e. growing). This is what Beleave is currently waiting for.

Once licensed for cultivation the company will then be able to legally obtain already sourced seeds and ‘clones’ for planting and begin the process of growing cannabis plants.

Health Canada assesses and reviews the operation throughout as part of the new regulation process.

A separate license is then required for harvesting.  Without a harvesting license the plants cannot be cut, dried or processed in any way.  After that, a third license is required to allow the company to commercialise the product.

From an investor’s point of view this represents a critical focus for the next year.  Ideally, Beleave will want a seamless transition through each of the three stages – as bottlenecks through permitting could see harvests missed and the loss of potential sales.

The grow op

Previously, Canadian patients were legally allowed to grow marijuana for their own medical purposes.

New regulations, introduced in 2014, aimed to create larger scale third-party suppliers to deliver a safer and more medically appropriate product.

“They wanted to establish an infrastructure whereby there was a commercial base, with a lot of quality assurance oversight to ensure that the product is safe for use,” Ferreira told Proactive Investors.

“With what patients were growing themselves, in their basements, it was unclear what the quality was in terms of potency, contaminations and consistency.”  Furthermore, there are other inherent public safety concerns associated with such a system, including diversion of plant material to illicit markets, as well as the potential for gang-related violence.”

He added: “Our facility is pharmaceutical-grade in terms of quality assurance procedures and manufacturing practices. We’re taking extremely heavy security precautions, and putting in place extremely stringent reporting requirements in terms of inventory and surveillance.”

“All of that is being done to ensure a clean, safe and high quality product.”

“It is a state of the art facility that encompasses all of these things.”

Research & development is a key focus for Beleave

Ferreira, a Phd who has authored peer-reviewed papers on neuroimmune pharmacology, highlights that research and development and academia are a key focus for Beleave.

By concentrating on science he expects the business to produce a clinically efficacious drug, as well as creating consistently potent and safe marijuana products.

Central to its R&D effort is a collaboration partnership with researchers at Ryerson University, Ontario, and parts of this work is grant-funded.

“We are working on extraction and drug standardization of cannabinoids and other pharmaceutically relevant compounds in the plant material, with the aim of developing exciting and innovative IP surrounding cannabis-based pharmaceutical therapies” said Ferreira

“Standardisation of cannabis based medicines will allow them to be considered more than just a crude plant or extract, and more as a regulated substance that’s highly characterised and has a composition that’s suited to pharmaceutical use.”

He pointed out that while cannabis is being used to treat the symptoms of multiple-sclerosis, and as ad-hoc pain relief in cancer care, it still is not an approved drug.

It remains a narcotic where the evidence of its effects is mainly anecdotal.

“There’s emerging clinical evidence of its usefulness for certain illnesses,” said Ferreira.

“But, you cannot advertise it right as a specific treatment yet. It hasn’t really been proven out, there isn’t a lot of evidence data. And there are reasons for that.

“When you look at availability in the market, there are so many different strains with all these different names and varying qualitative aspects to them – to do with aroma, flavour, strength and effects.

“These things attract a consumer’s eye, but what the clinical community is more concerned with is to do with potency and therapeutic benefits.

“So we have been looking at how we can establish a production facility that, with good working practice, can ensure reliability, repeatability and a uniform product.

“And that is what is going to make cannabis a more standardised medicine, and help move perceptions away from the idea of it being a crude plant material.”

Learn more about Beleave at http://beleave.com/ and on the CSE website at http://thecse.com/en/listings/life-sciences/beleave-inc

VirtualArmor – advanced network and cybersecurity

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on May 26, 2016 and featured in The CSE Quarterly.

VirtualArmor debuted on the CSE in November of last year at $0.25.  It sat quietly for its first couple of months before starting to build a following that has since seen the stock close as high as $0.75 (a 200% gain), and more recently at $0.65 (up 160%).

A basic analysis of the company yields some familiar themes, including experienced management and rapid growth underscored by hard-won advantages in a large, fast-growing market.

Founder and Chairman Christopher Blisard explains the challenges facing every entity with a presence on the Internet, and thereby the opportunity for VirtualArmor, in a manner hard to dispute.  “Where we are going as a world is that everything is being moved to the edge,” Blisard explains.  “You as a consumer or business want everything available all the time at any location.  We’ll continue to grow because technology is pushing the boundaries of where data is stored and those areas can become very vulnerable very quickly.  You really have no choice but to call companies like ours to take care of your problems.”

Established in 2001, VirtualArmor has crafted a business model over the years that Blisard says literally has no peer within the industry.  It involves working closely with hardware manufacturers so that the VirtualArmor team can go beyond providing a security overlay “a mile wide and an inch deep” and get inside the actual hardware, where the most talented of hackers often go to lay their traps.

“We work hand in hand with the manufacturer, plugging their software into our platform so we can go incredibly deep into every piece of equipment we are managing on your network.  It is not just a reactive environment at that point, but also a proactive environment.”

When VirtualArmor discusses security with a potential client, it insists on bringing the hardware that will serve as the backbone of the entity’s computer network.  Instead of trying to fix the myriad bugs inherent in a system that should have been designed better in the first place, VirtualArmor brings in what it knows will work.

Looking at the financial picture, accrual earnings were skewed in 2015 by non-cash items related to the go-public effort, but cash flow was positive for the year, and that’s the number that really counts.  Fiscal 2016 should be more indicative, and thus far is shaping up nicely.  The company announced on March 8 that it had booked US $2.4 million in sales in the previous 90 days.  Given that revenue for full-year 2015 was US $7.4 million, VirtualArmor is so far on pace to beat handily year on year.

Matthew Brennan, Vice President of Sales, points to the importance of convincing investors that growth in revenue and earnings is sustainable.  “When you have an organization as successful as ours and all of that revenue came from two salespeople, to know we are going to end the year at between six and eight salespeople suggests you will see things move in a positive direction,” he says.

Blisard adds that part of the benefit of listing on the CSE has been to broaden the understanding of VirtualArmor and give it new tools to conduct the full extent of the expansion it envisions.  “Looking at 2016 to 2017, the objective will be to expand our reach internationally,” he says.  “That includes going into Canada and Europe, and particularly the London market.”  Blisard goes on to explain that the company has a 10-person Security Operations Center, or SOC, just outside of London that can play a very helpful role in landing and serving local customers.

The revenue outlook is further enhanced by the stickiness of the client base, which is actually very easy to assess: “We have never lost a managed services customer and our longest one has been with us for 10 years,” says Blisard.

Also helping the share price was the announcement March 16 that the company was cancelling just under 3 million of its shares outstanding, and that several third-party shareholders had agreed to put a total of 3 million shares into escrow.  The resulting reduction in dilution, not to mention clear vote of confidence, set a positive tone that the stock price responded to immediately.

Blisard is happy with the way the stock has performed to date but points out that he knows education is a process and that it will take time for the company to build the following it thinks it ultimately deserves.

“For the Canadian markets a company like this is unique,” Blisard explains.  “The investment community understands the importance of cybersecurity in their lives.  The people we talk to understand the way our company is structured, how it drives revenue, how it drives profit, and where it sits within the cybersecurity world.”

Concludes Brennan, “It is very important that an investor understands there is a roadmap.  We made a good decision in not growing too quickly, taking our proceeds and placing smart bets on particular territories and hiring the right people.  I think it is key that the investment community understands this.”

Learn more about VritualArmor International Inc. at http://www.virtualarmor.com/ and on the CSE website at http://thecse.com/en/listings/technology/virtualarmor-international-inc

Pudo – Pick it up. Drop it off.

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on May 26, 2016 and featured in The CSE Quarterly.

PUDO Inc. debuted on the CSE on July 28, 2015 at $0.70, proceeded to drop to $0.18, yet within two weeks was conducting a private placement of 1.1 million shares at $0.63.  Using that as a reference price, the stock has closed up as much as 443%, and as of publication date is up a still respectable 280%.

“While you are out and about, we’re here accepting your deliveries” reads the tagline on the company’s website, and that pretty much captures the essence of the PUDO service.  We all know how frustrating it is to be waiting for a package, only to arrive home and find that someone tried to deliver it, but unable to do so left a sticky message indicating that you cannot obtain your parcel until the following day.  Even more annoying is learning that the package had been delivered, only to be stolen off the front stoop.

PUDO completely eliminates this inefficiency by creating locations called PUDO Points where customers can specify their parcels be dropped off so as to be picked up at their convenience.

The benefits to all participants in a transaction run deeper than that, but at its core the service makes life more convenient for consumers.  It is the simplicity and connection to all of us that PUDO CEO Frank Coccia believes is behind the impressive performance by the company’s shares in the short time the company has been public.

“It is a story that everyone understands,” says Coccia.  “It is not a biotech company or mining exploration where it can be difficult to see the real potential.  I enjoy going out and speaking with investors.   They see that couriers, retailers and consumers can have a field day with this.”

Digging a little deeper, one learns why the concept would have more natural allies than competitors.  Coccia explains that PUDO seeks nothing more than to provide pick-up points inside convenience stores and other established physical locations.

Couriers thus know they have a guaranteed delivery and save money by not having to attempt re-deliveries after a failed visit.  Retailers that ship product to fulfill customer orders gain flexibility to negotiate with multiple couriers and thereby reduce their shipping costs.  The consumer gains the peace of mind that comes with knowing a parcel is available to pick up at a convenient location whenever they like.  Convenience stores and other PUDO Points not only earn fees for holding and putting parcels in the hands of their owners, but also from impulse buys thanks to the extra foot traffic.

Coccia says that investors also like the fact that PUDO keeps its costs under control by needing little more than to maintain and support the technology behind the service.  “The beauty of PUDO is that we don’t own anything outside the technology,” explains Coccia.  “The bricks and mortar is already there.  We are just taking advantage of the elements in an ecosystem that already exists.”

Growth on the ground has been quick to date, with Coccia saying that the company has already established some 800 PUDO Points in Canada and the US and over 6,000 registered locations, this latter category being locations signed up that have yet to go through training so they are fully ready to roll.

“Once we hit 3,500 to 4,000 locations in Canada then we should be exactly where we want to be,” Coccia says.  “In the US we have over 3,700 registered locations at present and ultimately want 16,000 to 20,000.  Once we reach those two numbers we will have a fixed cost with a control centre that manages everything.”

Experience helps small companies avoid costly mistakes, and fortunately for PUDO Coccia has been at this for 35 years.  “I built niche courier systems, which basically are courier systems for one industry.  We did it for the travel industry and the financial services sector and for lawyers serving one another documents and papers.  It is all about consolidation where people can pick up mail and drop off their mail.”

Coccia expects growth to continue apace, thanks in part to several potential partners he is talking to in the US.  “We’d suddenly have a network in the US that could rival that of any national carrier – UPS or even the post office,” he says.

With just 15.6 million shares outstanding, PUDO has plenty of room to maneuver if Coccia deems it necessary to raise equity capital for supporting growth.  And while the company is not flush with cash, liabilities are fairly low as well, so with revenue beginning to come in Coccia has a good shot at preserving a nice share structure until PUDO reaches the point at which it becomes self-funding.

Experienced management, enviable share structure, rapid growth, consistent communication.  Does that qualify as a formula?

Learn more about Pudo Inc at http://www.pudoinc.com/ and on the CSE website at http://thecse.com/en/listings/diversified-industries/pudo-inc

RESAAS gaining traction

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on May 26, 2016 and featured in The CSE Quarterly.

“There is no magic formula,” states Cory Brandolini, CEO and founder of RESAAS Services Inc. which at its peak to date sat 1,892% above its February 2011 Initial Public Offering price of $0.25.  Priced at around $1.60 at date of publication – despite its business being miles ahead of where it was when the stock was at $4.98 – the share price still represents a gain to original investors that anyone would be happy with.

“Share price appreciation is a function of two things,” Brandolini explains.  “One, execute your business plan and make sure you are growing every month, and two, get that message out so people can understand clearly what you are trying to do.  There is no magic to that – it is just hard work, execution on your model, growth of your user base in our case, and messaging that to the investment community.”

RESAAS was deliberate in formulating the right course of action before executing its business plan, spending over a year canvassing potential clients through focus group-style forums and one-on-one meetings with brokers and CEOs from all of the major brands.  RESAAS clearly had a vision as to how they felt the industry needed to evolve and the results of a year’s worth of industry data collection served to confirm the team’s ideas.

The company then went into a calculated “stealth development” phase before launching the platform on a global basis. The result is a cloud platform connecting the entire real estate services industry around the world in real time.  Finding out what you don’t know after you’ve already created your product can be lethally expensive, and since Brandolini and RESAAS CFO Cam Shippit come from the financial industry, they understand how critical a strong start is to long-term success.

“Our ideology is that we wanted to transform the industry – not disrupt professionals but advance their model,” says Brandolini.  “Technology was not the industry’s strong suit.  It needed to be solved from an outsider’s point of view, an agnostic point of view, by somebody who didn’t have a dog in the fight but was simply trying to address the legacy based problems within the real estate services industry.”

And what an industry to choose.  As estimated by the US Federal Reserve, the value of combined commercial and residential real estate assets in the United States alone totals some US $40 trillion.  Even though only a small percentage of properties change hands each year, the commissions available to real estate agents reach into the billions.

The RESAAS platform is a gorgeous piece of online architecture that gives realtors, brokerages, multi-national franchises and associations their own industry-specific enterprise social network.  Users get to custom-brand their own environment and enjoy the functionality of real-time information sharing. Think of the power of Facebook and the productivity of Salesforce.com.  “There had never been a platform built exclusively for the real estate enterprise side that advances the industry past its early baby boomer designed infrastructure,” says Brandolini.

In the third quarter of 2015, the company expanded its suite of services with the addition of the RESAAS Marketplace, where industry professionals can access a wide variety of services from companies such as Top Producer, DocuSign and Dotloop at prices available only to RESAAS members.  There are now over 50 participating companies, and counting, in the RESAAS Marketplace.  “Our strategy early on was to allow other real estate service providers that offer best in class products the ability to integrate directly into our platform and expose their services within our Marketplace,” says Brandolini.

Then in the fourth quarter of last year RESAAS introduced an exciting new feature on the platform called RealTimeMLS.

“At the end of 2015 we launched a game-changer for Real Estate Associations. RealTimeMLS is a technology that looks to eliminate static data collecting and turn that process into a real-time model,” says Brandolini.  “With RealTimeMLS, for any listing that an agent posts on the RESAAS platform, all of the members of his or her local association will be notified of that listing in real time, and the listing information will be pushed to that agent’s local MLS.”

Standing behind this young tech juggernaut is a balance sheet that at December 2015 boasted $6.8 million in cash and just over $438,000 in accounts payable and liabilities.  RESAAS has raised well over $20 million since it was established but at the end of last year had barely over 33 million shares outstanding.  Talk about solid corporate financial management.

Modern tech companies often get high-per user valuations, and there is little reason to believe RESAAS will not one day visit those hallowed realms.  After all, its user base is ultra-focused and full of high-paid professionals with shared interests that at the same time have something in common with every single one of us, as we all need somewhere to live.

Asked about achieving appropriate share valuation, Brandolini has one more piece of advice.  “You have to be able to get your value proposition across,” he says.  “Are you disrupting an industry, are you advancing an industry, or are you solving an industry problem?  You had better be able to answer one of those three questions affirmatively if you want the value of your company to be properly recognized on the stock market.”

Learn more about RESAAS Services Inc. at http://www.resaas.com/ and on the CSE website at http://thecse.com/en/listings/technology/resaas-services-inc

Urbana’s mix of private and public holdings beats street, appeals to deep value investors

This story was originally published at www.proactiveinvestors.com on May 26, 2016 and featured in The CSE Quarterly.

One would think that with a track record like Urbana Corporation’s (CSE:URB; TSE:URB) the chance to buy its shares at a discount would be almost non-existent. At an annual return based on net asset value exceeding 14% since it was launched in 2002, Urbana easily ranks as one of the better performing investment companies on the block.

Puzzling then that its stock is priced around $1.97, while its per-share net asset value is closer to $3.50. “Since October 2002 the rate of growth has been just under 14.54% but the share price is at a significant discount to the asset value, to an extent due to lack of coverage,” explains Thomas Caldwell, Urbana’s President and CEO.

Caldwell, of course, is also Chairman of investment dealer Caldwell Securities Ltd. He is well known on Bay Street and Wall Street for making big returns from investing in stock exchanges. “At one point we owned 37 exchanges,” Caldwell notes.

That legacy remains a major part of the Urbana investment approach, reflected these days more so in the heavy portfolio weighting in companies involved with the financial industry, be they major banks or service providers to the mortgage business. “That is where I spent most of my career and is an area we like to think we understand,” Caldwell says.

In many ways, Urbana is structured to offer investors the best of all worlds. It has just shy of $200 million under management, about 55% in public investments, plus 45% in private investments that its shareholders would almost certainly be otherwise unable to access.

Another benefit is that the closed-end nature of the fund is a perfect fit for Caldwell’s investment strategy. “A closed-end investment corporation like Urbana is a great way to manage money because the capital we have is permanent,” he explains. “The problem with mutual funds is that you get your money at the worst time – at the top of markets – and you lose it at the best time – at the bottom of markets. But that is when you should be doing the opposite – you should be selling at the top and buying at the bottom. If a market is going down I am not worried about a run-off of assets and that’s where I make our money. I’m a bargain hunter.”

Well-represented sectors these days include US financials, which Caldwell says make up 32% of the portfolio, while a recent move into a set of holdings he calls “Canada Inc.” saw Urbana take meaningful positions in Barrick Gold (TSE:ABX), Suncor Energy (TSE:SU) and Teck Resources (TSE:TCK.B). “Our Canadian banks are up 10%, Suncor is up a few percent, and Teck is up 100%,” Caldwell explains.

One of the CEO’s favourite holdings is a private company called Real Matters. Real Matters runs a technology platform and network of more than 100,000 independent field agents that help financial institutions and other entities in the real estate business perform appraisals, insurance inspections, title searches and mortgage closings. Its customers include 60 of the top 100 mortgage lenders in the US and a number of large insurance companies.

“Real Matters is run by an extremely bright executive named Jason Smith,” says Caldwell, noting that he invited the Real Matters President and CEO to speak at Urbana’s annual general meeting this year. “I say now that I am not interested in ideas anymore. I am only interested in people who can execute on ideas. He can do that.”

Caldwell sees Real Matters eventually listing in the public realm via an IPO, a path that Urbana likes its private investments to move along as they grow and mature.

Another successful holding on the private side that anyone who follows Urbana will be aware of is the Canadian Securities Exchange, in which the investment company holds a major stake. Caldwell also serves as the exchange’s Chairman.

“The CSE fills a role that I believe, and my directors and partners believe, is important to Canada,” explains Caldwell. “Canada is an entrepreneurial country but it is very hard to build a company here because we are losing a lot of independent dealers and don’t have the big venture pools like they have in Silicon Valley. So what the CSE can do as an exchange is to simplify the role of accessing capital.

“Ned Goodman (Deputy Chairman of the CSE and founder of Dundee Corporation – a significant shareholder in the CSE) and I both say the same thing – we feel the CSE is an extremely important link in Canada’s prosperity going forward. We pursue this with almost religious fervor because both Ned and I feel so strongly in terms of helping Canadians. Remember, the large financial institutions and many of the resource companies are going to be generators of unemployment in the years to come. New jobs and head offices are only going to come from new enterprise. That’s where the CSE lives and that’s what we try to nurture.”

Fervour certainly is an apt word to describe the way Caldwell feels about the industry he has built his life around, and it troubles him to see certain pillars of the financial community struggling so mightily. “Independent brokerage firms are being massacred and that is going to impact Canada’s standard of living, the number of head offices and new companies,” he explains. “It is a difficult environment right now for new companies trying to raise money. Regulators don’t see that they are addicted to evermore regulation and the damage they are doing to the economy.”

Asked about the possibility of Urbana seeing this as an opportunity, Caldwell suggests he needs to know more. “I’d love to sit down with regulators at some point and find out what their intention is. If they are planning to wipe out an industry, which it appears they are, then naturally I would not be doing bargain hunting in it.”

In the end, he suspects the over-regulation he witnesses does not even achieve its intended objective. “Quite often in an onerous environment the people who will work hard to jump through the hoops are the ones with the more speculative deals. So it does not even mean that you are thinning the ranks of the villains because those are the ones that will bend the rules.”

Regulation run rampant is an issue Caldwell sees as a threat to the Canadian economy but, paradoxically perhaps, he sees strict regulation of the financial industry in the US creating an investment opportunity. “There has been tremendous regulatory pressure on US banks and it is the shareholders who suffer,” says Caldwell. “Our feeling is that they will have to ease up, which would be good for the banks. If they don’t then US banks may unilaterally break themselves back up into commercial and investment banks, which I think would also be good for the stocks. If history has shown us anything it is that when you break up a company, the parts are usually worth more than the whole.”

With the discount to net asset value at Urbana so significant, it makes sense to use a portion of the corporation’s capital to buy back its own shares. “We have been very aggressive buying back stock and cancelling it,” says Caldwell. “We have bought back about 37 million shares at a discount, and this has benefited the remaining shareholders.”

The buyback has doubtlessly contributed to share price stability, but there still remains a gap wide enough to present opportunity for new investors. “The great bargain right now with Urbana is that for $2.00 you get $3.50 working for you, and that $3.50 has been growing at over 14% per annum for the last 14 years. The stock price will eventually catch up with it but I think in the meantime you can get pretty good management and assets at a discount.”

Learn more about Urbana Corporation at http://www.urbanacorp.com/ and on the CSE website at http://thecse.com/en/listings/diversified-industries/urbana-corporation