All posts by Peter Murray

Kuya Silver: Near-term production, exploration shape a game plan based on a proven path to the big leagues

When putting together the business plan for a new company, incorporating lessons from the leaders in your industry is always a good idea. David Stein worked as a mining analyst beginning in the early 2000s and was among the first to initiate coverage on marquee names such as First Majestic and Fortuna Silver. When he decided to establish an exploration company of his own, he understood the models that tended to position small companies to become billion-dollar players.

Focusing on high-grade silver projects with the potential for near-term production, Kuya Silver (CSE:KUYA), where Stein is Chief Executive Officer, is active in Peru and Canada, two of the world’s most prolific jurisdictions for precious metals production. With a healthy treasury, a balanced approach to its projects and a strong silver market, the company is ready to begin putting its plan into action. Stein shared his strategy of silver production and ongoing exploration with Public Entrepreneur in mid-February.

Kuya is obviously silver-focused. Before we get into your two projects and the outlook for each, tell us why you chose silver.

It really comes down to finding an exceptional project and it just happened to be a silver project. I found the Bethania Mine opportunity in 2017, and while my background is in all sorts of different minerals, precious metals are the main ones.

As I started looking more into the silver mining industry, I noticed there was a huge opportunity because many of the intermediate and large silver players from 10 or 15 years ago had diversified away from silver and more into gold. Now there is this sort of a void in the industry where if you want to invest in a primary silver mining company there are very few options. The opportunity to have this exceptional project and be able to get into production quickly made it all the more exciting. 

Your plans for Bethania call for putting a local mine back into production and at the same time doing exploration to help with mine planning and resource expansion. How did you come across Bethania, and can you talk about the thinking behind this two-part plan?

In terms of how I found it, I went out on my own after being in the industry on the investment side for 15 or 16 years and was looking for projects, mostly privately owned opportunities. During the bear market I had focused on private equity as a niche within the mining sector. Bethania was one of the projects that came up.

In terms of the business plan – restarting the mine, putting our own plant there and increasing production – that evolved over the course of negotiations with the former owners. Initially, they were really looking for someone to put a little money in for a minority interest and help them with some financial issues. It didn’t interest me as a minority investment, but if we could take control, there was a chance to do something special. I saw the potential to get enough silver production from this mine to make it into a meaningful public company one day.

I was a sell-side equities analyst in the early 2000s and one of the first analysts to cover some of the important silver companies. To me, this opportunity reminded me a lot of those: start with a high-grade silver mine with low capex that you could put into production quickly and easily. Then, by bringing better access to capital through the public markets, you could grow production, reduce costs, do more exploration – all those good things we plan to do.

If you look at the genesis of First Majestic or go back even further to the first projects that Pan American acquired in Peru, these very big and successful multi-billion-dollar companies all started with a single high-grade silver project. That was the beginning of the journey.

Peru has a long history of mining. What is the plan for community support and sharing the benefits with the people who live in the region where Bethania is located?

Peru is a very diverse country with different communities and types of environment. We are in the high Andes in central Peru, so we are in an area that is very accustomed to mining. As a recently producing mine, there is already acceptance of Bethania and a culture within the local community to support it. The community that has jurisdiction over the mining area is Poroche, and we are still in the process of working out what the people want to see over the longer term. The community has been very helpful, and I think they believe in the benefits of having more activity in the area and would prefer that the mine be operating.

One noteworthy aspect of our relationship is that we were able to receive our environmental impact assessment approval for the new plant and tailings storage. In order to do that you essentially have to get approval from your local community before you submit your paperwork to the government. There are site visits and other aspects of a legislated process. So, you work with the local community and essentially earn its support before permits can be granted. I think that demonstrates we are on a strong footing.

Your other project is located in northeastern Ontario. It has some very nice silver numbers and some cobalt in the mix as well. What is your plan there?

There are two parts to that deal. There is a part where we are buying a section outright, which is the Kerr Project. It represents about 10% of the First Cobalt land package and is the most advanced part. It is where most of the historical drilling is.  We have most of the data, and most of the high-grade silver hits are in that area. We see that as the part we can potentially get into production first. The other 90% goes into a joint venture.

This means there are two strategies. With the Kerr Project, we are looking to follow up on historical high-grade silver intersections and look for extensions of some of the known mines. There have been more than 70 million ounces produced in the area we are buying. We would like to find potentially some new veins and get them into production, at a similar scale to what we are doing in Peru.

And that is the link for us from Peru to Ontario, that the history of the Cobalt Camp is this super high-grade mineralization mined at a small tonnage. We want to produce a lot of silver but not necessarily go through a lot of rock. And we feel we can do that in the Kerr area.

With the joint venture, the opportunity is to find another collection of veins. If you look at the whole camp, the 400 million or 500 million ounces produced historically from this part of northeastern Ontario is in clusters of 50 million to 100 million-plus ounces of silver. With the joint venture we want to find a new cluster.

Do you have any closing thoughts, perhaps something we’ve missed or a statement that encapsulates how investors should think about Kuya Silver?

I would highlight that we are very focused on restarting production and becoming a profitable silver mining company in Peru. But we also feel that we have exceptional exploration potential with our property there. In 2021 and beyond you’ll essentially see us on two parallel tracks: one will be mine development and getting into production, and the other will be drilling and working to find the resource that underlies production for another decade or more. And we think we can do that in the next year or two.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Kuya Silver
at https://www.kuyasilver.com/

Year-End 2020 Interview With Richard Carleton

Earlier this month, CSE CEO Richard Carleton sat down with Peter Murray of Kiyoi Communications to recap an eventful 2020 and discuss the coming year for the exchange.

Scroll down to read the full transcript of Part 1 of this interview. For ease of navigation, a list of hyperlinked topics is included below.

1. Leading through COVID-19

2. The role of Initial Public Offerings (IPOs)

3. What was funded in 2020

4. CSE’s contribution to the mining industry

Leading through COVID-19

PM: We spoke in the summer about leadership in the COVID-19 environment. Do you have any new observations to share from the past six months?

RC: The themes are basically the same as we talked about over the course of the summer in that we have done an excellent job – and not just at the Canadian Securities Exchange but the securities industry in general – to provide a high level of service while dealing with the staff dislocation caused by the lockdown orders, bans on non-essential travel, and so on.  That has certainly continued through the fall and now the winter.  We have a small team onsite in Toronto, primarily on the technology and market operations side.

We have transitioned most of our business development and education capabilities – all of them really – to virtual events.  And we concluded in late 2020 the Mining Over Canada project where we created more than 60 hours of content over the course of five or six weeks, which is available on our YouTube channel and various other social media platforms.  That was a wonderful collaboration with thought leaders and issuers from the mining industry.  It was a tremendous amount of work and kudos to Anna Serin and her team for putting the program together.  I think people in the mining industry really took note of our encouragement and support for the sector and we look forward to building on those relationships in 2021.  The landscape continues to be very favourable for mining and it’s a sector of the market we have high hopes for this year.

The role of Initial Public Offerings (IPOs)

PM: IPOs have gone from being very infrequent just four years ago to a listing approach of choice today.  Talk to us about how companies are coming to market and what the CSE feels the most efficient approaches are.  Also, are there any misconceptions that need to be set straight?

RC: The IPO was almost dead three or four years ago, and as you mentioned we now see the IPO as an increasingly common route to market.  I think there are a few drivers behind that, but every situation is unique, and for me to say the IPO is superior to the RTO in all circumstances would not be accurate.  Each company has to figure out in the context of their financing what the lowest cost of capital is, what approach will provide the best post-listing liquidity profile – there are a lot of considerations that go into it.

But historically, the concern has been that the IPO takes longer, costs more and introduces significantly more risk into the transaction because of the time it takes from the decision to launch the IPO to actually getting there.  There is also the side benefit that if you do an RTO and are able to get the growth capital required through a private placement supported by a relatively small number of investors, the management team is not having to lose focus on the day-to-day business of the company as they might spending time on the road selling the securities being qualified by the prospectus.  That is a significant consideration for some companies when they decide to do an RTO.

I think it is becoming better understood that there are a number of dealers who are in a position to handle IPOs and they have a lot of investors in place ready to support certain types of companies.  As a result, their sales effort may not be as challenging as it has been in previous market cycles.  And I think post-listing price performance and liquidity can be better with an IPO because you have investors who considered the company and have made the decision to invest in it.  With an RTO, the target can be in a completely different industry.  We  saw a lot of companies that had been mining companies and turned into cannabis companies overnight.  The original shareholders bought into a mining company, not a cannabis company; that can create an overhang that impedes price out of the gate.

So, there are many different considerations.  I think it is healthy that we are seeing more IPOs because that gives people broader access to investment opportunities.  You don’t have to be an accredited investor to invest in securities that are being qualified by a prospectus, and the more people who are able to participate in the growth of these companies, the better off and the healthier the public capital markets will become.

What Was Funded in 2020

PM: The stock market in general was robust through much of 2020.  CSE data shows financings and trading volume in particular at strong levels for yet another year.  Walk us through some of the numbers, and also discuss some of the internal achievements that people might not necessarily be aware of.

RC: The principal takeaway from the numbers is that financing activity was extremely healthy for the year beginning around late April.  That continued through the course of the summer.  There is often a drop-off in July and August, but in 2020 there was no such effect.

As I mentioned a moment ago, from a dollar perspective the cannabis industry was the largest fundraiser on the exchange.  However, in terms of the number of individual financings, the mining industry was by far the leader.  It’s not surprising, given concerns about incipient inflation brought about by the enormous monetary creation by central banks in developed economies.  As a result, we have seen a tremendous amount of investment activity in the precious metals space.  There is also the expectation that coming out of the pandemic, governments will invest significant amounts in infrastructure, and that means commodities such as iron, copper and other components of steel are going to be in high demand.  We are already seeing spot prices of these commodities increase quite nicely.

There are also concerns about supply chains, where people would prefer to source materials from jurisdictions that are more politically stable than others.  So, people looking to rationalize supply chains and shorten their delivery cycles are encouraging a lot of activity in the North American mining space in particular.

PM: Let’s look a little more at this continuation of strong financing activity on the exchange.  Aside from mining and cannabis, was their notable investor interest in any particular sectors?

RC: For obvious reasons healthcare technologies, and telehealth in particular, are industry categories in which companies performed very well over the course of the year.  It’s not something we would have predicted to that extent going into the year, but when the pandemic began to really take off it was a timely area for these companies to be in.

As far as psychedelics go, we have around 30 companies pursuing different business opportunities in the space.  We first began to hear rumblings in 2019 that people were going to be looking to advance the cause for psychedelics, particularly as a treatment for substance abuse, anxiety and depression.  I’ve had the opportunity in my position to learn from the industry’s thought leaders and the takeaways are fascinating.

There is a meaningful body of clinical research dating from the 1920s through the 1950s for substances such as LSD, psylocibin and ketamine.  The clinical indications were incredibly positive for some of these therapies on depressive illness that had resisted other kinds of treatment.  It was really the war on drugs that pushed these substances into the background and ended research into the space for the last 70 years.  We are now in a position where researchers will be able to continue that work.  I’m confident that we will see supervised therapies involving these compounds achieve important breakthroughs on multiple illnesses that have been very challenging for traditional pharmaceutical companies to appropriately address.

PM: The growth in aggregate market capitalization on the CSE in 2020 was exceptional, and as of early 2021 it has surpassed $50 billion.  Walk us through the reasons for the increase and your thoughts on growth in the years ahead.

RC: For us, the significant increases in market capitalization are almost entirely due to the US multistate operators in the cannabis sector.  The top ten operators in the United States are listed on the CSE and they contribute a significant percentage of that $50 billion.  Curaleaf, which is our largest company by market capitalization, as well as by revenue and some other measures, passed $10 billion in market capitalization just the other day.  It’s fascinating to see the growth in these companies.

It’s going to be interesting with the political changes in the United States, with the Democrats now controlling the Senate.  A lot of these companies have been on a tremendous run on the belief that the Biden administration will oversee liberalization and potentially the de-scheduling of cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.  My take is a little less bullish. I think there will be liberalization of banking and potentially tax measures associated with the industry, but I don’t believe that either Mr. Biden or Ms. Harris have full support from their party to make new cannabis laws a central piece of their legislative program.  I think a number of longstanding issues will be addressed, but I’m not sure we are going to see full-on de-scheduling of cannabis in the United States, certainly during the first two years of the administration.

In the meantime, progress continues at the state level, with New Jersey having voted to legalize, and New York and Connecticut appear on track to legalize cannabis for adult use in the coming year.   We’ll probably see recreational legalized in Pennsylvania at some point in the next year or two.  These are really big populous states, and the companies that have real scale will have the opportunity to expand their businesses as a result of work at the state level.  These companies will likely continue to grow at significant rates.

CSE’s contribution to the mining industry

PM: I want to go back to Mining Over Canada, as there was so much to learn from the series, and it will have significant educational value for investors for years to come. Talk to us more about how it developed internally and some of the insights that came out of it.

RC: Mining Over Canada was really the culmination of other virtual events we had done earlier in the year.  One of the things that struck us early on was that everyone is working from home, so these highly respected investors and company leaders, they are available – we can call them up and get 15 or 20 minutes for a video segment with them.  I think back to an interview that our James Black did with Howie Mandel early in the pandemic in support of Howie’s charity, which helps provide personal protective equipment to healthcare professionals in North America.  James was thanking Howie for his time and he said, “Hey, I’ll give you as much time as you want.  I’m just here, you know.”

We had a similar experience with Mining Over Canada.  We approached a number of thought leaders – whether it be analysts, investors, or leadership at our issuers – and they were extremely cooperative and generous with their time and guidance.

One of the things we really wanted to help emphasize is just how important the mining industry is to the Canadian economy, not only in historic terms but in the present day as well.  And how Canada can leverage its leadership in public finance for the industry to service the wave of demand coming from the industry.  Whether it’s significant increases in infrastructure, desire to shorten supply chains, new demand for minerals brought on by the electrification of the economy – mining is going to be at the forefront of a lot of thinking and investment in coming years.

Check out Part 2 of the interview here.

Year-End 2020 Interview With Richard Carleton Part 2

Earlier this month, CSE CEO Richard Carleton sat down with Peter Murray of Kiyoi Communications to recap an eventful 2020 and discuss the coming year for the exchange.

Scroll down to read the full transcript of Part 2 this interview. For ease of navigation, a list of hyperlinked topics is included below.

1. Changes at the board level for the organization

2. Outlook for 2021

Changes at the board level for the organization

PM: Thomas Caldwell stepped down as Chairman of the CSE’s Board of Directors in September after spending almost eight years in the role. Talk about his contribution to the Exchange as an investor and also as Chairman. How will he continue to support the Exchange’s efforts going forward?

RC: I think it’s fair to say that the Canadian Securities Exchange would not exist in its present form without Tom’s leap of faith back in late 2012 to lead an investment round that provided the exchange with the capital required to continue to offer its services.  In his capacity as chairman, Tom was a relentless advocate for the CSE in his work and with his contacts, which of course are incredibly broad in the exchange world.  He is tremendously supportive of our management team and very inspirational with his “relentless optimism” as he calls it.  His energy, his commitment and his passion for the business were an inspiration not just to me, but to the entire organization.

Tom is not far away, because he is the chairman and principal of Urbana Corporation, which is the largest shareholder of the Canadian Securities Exchange.  In that capacity, we will continue to look to Tom for the benefit of his guidance and wisdom, and his continued support for our organization in its work.

PM: Other changes were also made to the board, with four new members elected at the annual general meeting. Tell us about the new board members, why the time was right to welcome them, and what it means for the CSE.

RC: There were a couple of drivers at the annual general meeting in September, which is when these changes took place.  The first was that we entered into  new recognition orders with the Ontario Securities Commission and the BC Securities Commission, our two principal regulators, and those orders required the exchange to have an independent chairperson.  Mr. Caldwell, by virtue of the shareholding of Urbana, was not considered an independent director of the organization.  Steve Blake, a continuing member of the board, graciously agreed to take on the responsibility of serving as chair.  Steve was elected by the shareholders at the AGM and we look forward to an excellent working relationship with him in his new role.

In addition, we were shorthanded, as former board member Mary Anne Palangio had become our chief financial officer earlier in the year, so we had a vacancy to fill.  And we also had some directors who had indicated to us that they were looking for different challenges, and they moved on with our best wishes.

Our new directors include Hema Barkhouse.  Hema is in the treasury group at Canadian Tire, where she is a senior officer and  has experience in accounting and finance in a public company setting.  Hema is chair of our audit committee and we look forward to her advice in managing the financial situation of the company.

Eric Sites is a resident of Chicago.  He works with Horizon Kinetics, which is one of our significant shareholders.  In his work with Horizon Kinetics, he has overseen investments in a number of exchanges around the world, so Eric is a wonderful addition to our board, both to advise management and potentially to open doors for us as we spread our wings internationally.

Brendan Caldwell, Tom’s son, is a new member of the board.  Brendan has been very closely aligned with his father at Caldwell Investment Management as well as Urbana Corporation.  Brendan also has worked with exchanges around the world and is extraordinarily knowledgeable about the space.

And last, but certainly not least, Michael Bluestein is a lawyer who founded a firm called Corporate Counsel just north or Toronto.  Michael has been a marvelous supporter of the Canadian Securities Exchange in his practice and he is the chair of our regulatory committee, which oversees the policymaking work of the exchange.  Michael is someone we have known well for quite a while.  We look forward to working together closely, particularly on our new listing rulebook.

Outlook for 2021

PM: Let’s look at the CSE’s plans for 2021. What goals have you set for the team? And what initiatives, both ongoing and new, will the CSE be focusing its time on?

RC: Goal setting in this space is always a little tricky.  We are subject to the whims of the market and even if we think at the beginning of the year that we are going to be focusing a lot of energy in a particular industry sector, we may find that investors decide to support different sectors in the marketplace with their investment and trading.  So, we can’t get too granular in the goals we set for the organization.

Clearly what we are seeing, though, is a significant expansion in trading activity, not just on the CSE but across Canada. Earlier in the year we were seeing roughly a billion shares a day trading across all markets.  And over the last six weeks or so we have gone to 2 billion.  What I can say, as someone who has been around this business for more than 30 years, is that this tends to be the pattern.  Canada will turn over X number of shares, and without warning it goes to 2X.  The interesting thing is that it happens without any real warning, and then it becomes the new baseline.

We had our previous record burst of activity in 2017 and 2018, which was driven by the US cannabis companies that joined the CSE and the extreme level of investment interest in them.  The other markets were not in line with those increases, but this time they are.  Everybody  has seen a doubling in turnover.  Did we see that coming?  Not really.  Volumes were healthy over the summer and we noticed increased retail participation, and that’s true on our exchange and some of the other exchanges catering to early-stage companies.  

Obviously, we are going to continue to explore and expand our use of social media platforms and virtual sessions, to get our message out and engage with as many people as we can, whether it is issuers or investors or other stakeholders.  We have learned a lot about what works and what does not work and we’ll apply that knowledge to our programs this year.  It is certainly less expensive than being in an airplane all the time and you can reach out and touch a lot more people this way as well.  It is going to be a permanent part of our programs moving forward and I think that will be the case for almost every industry.

That having been said, as we get later on in the year, I think there are a lot of folks who are going to want to see us face to face so my expectation is that we will be on the road quite a bit from October.

Overall, the picture appears quite robust from a listings perspective.  Certainly, the mining industry is in good shape, as it was our strongest sector in terms of new listings in 2020 by number of individual financings.  By dollar total the cannabis industry is still the champion by a wide measure because you have a number of issuers that raised very large sums of money last year.  We are also seeing more activity in the technology sector, some of it oriented toward health care.  Communications has obviously been a big theme.  And we have also made an impression in the growing psychedelics market.

PM: What other growth opportunities are there for the CSE over the longer term?

RC: We are going to continue to look at different international jurisdictions.  Listing on the CSE is a very cost-effective means for companies to access not just the Canadian public capital markets but the US private placement market as well.  By virtue of being a Canadian reporting issuer, without having to also undergo the pain and expense of becoming a reporting issuer in the United States, it really is one of the great bargains in our world.  We’ve had good success attracting companies from different countries from around the world.  And we’ve seen real interest from different Asian markets over the last six months.  It’s been challenging to do the kind of business development we’d like because we are all locked down.  But I can see as we move out of the pandemic that we’ll begin to capitalize on that interest from Asia.

I’d also highlight Australia, which is obviously a very large mining market.  The Australian miners have always had a lot of respect for the ability of Canada’s public markets to provide financing.  And we’ll be exploring ways to facilitate Australian company access to Canadian public markets through a CSE listing.

PM: Any final thoughts on the year ahead or topics we have not touched on so far?

RC: We are continuing to work on the delivery of a clearing and settlement system for tokenized securities.  I always caution that we are not talking about bitcoin or ether or other cryptocurrencies, but securities which use the smart contracts originally developed by those in the blockchain and cryptocurrency world and applying them to solve problems in the cash equities world.  I have been heartened over the course of the year, as we have attracted a number of partners to work with us on achieving this goal. These organizations are expert in different components of service and have existing customer relationships with issuers and the Canadian dealer community.  We’ll be talking more about this as the year progresses and hope to be in a position to get it into people’s hands later in 2021.

 Check out Part 1 of this interview here.

The Very Good Food Company: The name says it all for this group taking veggie-based meat alternatives to a delicious new level

Investors in The Very Good Food Company (CSE:VERY) know a great opportunity when they see one. The stock keeps climbing to new all-time highs, at time of writing sitting some 340% above its debut price in June of this year. The Very Good Food Company has come to market just as plant-based foods are a hot topic, but this is no trend-follower. This is a leader, which the company’s product line (and a taste of some of those products) makes abundantly clear.

Lifelong vegetarian Mitchell Scott co-founded The Very Good Food Company in 2016, his marketing skills perfectly complementing the culinary talent of fellow co-founder James Davison. The rest, as they say, is history.

Scott spoke to Public Entrepreneur from his office in Victoria about the secrets to The Very Good Food Company’s success.

There have been plant-based meats on the market for many years, but you seem to be stepping it up a notch, with different product formulations and looks, and a wide product range. Walk us through the genesis of the company and its culture.

We got started in the summer of 2016. My business partner, James, was a classically trained French chef from England. He moved to Vancouver and began working in a plant-based restaurant, and that’s when he got turned on to the plant-based movement. He ended up moving to Denman Island, also on the West Coast, and went vegan around the same time.

When he got to Denman he realized there were not really any restaurants, so there was nowhere for him to cook. He decided to get entrepreneurial and start making his own meat alternatives. A lot of the products on the market at the time were over-processed and full of fillers and other ingredients he wasn’t comfortable with. He wanted to make something with great ingredients – beans, vegetables, herbs and spices.

The first two products were veggie burgers and English breakfast sausages. He took them to the local farmers market and sold out in the first hour. That summer, he and his wife spent the week making the products in the kitchen and then going to the market and selling out.

That’s when I got to try the product, at a family barbecue, actually, as we are distantly related. I had grown up vegetarian and eaten a lot of not-so-great veggie burgers over the years, and I was just blown away by the quality. My background was in business development and marketing, and I was ready for something new, so we teamed up.

Talk about the consumer landscape for your products. Vegetarians are obvious customers, but are you also trying to bring in non-vegetarians?

Vegetarians and vegans are our core customers. There traditionally have not been a lot of good vegetarian options, so when people find something they like they stay with it and share it with their friends.

Since day one, we have wanted to appeal to a broader audience, and that was one reason for the butcher shop angle, where you would expect to see an assortment of meats. We want products to be approachable. Not some strange vegan product, but a burger, a sausage, some pepperoni. We try to make the products similar to meat products in look, taste, flavour and texture so they can appeal to a broad range of people.

What are your personal favorites in the product line? Where should someone start if they are new to your brand?

My personal favourite is adzuki bean pepperoni. Our taco stuffer is super popular – it is like a lightly spiced ground round. Those are my two favourites.

As for the broader product range, we have six or seven in grocery stores because we make them on a larger scale, and these are two types of burgers, two types of sausage, the taco stuffer, pepperoni, and we are just launching a hot dog.

In total, we have 15 or so, and the others are smaller runs and available at our shop or online. Those would be ones like steak, ribs and a holiday season item called Stuffed Beast. More labour is required for those, and we haven’t had a chance to scale up yet.

Tell us about your supply chain. How healthy and local are the ingredients that go into your products?

We try to source as locally as possible, so all of our produce is coming from farms on Vancouver Island and BC’s Fraser Valley. For beans, we are going to the Prairies, so about 95% of our inputs are Canadian.

In terms of what’s in the products, it is primarily beans, veggies, herbs and spices, with a bit of wheat flour to bind it all together. Of those veggies, we are looking at onions, beets, celery, mushrooms, leeks – nothing super exotic.

You had strong revenue growth in the most recent quarter and a solid gross margin. A lot of your overall expenses are operating costs rather than product costs. Talk to us about costs and margins going forward.

Operating costs are fairly high because our production process is still quite manual. We used to roll sausages and press burgers by hand, for example, but now we have machines to help with that. Once we move to full-scale production we’ll have a line that outputs 10 or 20 times what a manual line does now.

We are hoping to have larger-scale production up and running in early February. Until then, we’ve got our Victoria production facility, where we’ve upped production to 5,000 kilograms per week, from 2,000 in the summer. The next big production step will cost a few million to get up and running. The big cost is equipment, but we can get that financed and pay it off over a five-year term.

How about three to five years out? Where do you see The Very Good Food Company?

Our major focus in the next one to two years is the North American market. We want to continue rolling out e-commerce and wholesale grocery store supply. And our butcher shop and restaurant we see as a flagship store concept, so perhaps set them up in Montreal, Toronto, Los Angeles – we’ll hopefully make money from them, but they are more brand-based marketing tools.

After North America we want to be in Europe, with a similar concept of setting up a flagship store and then local e-commerce and wholesale. And it would be the Asia Pacific region after that, so Australia and Asia.

Those are some big goals. One senses from your answers that there is still plenty of room for this industry to grow.

This market is really just getting started. It is not just a trend. All of the producers in the industry are running full out. Companies that have been around for 15 or 20 years are still experiencing double-digit or triple-digit growth.

Beyond Meat was the first pure-play meat alternative company to IPO, and we were the second. I think you will see more public company opportunities. But the market is growing at such a rate that there is still tons of upside potential for everyone.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about The Very Good Food Company
at https://www.verygoodbutchers.com/

Sixth Wave Innovations: After taming mining, explosives and cannabis challenges, this PhD-filled team puts COVID-19 on notice

Almost everywhere you go these days, you come into contact with multiple products and services without knowing they are there. Some make life easier or more convenient, while others go so far as to keep you alive, or at least out of harm’s way. We don’t see these products because a non-expert would not even conceive of such things. But thank goodness some experts do, as some of these technologies are fueling the promise of overcoming COVID-19 and pandemics of the future.

Sixth Wave Innovations (CSE:SIXW) is one such group, where a highly accomplished team that includes seven full-time PhDs is adapting proprietary molecular identification technology to tackle COVID-19.

Sixth Wave’s COVID-19 research builds on its recent successes in partnering with the United States Department of Defense on explosives detection, as well as on its gold refining and its extraction of CBD and THC from cannabis. Its technology has consistently provided solutions to highly complex scientific challenges. Now, Sixth Wave is committed to successfully adapting its proprietary rapid-detection technology to the COVID-19 puzzle in time to make a difference.

More on that shortly. But first, the basis of Sixth Wave’s business: molecularly imprinted polymers. Few people know what these are, as only a handful of companies in the world even work on furthering such technology. It truly is science at the cutting edge.

Most people think of plastic when they hear the word “polymers,” but these large molecules are far more ubiquitous. For example, wood is a polymer (a natural one), as is protein. To put it simply, a polymer is a material made of long repeating chains of molecules. Each has unique properties, dictated by the types of molecules in the chain and how they bond together. The basic molecules that serve as the links in a polymer chain are referred to as monomers, a defining feature being their capacity to form chemical bonds with other molecules.

At its most basic level, Sixth Wave’s technology identifies specific molecules by creating a polymer with qualities that first attract the molecule in question, then see if it fits. Imagine, for example, a complex magnetic puzzle missing a single piece. The magnetic field draws certain types of pieces with opposite magnetic charges toward the puzzle. When one fits, the puzzle signals to the user that it has found the missing piece.

When a Sixth Wave product identifies its target molecule, it triggers a specific chemical reaction embedded in the polymer by Sixth Wave scientists. In the COVID-19 example, it might cause a colour change to indicate that the person being tested carries COVID-19. The applications are endless.

“The doctors are telling us that water droplets are transmitting COVID-19 from our mouths,” says Dr. Jon Gluckman, Sixth Wave’s Chief Executive Officer. “Once developed, we think we can take the new polymer and embed it into a variety of testing devices, including in an N95 mask or a breathalyzer. You could arrive at an assisted living facility, for example, and be asked to put on a mask as you check in. If it changes colour after several breaths, they know you are carrying the virus. You could do the same thing at airports, train stations or ferry terminals. This would provide a way for everyone to be tested so that even if someone looks good and does not show symptoms, they don’t get beyond the point of inspection if they are carriers and risk infecting others.”

The key to the concept is the ease of testing. No machines or bloodied fingers. No swabs poking into your nasal cavity.

The idea is to embed the polymer in testing form factors that are inexpensive, easy to self-administer and allow for immediate results. “The earlier and more frequently you can test, the better,” says Gluckman. “We need something you can use every day, so you can show up for work, be tested, and if you don’t have it, you’re good to go, and everyone is safe and comfortable with their environment.”

As mentioned earlier, the Sixth Wave team – many of whom Gluckman has been working with for over 15 years – has a proven track record of commercializing molecularly imprinted polymers.

Explosives detection was the largest success, seeing Sixth Wave develop and sell wipes for military applications that could detect TNT, ammonium nitrate and other explosives at extremely low concentrations. “If you wiped a surface and there was a nanogram worth of explosives there, you would see the colour change,” explains Gluckman.

More recently, the team has developed products for the mining industry, conducting lab and field trials with some of the world’s top gold companies, the current focus being pilot plant testing with Kinross Gold Corporation.

“We moved into mining with a cheaper, more efficient and environmentally friendly way to conduct gold and silver extraction when companies use our polymer in place of activated carbon,” says Gluckman. One of the main advantages is that Sixth Wave’s IXOS product has been capturing more precious metals, and fewer of the unwanted minerals that come along with them, than when activated carbon is used.

Similar technology is used in another new Sixth Wave product called Affinity, which extracts CBD from hemp, or CBD and THC from cannabis. High efficiency and high purity are the selling points for Affinity, and Gluckman says the company is ready to start recognizing revenue in this segment during 2020.

“On the cannabis side, our development work is largely done, and we are finalizing supply agreements with our manufacturer. Affinity will also be manufactured at our facility in Lafayette, Louisiana,” Gluckman explains. Extensive test work was conducted with cannabis producers, and Sixth Wave is confident the demand is there.

“With mining as well, very little additional development is needed,” Gluckman continues. “We have already taken the production to commercial levels, and our focus now is getting the product to market. We see a lot more drive for innovation at gold mines, which leads us to have more customer opportunities.”

But it is a slow cycle. “A company might choose our technology but still be in the pre-feasibility stage,” Gluckman notes. It’s a market worth the wait, mind you, because a scenario assuming 10% adoption across global gold production suggests the potential for hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to Sixth Wave annually, according to Gluckman.

With the scientists who develop the core polymers freed from having to do modifications and test work for the mining and cannabis markets, development resources are becoming more focused on COVID-19 detection. “The world has an immediate and dire need to manage COVID-19,” says Gluckman. “There will be more deaths and little economy left if we don’t figure this out as a society. We’re proud to do our part to help the world get healthy again.”

To that end, chemistry work on the COVID-19 product has begun. Importantly, Sixth Wave can use synthetic molecules for development so that it does not have to work with the live virus. This is another benefit of past product development – handling live explosives is equally undesirable when working on products that involve chemical reactions.

As for the timing of COVID-19-detection products, “I think we are about four or five months away from having particles that would have gone through some testing and internal verification,” says Gluckman. “We are putting together a team that will include external laboratories to provide testing with the live virus. We have several universities we are talking to, and they have access to what we would need to test with.”

Sixth Wave is also partnering with companies that could manufacture products featuring the polymers, including a producer of N95 masks. “I would think in a six-month time frame that we could have the first test units available for approval by the Canadian government, and we’d submit them for approval in the United States.”

At this point, it should be clear that Sixth Wave is not just some company jumping on the COVID bandwagon. It is using proven in-house technology to tackle the COVID-19 chemical structure in more or less the same way it has approached other complex scientific challenges that have continuously resulted in successful solutions.

“In the space of seven years, Sixth Wave has developed and sold millions of dollars of explosives detection products to the US military, and we have created markets for molecularly imprinted polymers in the mining and cannabis industries,” Gluckman concludes. “Our products all lead to lower costs, are easy to use and feature capabilities unavailable with any other technology. We are a young company, but we are solid. We are not in this for a quick buck. We want to make a positive difference in the world.”

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Sixth Wave Innovations
at https://sixthwave.com/.

Blue Lagoon Resources: One of 2019’s hottest exploration stocks has quite the entrepreneur at its helm

What is the profile of a “typical CEO” in the mineral exploration industry?  There isn’t one really, though you often find a mix of geology and public markets experience that covers most of the bases.  Rana Vig, President and Chief Executive Officer of Blue Lagoon Resources (CSE:BLLG), is cut from a somewhat different cloth, though. He’s listed some of the biggest names in cannabis and runs a highly successful magazine, and that’s just scratching the surface of a very impressive entrepreneurial resumé.

Mining exploration is the outlier in Vig’s career. It’s the one and only sector where commitment and hard work has not resulted in major business success. He plans to do something about that with Blue Lagoon and is off to a good start, with shares in the company gaining 573 percent in 2019, following a July 4th trading debut. Public Entrepreneur shared lunch with Vig in Vancouver recently to learn about the company’s progress so far and what lies ahead.

Let’s begin with a little bit about your background. What brought you into the mining business? And what are some of the career experiences that led to the creation of Blue Lagoon?

Basically, I am an entrepreneur.  I have been in business for almost 35 years, and in those years I had five start-ups in different verticals – all private businesses and all family businesses. Around 2010, I connected with a very successful businessman who had made most of his money in mining. He recommended I try something different from the private business world and work with him in capital markets.

I was looking for a change. That 2008/2009 period had just happened when everything was collapsing. It was a dismal time in the business world. So, I got involved with him, invested well over $1 million, and in about six months, it was worth around $10,000, because the mining industry imploded.

Long story short, I don’t know all there is to know about mining, but my goal in every business I enter is to be the dumbest guy in the room, so to speak. I want to surround myself with very, very bright people.

I have a couple of strengths and one of them is executing plans.  When everything was collapsing in the public companies I’d become involved with, I took over as CEO and spent several years rebuilding them. Business doesn’t change. Business is business, whether you’re running a restaurant or a magazine, or whatever you are running. The fundamentals are the same. It’s a matter of assembling very smart people who are good at what they do.

I’ve been a CEO, a chairman; I’ve been on boards. To be honest, I’ve met some not so great people in the public company realm, which is something I wasn’t used to in my private business life, but I’ve also met some very good people and developed some meaningful relationships, and they are who I work with.

We will get into your projects in a moment, but first, take us through the concept behind Blue Lagoon. What is the strategy for building the company and creating value for shareholders? What makes Blue Lagoon different?

A couple of years ago, once I’d cleaned up the companies I was involved with, I decided to start fresh. I was very fortunate the last couple of years and brought two of the largest cannabis deals to market. I did a company called Curaleaf, taking them public, and it was the largest cannabis raise in history, at $520 million. I also did Harvest Health & Recreation, which at $300 million was the third largest.

I then had to consider what to do next, and cannabis was retracting.  I’ve had nothing but bad experiences in mining since I started in this business. But it has to come back at some point. I concluded that gold has to be the one, the safest place to start. And I launched an exploration company, and that’s Blue Lagoon.

I’m not a geologist or a mining engineer. First and foremost, always bring together real experts in their fields. Then, go out and find undervalued assets, something where I have the opportunity to add value, because that’s how you build value for your shareholders.

We listed Blue Lagoon on July 4th of 2019 at a little over $1 million in market cap, and here we are, seven months later, trading at over $50 million in market cap.

You have a deal with Mag One Products, whereby Blue Lagoon can earn as much as 70 percent in a joint venture by investing $5.25 million in stages. It is an interesting business and an interesting deal structure. Tell us more about how it benefits Blue Lagoon’s value creation effort.

Mag One has great technology that they can rapidly advance. All they need is the money. It is an attractive value proposition for me and my shareholders.

Why magnesium? People have pointed out that we are a gold company, so what are we doing in magnesium?  Well, that is the entrepreneur in me. I’m not necessarily trying to build a gold company. I am trying to build a mining exploration company and advance shareholder value. My first and foremost job as a CEO is to create value and make my shareholders happy, because they are coming along for the ride with me.

Magnesium is a great metal. It’s 35 percent lighter than aluminum and over 70 percent lighter than steel. With Tesla and all these electric cars, they want to get lighter. Same thing with planes.

The issue is that magnesium can’t compete with aluminum on price.  Enter Mag One. Their technology will compete with aluminum, and even more important is the environmental side. Right now, over 90 percent of the magnesium in the world is produced in China from something called the “Pidgeon process,” which is highly pollutive.  But Mag One is zero-emission. All that’s missing is the capital, and $5 million is not a lot of money. If we can supply them with that, it will advance the project.

I believe gold is going to do really well this year, but if it isn’t quite ready to break out yet, then I have this incredible technology that we can help advance. This company has access to 110 million tons of tailings with 23 percent magnesium, so there is no drilling involved. All we need to do is help them advance the science, and we could potentially change the world.

Gordon Lake is a property you optioned in the Northwest Territories. High-grade gold was found over significant widths by previous owners, and you recently announced steps toward conducting your own drilling. Tell us more about the plans and the timeline.

The reason we like the Gordon Lake property so much is that it is in an area known for gold production. The Discovery Mine did over 1 million ounces, the Con Mine did about 5 million ounces, and the Giant Mine did about 7 million ounces.

Being an entrepreneur, the deal is great. It made sense to acquire that to balance our portfolio for summer as well as winter. As for when we are going to start, we have already engaged local experts in the area, Aurora Geosciences. When it freezes, it gives you access to ice roads, which makes it very economical, as you don’t need helicopters. We hope to get started there later in February or early March.

A 43-101 report was released on your Pellaire project in December. There is no resource yet, but there was historical production in the area. Why do you like this one so much and what is the game plan?

Pellaire is a beautiful property a couple of hours southwest of Williams Lake, also in an area known for gold. It has 10 high-grade veins identified. The owners have been at it for years and circumstances brought it available for sale.

We took JDS Engineering, one of the best in what they do, and had them fly up with us and do some analysis.

One of the things that really attracted me to Pellaire is that there is 25,000 tons of crushed rock sitting right by the Number 3 vein. I had JDS help me with a back-of-the-envelope estimation and we believe there is significant value to be had from that, just by trucking it out. That, along with drilling, presents a great upside opportunity.

The precious metals sector has made a measured but undeniable comeback in the last few quarters. What is your outlook for the metals, and what are you hearing that those outside the business don’t know?

I don’t know if there is anything I hear other than what everyone is talking about. Many of these countries are in trouble and there’s currency problems. We know that, at some stage, gold is always the safe haven that people turn to.

If you look at the Indian community, it is a big consumer of gold.  I am Indian, and I can tell you that in India, a village will pool its money to buy a gram of gold – not an ounce but a gram. My point is that even the poorest of the poor must somehow acquire gold. That tells me something. It gives me insight about a very large country and its desire to own the metal. That has to come into play at some point, as these deposits are becoming harder and harder to find.

Blue Lagoon closed a financing last year at $1.00, and you just completed another at $1.50 in January.  A lot of CEOs would like to be in your shoes. What is the financing environment like for exploration companies? And have you had any feedback from existing or new shareholders that stands out in your mind?

The financing environment is still very tough. I was fortunate to be coming off of two big deals with a solid following of people who believe in me. People believe I have the ability to find the right projects and the right professionals to advance those projects.

We announced $1 million at $1.00 per share and closed $1.1 million – $300,000 of it from me, to show that I am right alongside everyone. The January financing was for $1 million as well, at $1.50.

I never want to be in a position where I am waiting to look for money. I wanted to make sure we had the money secured to advance our projects. We are sitting around $1.5 million in cash.

I also never want to be in a position where my geologist is looking at me and asking if I am going to advance the money to the drillers or not. Being an entrepreneur, one of my principles is that you must always pay your bills. My word is my bond. You can take it to the bank. If I don’t have the money in the bank, I am not going to contract you. I think that is one reason, actually, that I have a good following. Even if things are bad, it is not going to get better if I lie to you.

Let’s close with one of the indispensable lessons you’ve learned in your business career.

It is extremely important to look at who you are investing with.  You must believe that person has the ability to take your hard-earned money and grow it. I think you significantly reduce your risk if you sit with the person you are banking on. There are lots of people around the world with great ideas, but we never hear about them because they don’t have the ability to execute. I have the ability to listen, understand, and use my business skills to advance any project. If you are looking at a company to invest in, Blue Lagoon was one of the best performing companies in 2019 and we should at least be on your radar. I believe we have a lot of runway to execute what we are working on now, and what we may acquire in the future.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Blue Lagoon Resources at https://www.bluelagoonresources.com/.

XPhyto Therapeutics: Unique assets and a focus on Germany’s medical cannabis market set this opportunity apart

The art of successful investing is not about what is happening now, but rather figuring out what is on the horizon and set to emerge as the next big thing. Positioning oneself to make the most of that development is what gives competitors in any aspect of the business world an edge – the famed early-mover advantage.

Hugh Rogers and his team embraced this concept wholeheartedly when putting together XPhyto Therapeutics (CSE:XPHY), the company Rogers now leads as Chief Executive Officer, two years ago.

Armed with a legal background focused on corporate restructurings, plus experience in molecular biology from research work at the University of Toronto, Rogers agreed with his business partners that they wanted to participate in the burgeoning cannabis industry, yet not in the way everyone else seemed to be doing it.

Large-scale growing operations in the US and Canada did not interest the group. So, what was it that others were overlooking, something with greater potential than was to be found in the increasingly crowded North American arena?

“The vision for XPhyto was to foresee where the industry would be in two, four, and six years, and then position the company accordingly,” explains Rogers. “In the end, we decided that medical formulations and clinical validation in emerging European cannabis markets was the best place for us to be.”

That best place, to be precise, is Germany, where cannabis is legal for medical use and, according to XPhyto, not subject to the same stigma the drug suffers in North America and many other parts of the world.

“It’s a very open market in the sense that, in our experience, regulators at every level of government, and I would also say the medical community – physicians and pharmacists – are open to cannabis products,” says Rogers. “There is a history of botanical medicine in Germany where they are eager to learn but at the same time are looking for clinical validation.”

And no other entity, quite literally, is positioned in the German market the way XPhyto is to help cannabis achieve the level of formal validation that consumers expect of widely used pharmaceutical products. The company’s 100% owned German subsidiary, Bunker Pflanzenextrakte GmbH, possesses a German cannabis cultivation and extraction licence for scientific purposes issued by the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices. To XPhyto’s knowledge, it is the only one in existence.

“We’re setting ourselves up to work with the government on the scientific side,” explains Rogers. “That means cultivation, extraction, remediation of oils, seed banks, tissue banks, clinical trials – all of the scientific knowledge.”

The XPhyto team has done an admirable job of building a company with top clinical talent both at the German operations and in Canada, including its recently announced cannabis research and development agreement with the Department of Biochemistry at the Technical University of Munich.

Soon to follow in Germany is a 10,000 square foot facility, half of which will house small-scale cultivation rooms, with the other half being for storage, manufacturing, and distribution. The company estimates it will be up and running with plants under cultivation in the first quarter of 2020.

Expect security levels to be high, given the structure that aptly named Bunker is renovating was once a military command centre. Bunker founder, and now XPhyto Vice President of European Corporate Development, Robert Barth will oversee the renovations. It was also Barth who brought the Technical University of Munich into the fold.

The German research bandwidth is augmented by two exclusive five-year engagements XPhyto has with the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Alberta. “Our primary goal in Canada is to focus on clinical validation,” says Rogers. “We have an ISO-certified clean room for our new extraction equipment for production of cannabinoid extracts and isolates. I think the first formula we’ll clinically study will be for topical dermatology followed by oncology pain management. Our expertise at the university is drug delivery and we have some unique applications for cannabis products.”

Clearly, the company’s main objective is clinical testing, and ultimately clinical trials, designed to provide the medical community with the same standard of product understanding and trust that many other prescribed treatments currently enjoy. In this way, doctors will know exactly what type of cannabis, or cannabis-derived product, to prescribe for a given condition, in what dose and for how long.

But investors and others new to the company shouldn’t conclude that the validation theme at the core of XPhyto’s model means that cash flow is something far off in the future. The supply/demand balance in Germany’s medical cannabis market features more of the latter than the former, and XPhyto is positioned to help.

“The German market is large and domestic production expected to come online in 2020 will meet only a small fraction of total demand. There is a deficit that will be made up through imports and that is an opportunity we are rapidly pursuing,” remarks Rogers.

“We are working to secure supply of ultra-premium flower in Canada,” he says in beginning to explain the import strategy. “The best premium growers are in Canada and the US. We are focused on Canada and are working with a number of great growers to source product.”

The XPhyto team believes that providing the best experience for patients must embrace testing for pesticides, heavy metals, and offering products in optimal packaging. If everything goes according to plan, product will be ready for shipping by Q1 2020.

Advancing this strategy on multiple fronts is the acquisition, announced in late August, of Vektor Pharma TF GmbH, which holds permits for cannabis importation and narcotics product manufacturing, among others. And in a possible sign of things to come, Vektor also has established itself in the research and manufacturing of thin-film strips for drug delivery, including transdermal patches and oral strips.

Said Rogers at the time of the acquisition’s announcement, “We believe that Vektor will add significant long-term value at every level of our business, from clinical trial expertise and drug manufacturing capability to their German cannabis and narcotics import licences and strong relationships with the German health authority.”

XPhyto’s strengthening German presence will be a source of many things, boots-on-the-ground intelligence being one that should enable the company to smoothly blend into the German supply scene with the long term in mind.

As an example, Rogers explains that if XPhyto has a certain volume of cannabis ready to sell it won’t necessarily put it all on the market as fast as possible. “What we want to do is build our distribution and demand through consistent supply so the physician knows when they prescribe our product that there is availability for three to six months. We would rather build our patient base slowly and steadily than flood the market – here is a whole bunch of supply and then, oops, it is not available next month. The end result when you take that approach is that physicians are less likely to prescribe your product.”

Having only made its trading debut on the Canadian Securities Exchange in August, XPhyto is a newcomer to the public markets. But asked why investors should be interested, Rogers is clear as to what sets the XPhyto opportunity apart. “It is important to understand that the cannabis industry is here to stay,” he concludes. “But at the same time, you must carefully consider where to allocate your investments. We have gone 100% into opportunities that were on the sidelines for a long time, and I think you are going to see medical applications, clinical validation, and European opportunities come to the forefront over the next two years. And that is exactly where XPhyto is positioned.”

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Xphyto Therapeutics at https://www.xphyto.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/.

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/.

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/.