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/

Clarity Gold: Unearthing big value in overlooked projects

Founded in 2019 and publicly listed on the CSE in July 2020, Clarity Gold (CSE:CLAR) has the objective to acquire and develop gold projects that have been “overlooked or underfinanced.”

Headed by Chief Executive Officer James Rogers, Clarity’s management team has certainly proven its ability to identify, evaluate and execute transactions, having collectively completed over 100 resource project deals.

In November 2020, the company acquired an option on 100% of the Destiny Project, a gold project located in the prolific Abitibi Greenstone Belt, which extends from Wawa, Ontario to  Val-d’Or, Quebec.

In addition to Destiny, Clarity has three 100% owned projects on its books in British Columbia: Empirical, a gold, copper and molybdenum project located 12 kilometres south of Lillooet; Tyber, a gold, copper and silver project located 18 kilometres south of Parksville; and Gretna Green, a gold, copper and silver project located 24 kilometres southwest of Port Alberni.

Rogers spoke recently with Public Entrepreneur about his views on building a company in the resource sector and what the future holds for his industry and Clarity shareholders.

Let’s start by delving into Clarity Gold’s mission statement and your guiding principles. 

Clarity’s objective since inception has been pretty clear – we’ve been entirely focused on gold in North America, with an emphasis on Canada. Our mandate has been to become an explorer concentrated on discovering and building ounces in stable jurisdictions within North America. 

British Columbia was our starting point, and we’ve grown by establishing a strong foothold in Quebec with the Destiny Project. 

Destiny is a project you acquired in November and it is in the famous Abitibi Greenstone Belt. Tell us about your decision to obtain a 100% option on this project.

Destiny is an exciting gold project on a lesser-known structure in the belt. The Abitibi is an important jurisdiction in Canada, and in the world, really. It is one of the most prolific greenstone belts there is.

The Abitibi is comprised of six dominant structures. The 400-kilometre-long structure that the Destiny Project is located along is called the Chicobi. It is a less-explored structure that is proving to have gold mineralization associated with it, just like on the Cadillac and other well-known structures through the Abitibi. This is one of the reasons we were attracted to it. Dominant structures play an important part in controlling gold mineralization within the Abitibi.

When we look at the main structures in the south, they are largely near surface. Nobody really found the Destiny Project until 1998 because it has a thin veneer of overburden and till – it is just not on surface.

It started in 1998, which kicked off multiple campaigns totalling over 50,000 metres of drilling, culminating in a historic resource in 2011. And it has basically lain dormant since 2012. Our mandate is to take a fresh look at this, peeling back the previous data and thinking more about this project’s optionality as a high-grade, structurally controlled gold deposit. 

You also have three projects in British Columbia. How do these fit into your near-term plan?

We started with Empirical, which was our flagship project in British Columbia. We then acquired two more grassroots projects in the province. My background is in project generation and one of my strengths is keeping an eye open for new opportunities and projects. When our team saw Destiny, we recognized the opportunity for a more advanced project to create value in a jurisdiction that we’re comfortable working in and understand really well. We see the best opportunity to create near-term value for the company in advancing Destiny, but will continue to maintain and advance the rest of our portfolio.

How are you funded to move forward with the planned work following your recent private placement? 

We just finished a $4.5 million financing. The next step for us is two-fold. We are financed to carry out exploration to advance Destiny but are also on the lookout for more projects with a similar profile where we could add value with our expertise. Destiny is a foothold – it is really our first step into a large gold camp where we have experience operating. 

You have somewhat of a different background than the typical junior company CEO in that you run a large services company for the industry as well. What do you consider is your main strength as head of Clarity Gold? 

I’d say looking at data and coming up with an idea. A cool stat is during the hunt for Destiny, I compiled 200,000 drill holes in Quebec and Ontario inside of the Abitibi and started thinking a bit about why the Chicobi structure just hadn’t been looked at the same as the others and why this is an important and underexplored part of the Abitibi story. 

Bear in mind, the Abitibi has produced more than 180 million ounces of gold, which is an incredible number. It’s actually hard to keep track of the number of headframes you pass as you drive from Val-d’Or to Timmins. One of my strengths is definitely looking at data but also in executing. 

I come from an exploration background, running a services company where our specialty is grassroots exploration and running drill programs, up to say 70,000 to 100,000 metres of drilling in a year. But when we get in and take a look at data, and we’re able to manipulate and think about things differently, that’s where we find things that get exciting. Where things have been overlooked or interpreted in a different way. Then we’re able to bring a fresh perspective to something and bring it to life. 

Let’s finish up with a look at what investors should expect from Clarity in 2021.

This year is going to be big. It will include our maiden drill program on Destiny, which should be kicking off before winter’s end. We’ll start with about a 10,000-metre program, which will then carry on into subsequent drilling as we get results and continue to move it forward.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Clarity Gold
at https://claritygoldcorp.com/

Public Entrepreneur Magazine: The Mining Issue – Now Live!

Welcome to the latest issue of Public Entrepreneur magazine, your source for in-depth stories of entrepreneurs from a wealth of different industries.

While 2020 was a year of unprecedented challenges, 2021 appears to be a year of unearthing new opportunities in the mining space. In this issue of Public Entrepreneur, we dig into all aspects of the industry, highlighting trailblazing entrepreneurs who are forging their own paths ahead. 

We shine a spotlight on CSE-listed companies that are exploring possibilities sheltered in diverse geographic formations, reviving deposits, and delving into previously overlooked economic opportunities. We also share the perspectives of influential women in mining. 

The CSE-listed companies featured in this issue include:

Check out the Mining Issue of Public Entrepreneur here:

Red Light Holland: Proving the potential of recreational psilocybin begins with choosing the right market

One of the more interesting small-cap market developments of 2020 is increasing investor comfort with the psychedelics industry.

The year has seen multiple psychedelics companies IPO on exchanges in Canada and the US, and M&A activity is ramping up, too. Momentum in the sector is being driven by legislation in Canada opening the door for end-of-life patients to use psychedelics as a therapeutic option, while in the US, the Food and Drug Administration designated psilocybin as a “breakthrough treatment” for mental health disorders. The industry clearly has plenty of runway heading into next year.

Most of the publicly listed companies in the segment focus on therapeutic applications, working on research and development of psychedelic-based treatments for mood and anxiety disorders.

Canada’s Red Light Holland (CSE:TRIP), however, has found its niche in the recreational part of the market by selling small doses of psilocybin to adult consumers seeking to experience the psychedelic effect without a prescription. In the process, it has set itself on a clear path to revenue, which is an immediate point of differentiation compared to most peers.

The Toronto-based firm is the first publicly traded company that has a legal psilocybin product on store shelves and online (in the Netherlands). Its iMicrodose pack is a collection of “magic truffles” – a type of fungi that contains a lower concentration of psilocybin than their mushroom brethren but still enough to produce a psychedelic experience.

While making very clear that medical claims cannot be made at this point and highlighting that substantial research is still being done to prove certain beliefs, Chief Executive Officer Todd Shapiro tells Public Entrepreneur that he thinks psilocybin has the potential to “change the world” for people suffering from depression and mental health disorders. “For me, the opportunity was never about a trend,” Shapiro explains during a recent interview. “It’s about making a difference with a long-term plan. And it’s about empathy, compassion and providing access.”

Shapiro, a former Toronto media personality, began to explore the world of psilocybin through conversations with guests on his SiriusXM radio program. Sensing opportunity, he assembled a team of investors and advisors containing some truly boldface names: Bruce Linton, Terry Booth, Brad Lamb and even comedian Russell Peters, who serves as the brand’s chief creative officer.

The group decided to explore the opportunity to sell psilocybin as a recreational product in a legal market and settled on selling truffles in the Netherlands. It raised nearly $4 million before going public on the CSE in May 2020.

At this point, it’s fair to ask – aren’t magic mushrooms illegal? The answer lies in the composition of the fungi. In the Netherlands, where iMicrodose recently debuted in smartshops across the country, magic mushrooms themselves are illegal, but truffles – a network of interconnected filaments that branch out from the mushroom below ground – are legal to buy and consume.

The pursuit of the recreational market as opposed to medicinal psilocybin is a huge part of what differentiates Red Light Holland. “We would love to be a part of helping to prove how psilocybin can help human beings, be it supporting studies or trials,” Shapiro says. “I think that the medical side is extraordinarily important, but why are we limiting the potential of responsible adult use? When we do that, we are limiting a lot of adults who have access to information, education and early trial data as well as anecdotal research. I don’t think we should do that for people who want to try this responsibly.”

Echoes of the cannabis sector’s growth trajectory ring through Red Light Holland’s story. Early acceptance of medicinal marijuana paved the way for the recreational market and, eventually, legalization. Shapiro is hoping that Red Light Holland can blaze a path to tolerance of recreational psilocybin. “Magic mushrooms have been used for generations for a wide variety of purposes,” Shapiro notes. “Red Light Holland wants to offer it to people who want it in legal jurisdictions, much like we saw in the cannabis market.”

That’s not to say that the company isn’t exploring possible therapeutic applications as well. Its scientific division, Scarlette Lillie Science and Innovation, recently secured a relationship with US-based Jinfiniti Precision Medicine to explore potential roles that psilocybin and truffles can play for age-related and psychiatric disorders.

Red Light Holland may not take the lead on clinical trials, but it wants to carefully look into how it can support the science by perhaps teaming up with people who could potentially get involved in trials in some capacity. “If we can learn more about the truffle itself, that would be our goal,” Shapiro says. “Maybe there’s a CBD-like element to the truffle that we don’t know about yet.” 

The therapeutic psilocybin market is poised to reach a value of nearly US$6.7 billion by 2027, according to Data Bridge Market Research, making it an attractive proposition for investors. While the recreational market is obviously much smaller in value, Shapiro hopes to find a new consumer – a young professional, a firefighter or a modern couple who just put their kids to bed.

“I want iMicrodose packs powered by Red Light Holland to be consumed by the Ketel One drinker, someone who loves a glass of wine, essentially an adult who wouldn’t necessarily walk into a smartshop but would rather order legally from an easy-to-use e-commerce store. I want to help expand the market,” says Shapiro.

There are signs that other countries will soon follow the Dutch lead of legalizing truffles, or at least relax the relevant laws. In Brazil there are no laws against the sale, distribution or use of magic mushrooms. Jamaica has long been a destination of choice for psychedelic retreats, and Bulgaria is on the radar. For now, though, Shapiro appears to have Red Light Holland firmly focused on its namesake country.

“A lot of the issues at cannabis companies came about because they thought there was a bigger market than there actually was, and then they wound up expanding too quickly,” Shapiro says. “We like the idea of learning who our customers are and expanding from there with education, information and responsible use initiatives.”

iMicrodose debuted in Amsterdam in September, retailing for €25 per pack. Distribution quickly spread to Rotterdam, Eindhoven and Den Bosch, as well as online. Shapiro and his team hope to have iMicrodose in as many smartshops as possible over the next year while growing brand recognition.

Red Light Holland is blazing a trail in the psychedelics sector as the first psychedelics company with a legally available product to list on a major exchange, and it fills Shapiro with pride.

“It helps legitimize what so many pioneers and advocates have pushed for, because we’ve gone through the regulatory bodies,” he says. “It’s not something that we’re doing underground. If you’re in the Netherlands, you can order iMicrodose packs online right now. Let’s end the stigma together.”

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Red Light Holland
at https://redlighttruffles.com/

Jushi Holdings: Timing is everything, and this expert cannabis team knows just when to pounce

Jim Cacioppo and his team at Jushi Holdings (CSE:JUSH) definitely know the meaning of patience, as they exercised plenty of it before setting up a new company to enter the legal cannabis industry. They watched as executives of all shapes and sizes rushed in during the early days of regulatory change, some quickly enjoying success, and others ending up on the ropes after making an endless trail of mistakes. The future Jushi management circle gathered know-how and bided their time.

That discipline is paying off hugely now.

Jushi is a multistate cannabis and hemp operator, and while the company may only have been founded in 2018, it is already gaining solid traction in its target markets and is exceedingly well positioned for long-term growth.

Cannabis is a complex industry in which most companies contend with a wide variety of regulatory environments. That’s especially true in the United States, given the patchwork of state-by-state regulations across the country. 

But to the Jushi team, the size of the pie available for successful operators to share in the United States makes the regulatory navigation worth it. “Everything else pales in comparison to the size of the US,” says Cacioppo, Jushi’s ambitious Chief Executive Officer, who is convinced the company’s strategy will make it one of the top global cannabis players within just a few years.

Cacioppo was a successful early investor in the cannabis space and became an expert in identifying distressed assets through his work in private equity. He saw what he calls a “gaping” opportunity to create a great company that had the right mix of management, financial resources and skills.

Cacioppo teamed up with fellow financial and cannabis industry hands Erich Mauff, Jon Barack and Denis Arsenault to prove his point. The combination of their personal networks, business experience and some early cash from their own pockets got Jushi off to a good start. It is now a vertically integrated cannabis juggernaut, operating in several US states, with cultivation, processing and retail assets under its corporate umbrella.

“Most people who win licences don’t have money, don’t have sophistication, don’t have the resources or the skills to operate these kinds of ventures,” explains Cacioppo, who says the sector is still littered with distressed players, even after the cull of recent years. “They just won licences, so they’re undercapitalized from day one.

“You could see the trends in our favour: the scale, the lack of good management teams and the opportunity to purchase companies rather inexpensively,” continues Cacioppo about the industry’s early days.

Jushi cleverly set about buying assets and licences where there were barriers to entry. It targeted growing, populated areas, with limited-licence medical markets and/or where legalized adult use had yet to arrive.

The team added to its depth in June 2019 with the acquisition of The Clinic, a Colorado business that brought new and proprietary information on cannabis cultivation, extraction and brand development. 

The group now has over 70 product formulations under its Lab brand, as well as a new line of hemp-based CBD products called Nira. Its 11 cannabis dispensaries all feature Jushi’s BEYOND / HELLO brand above the door.

Jushi has three core markets: Virginia, with a limited medical licence; Pennsylvania, Jushi’s largest market and home to a well-established medical cannabis environment; plus Illinois and its strong adult-use market. Illinois and Pennsylvania are expected to account for 77% of group revenue in 2021.

In three other markets, Jushi has established operations and is looking to scale up. These are Ohio (developing a medical program), Nevada (large adult-use market) and California. The last of these, of course, is the biggest cannabis market in the US and also home to a long list of very distressed assets.

In Illinois, Jushi aims to double the number of retail outlets it operates to four by early Q1 2021. Experts say the state’s adult-use market is growing rapidly and could reach US$3 billion in value.

In Pennsylvania, which could account for up to US$110 million in revenue in 2021, the aim is to grow its dispensary count to 15, from eight at present, with the already increased capacity at its 90,000-square-foot facility for cultivation and processing.

Virginia, where Jushi is one of only two public companies licensed to operate, will be the jurisdiction of highest growth in percentage terms, as Jushi currently does not have any stores there but is planning to build six.

“We have three great states that give us growth in-house for several years, so we don’t need to do any acquisitions, and we have the capital to build up the businesses,” says Cacioppo. The company closed a $30 million financing in the latter part of October, adding to a cash balance that was already around the $50 million mark.

COVID-19 has brought challenges, of course, including the adoption of strict social distancing rules.

On the other hand, the cannabis sector was declared an essential service, and Cacioppo believes there have been other positives, such as increasing demand, an influx of new consumers, and a newfound respect and validation for the cannabis industry.

A quick look at Jushi’s financials shows how well things are working.

Preliminary third-quarter results announced in early October contained expectations for revenue of $24 million, which would be 61% above the prior quarter, while fourth-quarter revenue is anticipated at the high end of the previously announced range of $25 million to $30 million. Jushi also expects to report positive adjusted EBITDA in the fourth quarter.

Forecast revenue for 2021 has been revised upward to between $205 million and $255 million, from $200 million to $250 million, while adjusted EBITDA is expected to be between $40 million and $50 million.

Beacon Securities recently initiated coverage of Jushi with a buy rating, describing the company as a “hidden gem.” 

Its analysts noted that both New Jersey and Arizona were set to vote on adult-use legalization measures, with the New Jersey vote in particular holding the potential to have a domino effect on other markets, including New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

“Illinois has seen legal-market cannabis sales quadruple to a $1.2 billion annualized run rate after its adult-use market opened in January. Pennsylvania may be one of the ‘dominos’ that falls if neighboring New Jersey approves adult-use legalization next month,” notes Beacon.

With Jushi shares having traded as high as 300% above their March 2020 lows, the patient work of Cacioppo and his Jushi teammates is clearly being recognized. And with more positive regulatory change on the horizon in the United States, Jushi seems to be in that sweet spot with the right strategy at the right time.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Jushi Holdings Inc.
at https://jushico.com/

Bee Vectoring Technologies International: Delivering patented organic pesticides with some help from the hive

Swarms of mechanical drones are used in modern agriculture, but Bee Vectoring Technologies International (CSE:BEE) is wonderfully old school. The Ontario-based agritech company has successfully drafted some of nature’s little helpers – an army of commercially reared bees – to deliver organic pesticides to crops.

The company’s natural precision agriculture system relies on bees carrying BVT’s patented biological fungicide – Vectorite with CR-7 – from commercial hives to crops. The breakthrough is getting a lot of attention, as it could help farmers reduce, or even eliminate, the need for chemical spraying.

The intellectual property and creativity driving BVT’s business has been in development for nearly two decades, but it’s since 2016 that the company has really ramped up testing and field trials. Currently, BVT has over 65 patents and 35 patents pending in agriculture-dominant countries around the world.

With its patent-rich endeavour, BVT is now eyeing the global US$240 billion crop protection and fertilizer market with its targeted pest and disease management solutions. 

But how does it all work? 

Its genius is its simplicity. Inside the hive, bumblebees or honeybees walk through a tiny tray, picking up Vectorite with CR-7 powder on their legs as they exit their hives to travel out into the fields. The Vectorite carries a refined form of Clonostachys rosea (CR-7), a fungus that feeds on other types of fungi that damage crops. The powder naturally drops on plants’ blooms as the bees fly around the field pollinating the crop. 

The BVT trays are changed during the bloom period and accurately dispense portions of Vectorite with CR-7 that are just the right size for a bee to carry. The company says “multiple biocontrols” can be added to each tray at the same time in a process called stacking. 

“BVT is commercializing a system to harness the natural pollination process of bees to deliver safe, biological plant-treatment products to crops to help them fight pests and diseases, producing higher yields for farmers while reducing the use of synthetic chemical pesticides,” says Bee Vectoring Technologies Chief Executive Officer Ashish Malik.  

“We have demonstrated that yield increases of as much as 30%, and reductions in chemical fungicides of up to 98%, are possible with our unique and patented natural precision agriculture technology.”

When absorbed, BVT’s Vectorite with CR-7 enables a plant to block disease such as botrytis (grey mould) in strawberries, which is the most widespread strawberry disease in California. According to some estimates, BVT’s solution saves strawberry farmers over $4,000 per acre.

Bees still contribute to one-third of the food we consume by pollinating crops. “There are about 3 million beehive colonies that are used in commercial agriculture today, quite a staggering number when you further consider that each beehive can contain 20,000 bees,” says Malik, an engineer with an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

In August 2019, BVT became the only company to have US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval for a bee-delivered fungicide. The company also received a “residue tolerance exemption” from the EPA, which confirms that products with CR-7 are safe for human consumption. Unlike many chemical pesticides, there is no requirement to test crops for residual CR-7.

“This underscores the safety of CR-7 for human consumption. It also gives growers an economic advantage since they don’t run the risk of their crop being rejected,” says Malik.

The Canadian company has an ambitious US blueprint, so it’s not surprising that Malik resides in Davis, California, near the US agricultural research nerve centre of Sacramento.

“Davis is home to the University of California, Davis, which is one of the leading universities in agricultural sciences worldwide, and the greater Sacramento area is one of the larger innovation hubs for agritech companies,” says Malik. “It is a great location from which to build out our US footprint. We have opportunities across the US – from the Southeast, to the Pacific Northwest, California, Michigan, New Jersey, New England and the Midwest.”

BVT sees its biotech as a solution for berry, almond, stone fruit, tomato and pepper growers. In fact, in its first growing season selling commercially in the US, it has garnered customers from growing regions that cover over 80% of US blueberry acreage. 

“Currently, we are focusing on the berry crops. Blueberry growers in the Southeast represented about 75% of our invoiced sales in 2020,” says Malik. The BVT boss says that as he looks to the 2021 season, he sees continued growth in the Southeast and new revenue in Michigan and the Pacific Northwest from berry growers. 

“From this base we will expand onto additional crops such as tree fruits and nuts (stone fruit, almonds), and indoor vegetables (tomatoes, peppers) in the medium to longer term,” says Malik. 

California requires its own approval beyond the EPA process and represents the largest market opportunity for BVT, with 1.4 million acres of almond farms pollinated by bees. “We are in the final stages of the regulatory approval process in California and Switzerland. In addition, we have started the process for Mexico,” says Malik.

BVT is opening new revenue streams by way of third-party product in-licensing, having successfully rounded out Phase 2 evaluations and a proof-of-concept field trial with two biological insecticides in North America. Field trials in Europe with a third biological insecticide, in addition to a biological fungicide, are in progress and expected to be completed by late fall.

“Extending BVT’s product line through in-licensing of third-party biological products is one of the key innovation projects for BVT. It enables us to open new revenue streams by increasing our addressable market,” says Malik. “These products have the potential to not only deliver additional revenue but also extend BVT’s reach geographically and into new crops.”

BVT hopes to eliminate an unhealthy reliance on synthetic pesticides, and that would be great for the environment. “Having a safe, environment-friendly and affordable food supply system is something we should all care about,” says Malik. 

Malik began caring a lot about how food is grown when he was starting a family. “I became passionate about this after my wife and I started our family. I thought about my children’s well-being and joined the agriculture industry back in 2003,” says Malik.

“Bee vectoring is an all-natural approach that advances sustainable agriculture. BVT’s unique natural precision agriculture technology is a viable alternative to the inefficient practice of spraying crops globally.”

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Bee Vectoring Technologies International Inc.
at http://www.beevt.com/

Taat Lifestyle & Wellness: Helping smokers kick the habit by embracing the cigarette experience

The world of smoking has undergone quite a transformation over the past couple of decades, with cigarettes, cigars and pipes giving partial way to vaping and other next-generation products that more closely align with positive health and lifestyle values.

Few people are positioned better than Setti Coscarella to understand this change and assess whether it is here to stay. So firm is his belief in the segment’s potential that he left cigarette industry titan Philip Morris International (PMI) earlier this year to join young start-up Taat Lifestyle & Wellness (CSE:TAAT) as Chief Executive Officer.

Coscarella was a top strategist for reduced-risk products (RRPs) at the tobacco giant, where his insight led to initiatives that collectively yielded a fivefold increase in RRP leads and purchases.

Taat is focused on hemp-based products, so it should come as no surprise that the group’s Beyond Tobacco cigarettes feature CBD and CBG, both of which are known to provide a wide range of health benefits. The cigarettes contain no tobacco or nicotine, making them ideal as a tobacco replacement or cessation tool.

Public Entrepreneur caught up with Taat’s new boss a few months into the job to find out more. The first question was obvious.

You have just moved from the world’s biggest tobacco company to a start-up. Was this a big leap of faith or a no-brainer?

In a lot of ways, this might be considered a leap of faith, as there were the combined risks of giving up the stability and prestige of working at PMI and replacing that role with a position at a brand new company. 

If one’s modus operandi is to just collect a salary and grow within the parameters of a corporate environment, then a move like this would definitely be a leap of faith. I don’t feel that way about it, though, and there are two reasons.

The first is that I see greater potential in Taat as an alternative to traditional cigarettes than I do in any of the alternatives brought to market by Big Tobacco. PMI has spent US$7.2 billion producing smoke-free products, but how much market share has that earned them? It’s then arguably a leap of faith to stay on the Big Tobacco side, since it assumes their alternatives will become and remain profitable.

That brings us to the second reason, which is that a leap of faith is very different from a calculated risk. As an entrepreneur and investment banker by trade, calculated risks are something I’m very familiar with. When you take smaller risks, you position yourself for smaller rewards, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I’ve become very comfortable taking educated and balanced risks when making business decisions.

What is the advantage of Taat’s Beyond Tobacco cigarettes over other non-nicotine products? 

I love this question because it highlights an interesting discrepancy in the category of alternative products to tobacco cigarettes. Tobacco-free products such as gums, patches, lozenges and vapes all have two things in common. The first is that they generally contain nicotine, and the second is that they’re in a completely different format to what a tobacco smoker is conditioned to using.

I think most people can understand it doesn’t make sense to try to leave nicotine behind by continuing nicotine intake using a different method. As for the format, it matters far more than you think. If nicotine was the only thing smokers craved, then things like gums and patches would work much better. The fact that smokers frequently abandon these alternatives to return to tobacco cigarettes suggests they crave the sensory and motor elements of smoking, which none of those alternatives can provide. 

Taat is built around an objective of mimicking those elements: the stick format, tobacco-like smell and taste, the crackling sound from combustion and the ability to flick ashes off the stick as the product burns. You can’t do that with a vape device, and you certainly can’t do that with gum or a patch.

Part of that is the patent-pending refinement technique we use for the Beyond Tobacco base material, which creates a taste and smell resembling tobacco. While others sell difference, we sell similarity, and for a transition such as giving up tobacco, similarity is priceless.

You are targeting the launch of Beyond Tobacco cigarettes in the fourth quarter of 2020. How wide will the launch be? 

We’ll be launching in the state of Ohio, which puts us into a market of about 11.7 million people, with 22.5% of Ohio adults being cigarette smokers, based on 2016 data.

We are not concentrating on any particular part of Ohio. The big three cities of Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland are spread out geographically, which will allow us to examine regional trends during the launch, to better shape our expansion strategies. Our near-term intent is to expand our footprint outward to other states and organically build traction that way.

Does the company have international ambitions? 

Most definitely. And this isn’t just because other countries represent more smokers who might be interested in switching to Taat. It’s also because there are unique opportunities in international markets. For example, not many people know how expensive cigarettes are in Australia. Try nearly $50 per pack.

We also mentioned in October how the recent US$5 million private placement led by a prominent Hong Kong financier could help to expedite our entry into Asian markets.

But our current focus is on maximizing our launch in Ohio, as I believe that will build far more sustainable momentum than moving to expand internationally right away.

Can you give us an idea of the size of the market the company is aiming at?

Globally, about 1.3 billion people use tobacco, according to the World Health Organization. In 2018, the tobacco market at a worldwide level was valued at approximately US$814 billion.

Naturally, not every tobacco user necessarily wants to switch to a nicotine-free and tobacco-free product such as Taat, but there are enough tobacco smokers who have had enough of nicotine and want or have attempted to quit. One figure I believe reflects this in the United States is 2018 data from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that says 55.1% of adult smokers had attempted to quit in the past year, though only 7.5% succeeded.

Therefore, if I had to answer this question in one sentence: hundreds of millions of people, and hundreds of billions of dollars. 

What can investors expect from Taat in the future?

Putting myself in the investor’s shoes for a moment, a start-up in the tobacco industry offering an analogue product such as Taat should present a clearly defined plan for commercializing it in a way that makes it a credible competitor to incumbent tobacco products. Further, I would expect visibility into how Taat is made and what the supply chain is like. Finally, I would expect transparency regarding the company’s progress, whether good or bad, both during the launch phase as well as during any expansion.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Taat Lifestyle & Wellness Ltd.
at https://trytaat.com/

Planet 13 Holdings: Doing things “Vegas style” fuels the growth at this one-of-a-kind cannabis company

Media coverage of the cannabis sector these days would lead you to think that nobody in the industry makes any money, yet nothing could be further from the truth. There are many profitable companies out there, and others a stone’s throw away.

One of those companies is Las Vegas–based Planet 13 Holdings (CSE:PLTH), whose retail footprint is truly beyond compare. But more on that in just a moment.

What makes Planet 13 successful in its Nevada home market is simple: vertical integration and high visibility. This means the company can grow its own cannabis and make its own products for the wholesale, medical and retail markets. It sells its popular brands at its wholly owned store in Las Vegas, as well as at dispensaries owned by others.

The company currently has three cultivation sites, plus three production facilities to make edibles and other products. But its biggest claim to fame is the SuperStore dispensary, the Planet 13 Cannabis Entertainment Complex located not far from the famous Las Vegas Strip.

At 112,000 square feet, the SuperStore is the biggest cannabis store in the world, attracting 1 million visitors and generating US$63 million in revenue in 2019. That represents about one in 10 cannabis sales in the state. Plans call for opening a second Las Vegas dispensary, as well as for launching Planet 13’s first retail location in California, in the first half of 2021.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic cut into SuperStore sales during springtime, the top line has since enjoyed a steady rebound. For the third quarter, which ended September 30, revenue is expected to be $22.8 million, representing a 110% increase over the previous quarter.

Public Entrepreneur discussed the state of operations, effects from COVID-19 and growth plans with Planet 13 Co-Chief Executive Officer Bob Groesbeck.

Operating the largest cannabis retail store in the world, Planet 13 is a barometer on how the cannabis market is doing. Talk to us about retail sales and cultivation.

Business has been fantastic despite COVID-19 reducing tourist traffic to Las Vegas. We pre-released our third-quarter revenue number, and it is the highest in our company’s history.

Growth this quarter reflects improvements at the SuperStore, which drove a higher ticket; improvement in our delivery services, which increased our share of local cannabis revenue; and growth on the wholesale side of the business.

How did the COVID-19 lockdown affect sales, and what have you seen since?

It had a dramatic effect on our business in Q2. Nevada shut all dispensaries and required delivery-only sales. This forced us to adapt and improve our business, which, again, has really driven growth for us and enabled the market share gain in Q3.

Las Vegas is still feeling the effects of COVID, and you can see it in the tourist traffic, which is less than 40% of what it usually is this time of year. It makes what we’ve done in Q3 all the more impressive. We sell primarily to tourists and were somehow able to grow revenue despite visitor numbers being way down

Why and how did you get into the cannabis business?

Larry (Larry Scheffler, Planet 13 Co-CEO) and I met when we were both members of the Henderson City Council in the mid-1990s. We continued that relationship in business after we left the City Council. We were intrigued when we heard in late 2013 that Nevada was going to allow medical marijuana facilities to open. We immediately recognized how much of a transformational event this was and decided quickly that we wanted to be involved. And, as longtime residents of southern Nevada, we wanted to do it “Vegas style” – an over-the-top cannabis experience.

What has been Planet 13’s biggest success and its biggest regret?

Our biggest success to date is the Las Vegas SuperStore. We set out to build something unique – a truly special customer experience. And we’ve created a piece of Las Vegas. What Steve Wynn did for the club experience, we’ve done for the cannabis experience. As for regrets, it is really just delays on some regulatory things. We would love to already have our cannabis consumption lounges open. 

What are the biggest obstacles to opening and running a dispensary, especially one on the scale of the SuperStore? 

For us, it was primarily obtaining a licence and finding a location where a dispensary like the Planet 13 SuperStore could thrive. We operate a different dispensary that is completely experience-based. As a result, we require a larger dispensary that has parking and easy access from tourist hot spots. To give you an example, we looked at over 100 locations before finding our new location in Santa Ana, California.

How important has vertical integration been to your success?

Planet 13 is a vertically integrated business, but it’s really important to understand that we create a one-of-a-kind customer experience. At the SuperStore we combine entertainment, customer service and best-in-class choice and product quality. While we are a retailer first, having in-house production and our own products contributes a great deal to our success. We routinely have different products in Nevada’s 10 top-selling SKUs.

How does the company plan to grow? Will it be M&A, organic growth or a mix of the two?

It will be both. We will continue expanding in Nevada organically, opening another store and expanding delivery and wholesale. We will also be opening the store in Santa Ana. Outside of that, we are actively looking at M&A to expand into other tier-one cities where SuperStores could do well. 

Those are some big plans. Briefly review the balance sheet for us – is the cash already there to support the expansion?

We are in a strong financial position. We’ve done three financings in the last couple of months and have approximately $60 million in cash on the balance sheet and essentially no debt. We’ve historically been cash-flow positive so are set for accretive growth. 

What are the objectives for the next 12 months and the strategy for achieving them?

We’ve laid out a clear roadmap for investors. We are opening our next SuperStore in Santa Ana and over the next couple of years would like to have SuperStores in major cities and tourist locations across the US. We’re talking places such as Chicago, Boston, Phoenix and also Orlando, if Florida shifts to recreational legalization. 

As a final question, what would be your best advice for companies seeking to enter the cannabis industry?

It is the same as any other business. Focus on figuring out what the customer wants and then give it to them.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Planet 13 Holdings Inc.
at https://www.planet13holdings.com/ 

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/

Public Entrepreneur Magazine: The Inspiration Issue – Now Live!

Welcome to the latest issue of Public Entrepreneur magazine, your source for in-depth stories of business leaders and entrepreneurs shaping the capital markets.

2020 has tested their resilience like never before, but the good news buried amidst all of this year’s difficult news is that smart capital sees opportunity on the horizon. In this Inspiration issue of Public Entrepreneur, we shine a spotlight on innovative companies in fields as diverse as plant-based foods, organic pesticides delivered by bees, hemp-based cigarettes, psychedelics and cannabis.

CSE-listed companies featured in this issue include:

  • The Very Good Food Company Inc. (CSE:VERY)
  • Planet 13 Holdings Inc. (CSE:PLTH)
  • Taat Lifestyle & Wellness Ltd. (CSE:TAAT)
  • Bee Vectoring Technologies International Inc. (CSE:BEE)
  • Jushi Holdings Inc. (CSE:JUSH)
  • Red Light Holland Corp. (CSE:TRIP)

Check out the most recent edition of Public Entrepreneur to learn how these companies’ visionary leaders and entrepreneurs are inspiring investors to put their capital to work: