On July 20-23, Leaf Forward, Canada’s first and largest cannabis industry accelerator, hosted our first-ever cannabis startup Bootcamp. Over 35 entrepreneurs from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island attended a four-day intensive seminar on cannabis entrepreneurship and innovation taught by subject matter experts and industry leaders. The bootcamp was designed to support entrepreneurs in the space and provide the infrastructure they need to be successful.

The entire Leaf Forward team thanks the over 20 industry leaders who took time out of their weekend to share their insights with Bootcamp attendees. Their leadership is laying the foundation for the next generation of Canadian cannabis entrepreneurs.

For those who couldn’t attend, here are some takeaways from the program.

Creative Compliance

Rachel Colic, VP Brand and PR at Pure Global Cannabis, used the term ‘creative compliance’ to describe how cannabis companies will build their brand with such burdensome promotional regulations.

During our panel with leading marketers, Amy Wasserman, Canopy Growth Corp., Kirsten Gauthier, 48North, and Sherry Feng, ABCann Global Corp, we heard some of the creative compliance strategies being used by licensed producers. Amy, in particular, focused on how the experience consumers have with the brand prior to and after purchasing the product will be far more important than how they interact with it in store. Tweed’s sponsorship of hundreds of events across the country is an example of how they’re building brand awareness while remaining compliant with existing regulations.

This aligned with Rachel’s point that, instead of getting frustrated with regulations, entrepreneurs should get creative. There are a number of compliant tactics that can effectively promote your brand, but it’s up to entrepreneurs to find them.

Reputation is everything

In highly regulated industries, like cannabis, your reputation as a good actor is vital to success. According to Mike Elkin, Director of Strategic Sales at CCI, the best way to build your reputation in cannabis is to be transparent about your operations and compliant with the regulations governing your business.

Jon Lowenstein, Senior Consultant at Navigator, reminded entrepreneurs that when dealing with regulators, remember that they’re people too. He encouraged entrepreneurs to empathize with the role of the regulator, be responsive and, most importantly, human in your interactions with them.

Your idea is worth nothing

Brad Poulus, instructor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Business, insisted that ideas are cheap and your execution is the only thing that matters. He went on to introduce the cohort to a number of different methodologies on how to build their businesses.

Mike Perron, Senior Manager at MNP, complemented Brad’s session with a seminar on business planning 101. His advice was to write a business plan as early as possible, in his words, “a business plan is absolutely essential for entrepreneurs, it improves your company’s internal operations by setting tangible goals for your team”.

During the building a business in a regulated market panel, Greg Pantelic, CEO of AHLOT, made the point that your idea also may be wrong, but that’s okay. With the Canadian cannabis industry in constant flux, you have to be prepared to adapt to changing business and regulatory conditions.

It’s just the beginning

Attendees heard from Jen Carver, Senior Consultant at Navigator, on public opinion surrounding cannabis legalization. Navigator’s research found that only 40% of Canadians support the legalization of cannabis, an important reminder that there’s still lots of work to be done to convince Canadians on the merits of legalization.

Lee Silverstone, CEO of 3Leaf, a California edibles company noted how the consumption habits of US consumers is shifting from smoking to alternative products, such as vapes, edibles and beverages. He expects that we’ll see the emergence of similar trends in the Canadian market when alternative consumption products are regulated. This is a major opportunity for Canadian entrepreneurs.

We also heard from a number of members of the Cannabis Compliance Inc. team who guided entrepreneurs through the various Canadian cannabis regulations. A key takeaway from their presentations was that the industry is very new, regulations continue to change and entrepreneurs must be flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions.

Choose your team (and investors) wisely

On our investor panel, we heard from Chris Jones of Cannroyalty, Mike Miller of White Sheep Capital, and Mohammed Ghalayini, a serial entrepreneur and angel investor. They shared some of the characteristics they look for in a founding team when considering an investment. In their experience, two co-founders are always better than one, subject matter expertise is preferred, and previous entrepreneurial experience is a plus.

Alex Anthanapoulos, Vice President, Investment Banking, Mackie Research Capital Corporation, followed their panel with a deep dive into the process of raising venture capital. He encouraged entrepreneurs to be deliberate when choosing investors because, in his words, “selecting an investor is like getting married, without the ability to get divorced”. Investors can be helpful in growing your business, but can also cause real harm so entrepreneurs need to be selective when accepting investors to participate in their rounds.

Canada is leading the way

We’re thrilled by the success of our first bootcamp and look forward to hosting more programming to educate entrepreneurs on the opportunity of Canada’s emerging cannabis industry. This is a uniquely Canadian industry and we’re proud to support entrepreneurs navigating this exciting new space.

If you’re considering starting a Canadian cannabis business, we would love to hear about it. Pre-register for our upcoming accelerator program at leafforward.org/accelerator