Written by Andrew Seale
As far as legal commercial cannabis in Canada goes, Ample Organics founder John Prentice has been on the scene since day one. Back then it was a weird industry, blue-skied and disparate from traditional medicine making the possibilities endless.
In 2012, Prentice was working at a small digital agency after spending some time in the medical devices sphere. “While I was there, a guy came in and said ‘hey the Canadian government is going to let us grow cannabis for medical patients and sell it to them,’ ” recalls Prentice. “We sort of laughed… we didn't really see that as a realistic, viable option but sure enough he produced the paperwork.”
It was strange days; there’d been back-and-forth discussion about medical marijuana for years, and plenty of entrepreneurs were looking for so-called “grey areas” to capitalize on the demand for cannabis as a medicine. But this client seemed legitimate and by December, he’d clinched the first new license granted under what was the MMPR (now the ACMPR moving into Bill C-45).
Prentice didn’t stick with the agency, he moved on to take a role in broadcasting for the next two years, running IT for 14 television networks across the country. But the growing commercial cannabis market held his attention. So in 2014, he decided he’d open his own licensed producer called Ample Organics.
“Supply was short, there wasn’t a whole lot of organic product out there,” he says. But in the midst of setting up a facility and filing an application, he realized the pain-points he’d experienced back in 2012 lingered. “The record keeping side of it was a bit of a black hole, Health Canada had set these really stringent guidelines for the type of information they wanted licensed producers to record and be able to produce upon a physical inspection.”
Prentice, a self-professed “IT guy at heart” saw an opportunity in a realm he was even more familiar: technology and software. “There just didn't seem to be anything that would meet the requirements and allow them to conduct their business in an efficient, modern fashion – e-commerce, direct shipping to patients, things that were really new,” he says.
So the would-be producer ended up developing one of the first seed-to-sale softwares; an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform that would become the backbone for the majority of Canada’s licensed producers. Their software can track inventory within licensed facilities to make sure that Health Canada compliance reports are generated and submitted to the government and available in the event of an inspection. It can track plants in the grow room, or manufacturing operations like conducting trim, dry, curing process, packaging. It can identify the patients that the product is sold to.
They’ve since released the AmpleCare platform, which targets the patient side of things trimming registration time for patients from days to seconds.
“We have a national e-prescribing platform that's being used over 10,000 times a month,” says Prentice. “I don't think there's anything even comparable in the medical field.”
It’s been a free-for-all for the tech-minded entrepreneur – you can’t even call it disruption when the industry is a blank canvas – but Prentice welcomes the competition, and collaboration, that comes with the growth.
“Things are moving a lot faster today than they were before, you have more and more startups coming into the space, more and more great entrepreneurs with fantastic ideas trying to enter the market and that’s really refreshing,” says Prentice. “I think as time continues we'll see more cannabis-focused tech companies coming into Toronto.”
Photo credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)