Written by Andrew Seale
Long before the final vote to legalize recreational cannabis in Canada, the sector had already started to boom in Toronto.
“There were two or three startups (in Toronto) in 2014 and we all knew each other,” recalls John Prentice, founder of Ample Organics, the number one seed-to-sale software for the cannabis industry in Canada. By 2015, that number had risen to 20. Today, the city is home to a large swath of cannabis-focused startups covering everything from vaporizers and loyalty programs to blockchain tracking technology.
“It's really fascinating to watch the market evolve as the industry continues to grow and this international opportunity keeps presenting itself,” says Prentice. The Ample Organics founder has become one of the key mentors is the realm working with startups through programs like Leaf Forward, the country’s first cannabis business-focused accelerator. The city is also home to Cannjoin, a global center of excellence for the sphere.
And people like Alex Blumenstein, who alongside Brett Chang, and Taylor Scollon, co-founded Leaf Forward initially as a meet-up for the industry, are quick to point to the benefits of seeing players like Prentice grow and succeed in Toronto.
“I think Toronto has an opportunity (to be) the global capital of professional cannabis because Canada is already leading the way,” says Blumenstein. “We might as well turn the city into a hub that will allow us to export our thought leadership globally and capitalize on that opportunity.”
When asked why Toronto makes sense rather than somewhere like Vancouver which has more of a legacy when it comes to cannabis production, Prentice points to the financial sector.
“You've got lots going on in Vancouver but I think Toronto is really the crown jewel simply because all our national banks are here,” adds Prentice. “The investor community, working with venture capitalists in the city, having access to Bay Street, the TSX – these are important things for some of these businesses and I think that’s kind of skewing Toronto in their favour.”
Scott Walters, co-founder of Molecular Science Corporation (MSC) – which offers cannabis-related analytical testing services for licensed producers, regulators, pharmaceutical and related industries – says he agrees. Walters spent two decades in the financial sector before turning his eye to the cannabis industry.
“In January alone, brokers in Toronto raised one billion dollars for the industry,” he says. “(The city) is a source of capital – especially risk capital with the prevalence of the exchanges and the brokers who work to provide liquidity on that.”
Walters is onto his fifth startup in the sector in just as many years.
“I think Toronto has probably the richest technology infrastructure for start-ups in the country and in particular around cannabis – the majority of well-funded and practically-focused (businesses) have offices here in Toronto,” he says. Between regular conventions for the industry and a culture of open collaboration, Walters says the city is already the epicentre of innovation for cannabis. “This is where we want to be.”
StartUp Spotlight on: Cannabis
Learn about the Toronto cannabis startup community through a series of interviews with directors and founders of various organizations.
Photos: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)