From scratch and sniff labels for cannabis, to cannabis- and hemp-infused sunflower seed butter, to hemp-laced towels, seven teams from across the United States and Canada pitched their ideas on the future of medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp at the University’s JAZ Tank: CannaVATION.
The winning concept, an algorithm to speed up the cannabis strain selection process for patients in medicinal cannabis dispensaries, won $10,000 in financial support, plus business mentorship, legal support and business consultation from Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University).
“Whenever new paths forward for innovation overlap with great human needs, entrepreneurs will emerge with great ideas,” said Rose Ritts, MS, PhD, executive vice president and chief innovation officer at Jefferson. “That’s definitely where we are right now with medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp. CannaVATION brings the unique combined resources of Jefferson’s Innovation Pillar and the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp at Jefferson together to help some of these new ideas flourish.”
Jefferson’s annual healthcare startup competition left the theme for pitches open-ended in years past; however, organizers narrowed the focus this time to these two exploding sectors. They received nearly 100 submissions to compete from the United States and Canada.
Charles Pollack, MD, director of the Lambert Center, called the Oct. 3 pitch event inventive, entertaining and indicative of the freewheeling nature of the medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp space.
“If this is, in fact, the fastest growing industry in the United States, it’s going to take innovators and people thinking outside the lines to make something happen,” Dr. Pollack said. “I think we saw a little hint of that today.”
At Jefferson’s Alumni Hall, participants each had 10 minutes to pitch their idea to a panel of judges, with a short Q&A following. The judges scored the teams on market opportunity, clarity of market entry strategy, capability of the team, financials and strength of their presentation.
Pharmacist Kit Poon, from Edmonton, Canada, bested the other six finalists with ARBR. His team created an algorithm designed to personalize medical cannabis treatment based on demographics, medical conditions, preferences and budget needs. The algorithm also can take feedback of its initial strain and dose recommendation and continue to adjust dosing and strain selection as it learns more about the patient’s needs.
“The next step for the company is getting more exposure and further driving the business in terms of adoption rate for the software, as well as getting this clinical tool into clinicians’ hands,” said Poon, noting the diversity of the cannabis landscape. “It’s a tremendous time to jump in and put your ideas to the test.”
The two runners-up each received $5,000: Florida-based We the People for its hemp-based, biodegradable, mold-resistant kitchen and bath towels; and Cannabiscope, from Las Vegas, an app-based interactive wheel to assist in cannabis strain classification.
“This gives me proof of concept to show there’s interest and an opportunity,” said Brianna Kilcullen, founder of We the People.
Cannabiscope founder and CEO David Schacter said he also enjoyed the experience of pitching to the judges and sharing his company’s business potential. He plans to use the money to hire an API specialist.
While the other teams didn’t win any financial prizes on the spot, investors sat in the audience and met with many of the competitors as the judges deliberated.
Marsha Simmons, a clinical research coordinator at Jefferson’s Diabetes Research Center, said she benefited from the networking and comparing her presentation to the other groups. Her team, Hampons, pitched hemp-based tampons with cannabidiol to ease menstrual cramps.
“This was a great opportunity for everybody to show their wares and get feedback,” said CannaVATION judge and University alumnus David Tuttleman ’83, trustee of the Tuttleman Foundation—which sponsored the event—and CEO of Matrix NV, a cannabis grower and producer in Nevada. “Everybody getting up there is a winner.”
Other judges included Holly Flanagan, managing director of Gabriel Investments; Zoltan Kerekes, co-founder and managing partner of Phoenix IP Ventures; Lindy Snider, founder of Lindy Skin and Snider Health; and Max Tuttleman, entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder and chairman of SMRT Industries.