Vertosa Archives - Green Market Report

StaffFebruary 18, 2022
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16min8980

Vertosa

Austin Stevenson, Chief Innovation Officer at Vertosa

 

When did you formally enter the cannabis space?

Well I’ve been consuming cannabis for much longer than I’ve been working in the industry…but I got involved in the ‘professional’ cannabis industry nearly a decade ago, when I was an advisor to an accelerator in agriculture technology in Africa. I went to the MIT Innovation Laboratory, and I saw African farmers cultivating green leafy vegetables in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, via hydroponic indoor cultivation in freight containers. Seeing this piqued my curiosity, so when I got back to the U.S. and put my detective hat on and learned that it was really the cannabis industry that was driving innovation in terms of indoor, vertical farming. At that point, I took it as an opportunity to dive in and get started, as an advisor at a cannabis accelerator in Colorado.

My cannabis career evolved from advising to investing, then operating different cannabis businesses. Immediately prior to joining Vertosa, I led the regulatory Hemp/CBD testing program for Eurofins Scientific – a world leader in food, environment, and product testing services – where I built and designed quality testing protocols for CVS Pharmacy and other retailers who carry Hemp/CBD products.

It was during my time at Eurofins that I really got to see the good, the bad and the ugly of infused products. I identified major inconsistency issues for product potency and stability, which I knew needed to be corrected for the industry to progress and succeed long term and of course to build consumer trust.

Serendipitously, around the same time an old friend, someone who I respected in the cannabis investing arena, now Co-Founder and Vertosa CEO Ben Larson, reached out to me. He said he has been working with a PhD scientist focused on applying his expertise in surface chemistry to creating emulsion systems to infuse beverages and topicals with cannabis, ensuring precise potency and consistently stable products. This turned out to be Vertosa Co-Founder and CSO Dr. Harold Han — he was correcting the major issues I identified in the infused products industry while working at Eurofins. I knew we had to work together to help solve these problems in the cannabis-infused products supply chain.

What made you decide to work in the cannabis industry?

People, Products, and IMPACT! I simply love designing new and innovative products and watching how they impact people. I am energized by collaborating with teams, debating ideas, learning from different perspectives, and nurturing relationships with my team and partners. There is an immense amount of joy I experience when I’m able to help someone take an idea and turn it into a real, tangible product which they can taste and feel!

Additionally, I feel the unique intersection between product innovation, and public policy drives my passion to participate in the cannabis and hemp industry. For years, consumers have been limited to traditional forms of cannabis (flower and hash oil). In the past, many consumers (including myself) have been forced to hide, and enjoy the healing properties of the plant in secrecy because of regulatory restrictions. We’re now in one of the most transformative time periods in the modern age. With smartphone technologies, the world’s vast knowledge database is literally at our fingertips. Science is leading new product innovation, and cannabis is legal and more accessible than ever. By combining knowledge, science, and access, we now have an opportunity to recreate the narrative and redefine how and why cannabis is used around the world.

As a result of legalization, new jobs, products, and opportunities are developing. But with great opportunity there is great responsibility. This is the reason why I am an advocate for equity grants, workforce development, and other private and public mechanisms to fund start-up businesses run by people of color and others impacted by the War on Drugs. This is also the reason WHY we at VERTOSA have designed an INNOVATION PLATFORM and are committed to GIVING VALUE AND EMPOWERING ALL ENTREPRENEURS that have an idea AND BRINGING IT TO LIFE!

Do you feel there is more opportunity for Black Americans in the cannabis industry versus a more traditional industry? Yes or no and why?

Growing up my mother always said, “nothing in life will just be given to you, especially because being Black in America means you’ll need to work twice as hard for the same opportunity”. To that end, I feel that there is no real difference in the amount of opportunities for Black Americans in the cannabis industry versus traditional industries. In fact there may be fewer, because of the many barriers to entry which the cannabis industry imposes: economic barriers, organizational barriers like nepotism, regulatory barriers, the list goes on…

Yet, we all know this is a once in a generation opportunity to be a part of something as great as standing up a new industry – regardless of your race. So I am reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote, “[we] will not be judged by the color of [our] skin but by the content of [our] character”.

Reminded of those famous words by Dr. King, and my Mother’s encouraging words, we as Black Americans must continue to work hard to create the opportunities we deserve. Personally, I believe the best way to do that is to lead by example. I AM driven to serve others, and am most passionate about economic empowerment for the communities I serve. Since my days in microfinance, empowering other BIPOC and women entrepreneurs is my reason WHY. As industry builders, we are also job-creators, and with a positive intention to create more opportunities for all, we have the opportunity to create more jobs and opportunities to lift each other up!  As a result, we may truly “be the change [we] see in the world”. That’s why I am so grateful to my co-founders, who share the belief that we must first build a company that is the best place to work in the cannabis industry. With that positive intention at the beginning, we now have one of the most diverse teams in the cannabis industry, and are continuing to create more opportunities for others to join us in our mission to unlock the healing power of the cannabis plant, and make it more approachable and accessible to all!

 What is the most successful social equity effort in your opinion? Can be a charity or company program.

It’s too early to validate any effort as successful. In many states equity programs are just now starting to be built, and there is still a long road ahead. What I will say is collaboration is the new competition and we have an opportunity to start a movement that calls out cannabis operators who prioritize profit over people and products. The cannabis industry is as diverse as the country we live in. It is full of amazing leaders who are people of color, women, LGBTQ, and other minorities. However, many of the cannabis products on retailers’ shelves today are not made or representative of this diverse community that the space intends to serve. Instead, those who have always benefited from privilege continue to benefit in the burgeoning industry, and the privilege gap will continue to widen unless we create a movement that helps amplify the voices of BIPOC, Women, LGBTQ, and Minority entrepreneurs. So what’s the solution / path forward?

First, we can use consumer advocacy groups to demand current cannabis brands/manufacturers to donate a percentage of revenue to sponsor grants for minority cannabis entrepreneurs. This is something I’m personally supporting as an Advisor for EAZE’s Momentum Program.

Second, we can use local and state regulatory programs to create equity awards and licenses for underserved minority populations. This is another initiative that I am supporting as a Member of the City of Oakland’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission.

Third, those that ‘have’ must ‘give’. Companies who are profiting off cannabis today must ‘give-back’. If it’s not through grant funding, then by supporting an equity license for a minority to start their own company. Then ‘give’ job training and internship opportunities to all those that have been convicted of a non-violent marijuana crime. Re-entry programs for those whose lives were turned upside down from this plant, which is now a multi-billion-dollar industry, is an immediate opportunity to ‘right’ many of the ‘wrongs’.

Vertosa is helping these initiatives through our work with the Last Prisoner Project, EAZE Momentum, and Our Dream. In summary, profiteering only exacerbates inequality. Grants, Equity Licenses, and Job Training are requirements to create a more equitable cannabis industry. Professionals in the industry have a responsibility to re-write history by leading by example and creating an inclusive, equitable, and diverse cannabis community. By applying pressure at the national, state, and local levels, we have an opportunity to rise and shine together!

What is your personal goal for 2022?

Goal setting is core to who I am, so I have many personal and professional goals for myself this year. The purpose of goals is to set a target and achieve it; or to identify a problem, and solve it. Reflecting on myself, one challenge that I have been faced with is ‘perfectionism’. Too many times, I’ve let my desire to be perfect get in the way of progress. So the one (1) personal goal which I remind myself every single day when I look in the mirror (it’s literally written on a post-it on the mirror) is a quote from Lorenzo Snow, “Do not expect to become perfect at once. If you do, you will be disappointed. Be better today than you were yesterday, and be better tomorrow than you are today.” Thus, I am confident that if I am constantly striving to be better than I was the previous day, that I will accomplish all that I set out to achieve.


StaffApril 16, 2020
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5min23180

Today a new trade organization, the Cannabis Beverage Association (CBA), announced its formation along with the founding board members that operate at the highest levels within the industry.

To advance the interests of cannabis beverage producers and their consumers through advocacy and education, it is the mission of the CBA to help the burgeoning cannabis beverage sector reach its potential; a potential beyond a robust market cap, but that can offset society’s dangerous affliction with alcohol consumption with products that are enjoyable, session-able, and offer the healthful benefits offered by cannabis consumption.

“The rules governing cannabis manufacturers were developed without much regard for beverages and some of those rules are onerous and deserve a second look to ensure the nascent cannabis beverage segment is allowed to grow to its potential,” expressed Macai Polansky, co-founder of Spacestation, a cannabis beverage manufacturer, and founder of the CBA.

The CBA seeks to educate policymakers and consumers, establish standards for operators and testers to uphold, and advocate for common-sense policies so we can ensure that the cannabis beverage industry delivers safe, high-quality, reliable products to the consumers who enjoy them.

In an industry that’s littered with misinformation, membership in the CBA gives us a compelling and necessary platform through which to educate our legislators about the benefits of infused beverages and the challenges we face as an industry in bringing those benefits to the end consumer.,” said Tracey Mason, co-founder & CEO of the House of Saka.

Some of the immediate goals that this organization will be addressing during this legislative session include advocating for more realistic packaging requirements, less restrictive requirements for child-resistant resealable closures for multi-dose products, loosen the restrictions on use of alcohol-related terminology (i.e. rose’, IPA, etc.), increase the tolerance for variance from the labeled amount in microdose products, and to simplify the process for obtaining finished product beverages to use as samples. These are some of the issues that are keeping infused beverages from reaching its potential and the CBA hopes to help alleviate these harsh and unnecessary restrictions through strategic and thoughtful lobbying efforts.  

Founding Board Members Include:

Macai Polansky – Spacestation – Founder and President/Chairman

Austin Stevenson – Vertosa – Founding Member and Treasurer

Aaron Silverstein – BevZero – Founding Member and Secretary

Ben Larson – Vertosa – Founding Member

Amy Ludlum – California Dream’ – Founding Member

Peter Bishop – California Dream’ – Founding Member

Cynthia Salarizadeh – House of Saka – Founding Member / PR & Messaging

Tracey Mason – House of Saka – Founding Member / PR & Messaging

Sebastian Smuts – Cann – PR & Messaging

Ishan Kapoor – Cann 

Brands Involved:

Spacestation

Vertosa

House of Saka

Cann

BevZero

California Dreamin’

KZen Beverages

Venice of America

Fiorello

Calexo


AxisWireApril 16, 2020
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5min17900

Sacramento, CA – April 16, 2020 /AxisWire/ Today a new trade organization, the Cannabis Beverage Association (CBA), announced its formation with founding board members that operate at the highest levels within the industry. To educate policymakers and consumers, establish standards for operators and testers to uphold, and advocate for common-sense policies so we can ensure that the cannabis beverage industry delivers safe, high-quality, reliable products to the consumers who enjoy them.

“Having been a founding member of the California Cannabis Couriers Association (CCCA) and seeing the progress that can be made with a passionate group of industry stakeholders, I founded the Cannabis Beverage Association. The rules governing cannabis manufacturers were developed without much regard for beverages and some of those rules are onerous and asinine and deserve a second look to ensure the nascent cannabis beverage segment is allowed to grow to its potential.” Macai Polansky, co-founder of Spacestation, a cannabis beverage manufacturer, and founder of the CBA.

Some of the immediate goals that this organization will be addressing during this legislative session include advocating for more realistic packaging requirements, less restrictive requirements for child-resistant resealable closures for multi-dose products, loosen the restrictions on use of alcohol-related terminology (i.e. rose’, IPA, etc.), increase the tolerance for variance from the labeled amount in microdose products, and to simplify the process for obtaining finished product beverages to use as samples. These are some of the issues that are keeping infused beverages from reaching its potential and the CBA hopes to help alleviate these harsh and unnecessary restrictions through strategic and thoughtful lobbying efforts.  

Founding Board Members Include:

Macai Polansky – Spacestation – Founder and President/Chairman

Austin Stevenson – Vertosa – Founding Member and Treasurer

Aaron Silverstein – BevZero – Founding Member and Secretary

Ben Larson – Vertosa – Founding Member

Amy Ludlum – California Dream’ – Founding Member

Peter Bishop – California Dream’ – Founding Member

Cynthia Salarizadeh – House of Saka – Founding Member / PR & Messaging

Tracey Mason – House of Saka – Founding Member / PR & Messaging

Sebastian Smuts – Cann – PR & Messaging

Ishan Kapoor – Cann 

 

Brands Involved:

Spacestation

Vertosa

House of Saka

Cann

BevZero

California Dreamin

KZen Beverages

Venice of America

Fiorello

Calexo

Organization Mission Statement:

To advance the interests of cannabis beverage producers and their consumers through advocacy and education. It is our mission to help the burgeoning cannabis beverage sector reach its potential; a potential beyond a robust market cap, but that can offset society’s dangerous affliction with alcohol consumption with products that are enjoyable, session-able, and offer the healthful benefits offered by cannabis consumption.

About Cannabis Beverage Association:

Founded in 2019 and headquartered in Sacramento, CA, the Cannabis Beverage Association (CBA) is a trade association established to represent and advocate on behalf of the producers and consumers of cannabis beverages. By educating policymakers and consumers, establishing standards for operators to uphold, and advocating for common-sense policies, we can ensure that the cannabis beverage industry delivers safe, high-quality, and reliable products to the consumers who enjoy them. For more information, please visit cannabisbeverageassociation.com or find us on social media @CBAstandard.

 

Media Contact:

Cynthia Salarizadeh

Cannabis Beverage Association

cynthia@salarmediagroup.com

 


StaffOctober 23, 2019
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6min24820

Ben Larson, CEO of Vertosa: Calling upon his experience as a serial entrepreneur, investor, and startup adviser, Ben and the Vertosa team enable mainstream businesses to enter the growing cannabis industry by providing water soluble active ingredients to infuse beverages and other products. Previously, Ben co-founded Gateway, the premier cannabis startup accelerator based in Silicon Valley. Additionally, Ben is a Director and Mentor for the Founder Institute, where he formerly managed global operations and helped grow the program into over 100 cities around the world. He’s also active on several boards inside and out of the cannabis industry and travels the world for speaking engagements. Ben was recognized in the 40 Under 40 Class of 2018 by the San Francisco Business Times.

Title: CEO

Company: Vertosa

Years at current company: 1

 

Green Market Report Executive Spotlight Q&A:

Most successful professional accomplishment before cannabis: Launching new businesses has been one of my greatest strengths throughout my career driven by my passion for helping fellow entrepreneurs realize their dreams. I am a serial entrepreneur and have a passion and indomitable appetite for building great products and teams. Before cutting my teeth in cannabis, I was the Director of Global Operations for the Founder Institute, where I helped launch over 100 startups locally, recruited and trained business leaders globally, and formed startup ecosystems around the world to spur economic growth outside Silicon Valley. I was instrumental in expanding the program into more than 100 cities around the world and on-boarded, trained and guided local leadership.

I’m still a Director and Mentor at the Founder Institute, and love working with entrepreneurs to shape the next generation of companies. I bring that same drive and industry knowledge to the cannabis industry, both through my portfolio I built with Gateway and the brands I work with every day at Vertosa. 

Company Mission: Vertosa creates the most effective and reliable active ingredients for infused product makers. At the forefront of the booming cannabis beverage movement, our mission is to work closely with client needs to create stellar market-ready products that are ready to scale. Built on a rock-solid foundation of bioavailability, flavor, clarity, stability and safety, Vertosa is breaking the stigma and unlocking the truths of cannabis by making it accessible to all. 

Company’s most successful achievement: Our state-of-the-art pre-suspended nanoemulsion technology is our founding achievement. Meticulously engineered to the specifications of every SKU to evenly disperse in water and remain stable no matter the conditions, our emulsions are not only the most stable you’ll find on the market, they’re also industry-leading in flavor and clarity and have an average onset of less than 10 minutes. We’re working with companies everywhere from early-stage startups to international beverage enterprises in both the cannabis and hemp markets.

Has the company raised any capital (yes or no): Yes.

If so, how much?: We’ve raised $1.55M to date 

Any plans on raising capital in the future? Yes. We have a big announcement coming in the next few weeks – stay tuned! 

Most important company 5 year goal: As a leader in manufacturing bulk active ingredients for infused cannabis products, our goal is to be the trusted supplier worldwide and create the platform that allows brands to scale and create consistent experiences for their consumers. We will continue bringing great cannabis products into the mainstream alongside our partners of all sizes. The infused cannabis market is just getting started, and as the industry grows we’re making sure Vertosa is at the epicenter. 


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