Cultivation, technology, research, business, advocacy, social justice, legislation: there are so many aspects that build up the cannabis industry. Each year, people from all over are working to advance cannabis in their own respective ways, resulting in industry-changing innovations and successes. With the start of 2020, we’re taking a look at our Top 25 Cannabis Innovators of 2019, those individuals and companies who we believe are making the most change in this burgeoning industry.
In an industry full of varying regulations, product quality is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, not every startup has the privilege to employ a full cannabis testing lab, limiting opportunities for some. Orange Photonics’ LightLab technology helps fill this void, allowing cultivators to measure everything from THC and CBD content to trim and terpenes, using the same spectroscopy and chromatography techniques found in a testing laboratory. What started as an idea for a coffee analyzer has brought portability to the cannabis testing lab.
As most of us should know, over-exposure to UV rays can be very harmful. Whether your cannabis cultivation facility is indoors or outdoors, chances are you’re taking in a lot of UV radiation everyday. To protect cultivators, Daniel Jordan founded the protective clothing company RayWear. The clothing is breathable, durable, and comfortable, allowing workers to go about their tasks with ease, without having to worry about the risk of skin cancer.
Dr. Daniela Vergara, University of Colorado, Boulder
As the Director of the Agricultural Genomics Foundation and as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Dr. Daniela Vergara has made a considerable impact on the way cultivators look at their crops. “In order to understand how to cultivate the plants properly, we need to understand the genome,” Vergara said of her research. It’s her scientific contributions that will drive the future of genetic research in cannabis, making cultivation more reliable, consistent, and accurate.
Noa Kahner, Founder & CEO of Kahner Global
As the founder and CEO of Kahner Global, Noa Kahner is not only a major player in cannabis investment, she also organizes thought-provoking conferences centered around the entrepreneurial potential of the cannabis industry through strategic partnerships. The most prominent of her events is the Cannabis Private Investment Summit, an event focusing on professional investors and family offices within the industry.
Colleen Lanier, Executive Director of the Hemp Industries Association
For the past five years, Colleen Lanier has worked tirelessly to advocate on behalf of the Hemp Industries Association and Vote Hemp to build awareness and acceptance for this versatile crop. Her work finally led to the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill on December 20, 2018, which officially removed hemp as a Schedule I drug.
Vince Sanders, CEO of CBD American Shaman
It’s well known at this point CBD’s potential as a world-changing medication, but it was a surprise to Vince Sanders when he first developed a CBD oil for his uncle with cancer. The end result was CBD American Shaman, a leading CBD company which developed a patented nanotechnology process to improve the bioavailability of the CBD in their products.
Josh Crossney, Founder & CEO of Cannabis Science Conference
In a burgeoning industry, there are few things more important than sharing ideas with the goal of innovation. This prompted Josh Crossney to found the Cannabis Science Conference, the industry’s leading science- and research-based event. Explaining the origins, he said, “I realized early on that there was a lack of information, [a place] where the world’s leading researchers and experts could really have a platform to come and share their important data and research.”
Nina Parks, CEO of Mirage Medicinal; Co-founder of Supernova Women
The cannabis industry is always in need of business leaders and advocates. Nina Parks is both, with her passion and drive at the forefront throughout her ventures. She is the founder and CEO of Mirage Medicinal, a cannabis delivery service based out of San Francisco. Additionally, she is the co-founder of Supernova Women, an organization that supports women of color within the world of cannabis entrepreneurship.
Chanda Macias, Chairwoman of the Board at Women Grow; CEO of National Holistic
Chanda Macias has quickly made herself a leader in the cannabis industry, both as a business leader and a social advocate. Macias is the owner of the National Holistic Healing Center (NHHC), a company dedicated to providing alternative medicine to individuals with debilitating medical conditions. NHHC provides education, support, medical cannabis, and cannabis-infused products. All the while, Macias acts as Chairwoman of the Board at Women Grow, helping to connect, educate, inspire, and empower the next generation of cannabis industry leaders.
For indoor growing operations, few things are as important as lighting. LumiGrow is a smart lighting company working to develop AI solutions for cannabis cultivation operations. LumiGrow is innovating grow light technology with their TopLight and BarLight smart fixtures, wirelessly controlled by the company’s smartPAR software to optimize yield, quality, and custom plant traits.
Adam Klaasmeyer & Royce Birnbaum, Founders of CEAD.ai
Artificial intelligence is finding a home in every industry, and cannabis is no different. CEAD.ai, founded by Adam Klaasmeyer and Royce Birnbaum, is one of the first companies to apply this technology to cannabis cultivation and production, bringing cannabis into the “fourth industrial revolution.” CEAD utilizes industry leading data gathering to provide automation solutions for cultivators, monitoring aspects such as plant nutrition, growth rates, life cycles, and predictive pest outbreaks, as well as the movements of the growers. The AI applies data to predict harvest yields, forecast and prevent common cultivation issues, and offer a whole new level of control.
Ricardo Baca, Founder of Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency
As with any new industry, the cannabis space is in need of consistent, reliable information. As the former Editor-in-Chief at The Cannabist, Ricardo Baca is putting his experience into his new communications firm, Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency. The company has expanded rapidly this year, purchasing a $1.2 million Denver headquarters, while growing their staff and client list, all while providing leading services to cannabis businesses.
Cam Battley, Chief Corporate Officer at Aurora Cannabis
There are few companies that have experienced such rapid growth as Aurora Cannabis. The publicly traded juggernaut started selling medical marijuana from its headquarters in Cremona, Alberta in 2016. Since then, its operations have spread to 23 countries, making the company the second largest producer of cannabis on the planet. Their gregarious frontman, Cam Battley, touts the company’s achievements with the same enthusiasm one would expect from a boxing promoter. His background in bio-pharmaceuticals gives Battley an air of confidence that’s backed by an expansive knowledge of industry best practices.
Codie Sanchez, Managing Director & Partner at Entourage Effect Capital
She successfully built an asset-management business in Latin America. She served as an investment consultant at companies such as Facebook, Apple, and Amazon. Now, Sanchez is applying her investment skills to the cannabis industry, becoming one of the sector’s leading investors. The cannabis investment space is blossoming, and at times can even be erratic, and Codie Sanchez is at the forefront as the Managing Director of Entourage Effect Capital, a private equity firm specifically focused on investing in the legalized cannabis industry.
Patrick Vo, President & CEO of BioTrackTHC
Based in Fort Lauderdale, BioTrackTHC’s seed-to-sale software and tracking technology helps businesses remain compliant with tracking and reporting requirements in each state throughout the U.S. With differing regulations from state to state, it’s vital that companies stay on top of changing rules, tracking their products throughout the supply chain to ensure quality, both for the consumer and local governments. BioTrackTHC’s software helps both businesses and governments make sure that consumers are receiving safe, high-quality, and reliable products.
Roz McCarthy, Founder of Minorities for Medical Marijuana
With people of color suffering at a disproportionate rate from the war on drugs, and now holding only a minority of executive positions in the cannabis sector, social justice must be a core value of this industry. That’s why Roz McCarthy started Minorities for Medical Marijuana, which looks to make this industry more inclusive by utilizing education, events, and advocacy. The organization is working toward the decriminalization of cannabis possession, creating a diversity plan for license applicants, pushing a bill to resist a monopoly in the medical marijuana industry, and helping expunge past cannabis-related charges.
Shanel Lindsay, CEO of Ardent Cannabis
Whether microdosing or using for recreational or medicinal needs, decarboxylation is an essential first step in order to cook cannabis at home. The NOVA decarboxylator, invented by Shanel Lindsay and Ardent Cannabis, helps users get the most out of their product. With the NOVA, users can get almost 100mg of THC out of just a half of a gram of cannabis. This technology is especially helpful for those who are looking to microdose for pain or need a consistent, reliable dosage of THC.
Roger Volodarsky, CEO of Puffco
If you’re a cannabis enthusiast, it’s likely that you’ve heard of Puffco – and maybe you’ve even used one of their products. CEO Roger Volodarsky’s first invention, the Puffco Pro, was awarded Best Vaporizer of the Year by High Times in 2015. Since then, Volodarsky has continued to innovate and shape the cannabis vaping and technology sector, most recently the Puffco Peak. Innovation follows Volodarsky wherever he goes as his company continues to churn out industry-leading technologies.
Jessica Billingsley, CEO of MJFreeway
MJ Freeway is a world leader in cannabis compliance technology, helping companies ensure they are keeping up with government regulations with the latest data and software. Speaking on the company’s culture of innovation, CEO Jessica Billingsley said, “One of MJ Freeway’s three core values is: ‘Be part of the solution,’ and that really speaks to innovation because it speaks to not just what the client is asking for, but what is their actual problem and how do we solve that better?”
Jeff Chen, Founder & Director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative
Dr. Jeff Chen is one of the leading cannabis researchers in the country and is currently the director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative. He has spent the past four years working at the intersection of academia, industry, nonprofit, and government to accelerate research into the health effects of cannabis. He’s spoken at events across the world and is a published author in cancer research. He’s furthered cannabis academia, forming some of the first cannabis clubs and courses at an American university.
In sizable markets, such as Colorado, Nevada, or Canada, growers are required to report Total Yeast and Mold Count as part of their required regulatory compliance. If numbers exceed established minimums, whole crops and millions of dollars can be lost. However, there are technologies from the food industry that are now helping keep cannabis “clean.” Ziel is a leading company that has developed radio frequency (RF) technology to keep cannabis clean and safe. Ziel’s RF technology is non-toxic, organic, chemical-free, scalable, and effective, while preserving total THC, flavor, and aroma.
Zaffia LaPlante, President & Founder of Hempergy
Now that hemp is legal both in Canada and the United States, innovators can finally embrace this “Swiss Army knife” crop and use it to its full potential. Hempergy, founded by Zaffia LaPlante, has gone so far as producing sustainable building material out of the substance. “Our goal is to use hemp as a sustainable feedstock for construction, cosmetic, and textile purposes,” LaPlante said of her company.
Philip Preston, President of PolyScience
Philip Preston has been working in precision temperature control most of his life. What he’s learned from temperature control in the culinary arts, he is now bringing to the cannabis industry. After seeing the medicinal benefits of cannabis, Preston has worked for the past 10 years to bring flow-through chillers and precision temperature control devices to cannabis laboratories all over the world.
Peter Calfee, CEO of Gofire
One of cannabis’ most pressing issues is dosing. It can be difficult to accurately dose with edibles and even vaping technology. This is especially a problem when you’re using the substance medicinally. That is why Peter Calfee and Gofire developed the Gofire Health Suite, which provides consistent, controlled dosing for consumers. A smartphone app and inhaler combine to create the Suite, giving consumers repeated doses. Consistency across dosing, chemical profile, and regimen not only creates a better solution for patients and consumers, but also has the potential to propel forward cannabis research and cannabis’ potential as FDA-approved medicine.
Dr. Sue Sisley, Scottsdale Research Institute
Cannabis research is absolutely vital to the industry, bringing knowledge and legitimacy to both companies and consumers. This is why Dr. Sue Sisley’s work is so important, not just because of her research, but her work to break down barriers to entry put up by the FDA and DEA. As a trailblazer in cannabis research, Dr. Sisley has been working for 14 years to push cannabis through the FDA drug development process. She’s one of the few scientists in the country to hold a DEA Schedule 1 research license. When, three years ago, the DEA announced that they would accept applications for third-party cultivators to grow cannabis for research, Sisley’s group was one of the first to apply. Three years later, no applications have been processed, and Sisley was forced to file a lawsuit against the DEA due to the lack of response. She’s one of the few people taking cannabis research as seriously as it must be taken, and she’s taking the fight directly to those in charge.