Root Sciences chief operations officer Marcus Tillson discusses the ever-evolving world of extraction and how his company maintains its edge
With roots in the extraction and distillation industry that go back more than 40 years, Washington’s Root Sciences has become one of the most successful and respected equipment-makers in the industry.
But not content to rest on its laurels, the company continues to expand to become what chief operations officer Marcus Tillson calls a “true end-to-end equipment and services provider,” partnering with companies in each segment of the processing sector to ensure customers can perform any type of cannabis/hemp processing, all with a technology-agnostic approach that includes cold ethanol, hydrocarbon, CO2 and solventless extraction options.
“Whether it’s premium terpenes, craft concentrates, golden distillate, pure CBD isolate or fast-acting nanoemulsions, we can do it all,” Tillson says.
Root Sciences is also allowing others to tap into its decades of knowledge through a new consulting arm that can work with companies of any size on their needs, be it a simple floor plan or assistance with their entire project — from business planning, through process development, equipment selection, layout optimization and on-site training.
“Our depth of in-house knowledge allows us to assist in a range of areas, and we’ve worked on a variety of exciting projects both domestically and internationally,” Tillson says.
Marijuana Venture caught up with Tillson to talk about how the company continues to evolve alongside the industry and the future of its extraction services.
Marijuana Venture: It sounds like you’ve expanded quite a bit. On the extraction side, how have things evolved the past several years?
Marcus Tillson: We’ve definitely seen a shift in the technologies that the market prefers. CO2 used to be very popular domestically, for example, but now we’re more likely to get requests for that in emerging markets, rather than domestically. There is also a clear bifurcation in extracting THC vs. CBD, with cold ethanol being particularly well-suited for CBD (or THC at very large scales). Lastly, we’re seeing a more recent shift toward solventless extraction techniques in the craft cannabis space, in order to be able to produce those high-dollar connoisseur products.
MV: Are the big players squeezing out the smaller companies in the extraction business?
MT: They’re certainly trying in some cases. We believe that customers still prioritize superior knowledge and customer service, and that’s what keeps Root Sciences and some other smaller players at the forefront of the industry. If you know your equipment inside-out and move mountains to keep customers happy, then word gets around.
MV: It’s amazing how many companies are at industry events these days showing off extraction equipment. Has it become much more competitive?
MT: Yes and no. There are certainly several newer entrants either trying their luck or filling gaps that existed in the market. But the last few years have also been tough and have seen several companies shut their doors. It’s worth remembering that many of our suppliers have been around for decades in other industries and are often highly regarded in their area of expertise. So they’ve seen plenty of competitors come and go over the years. That’s why we’re discerning about who we partner with, as we’re in it for the long haul.
MV: Early on you were one of the first to bring high-tech distillation to the cannabis industry. How has that business grown and changed for Root Sciences?
MT: It’s still our bread and butter, and it’s still an area that’s evolving for us. We have a great working relationship with [German wiped-film distillation machine manufacturer] VTA and that allowed us to introduce a whole new model range last year, designed for cannabis from the ground up. They’re very receptive to helping us with R&D improvements and making sure that we’re still bringing the best tech to the cannabis distillation space. We’ll continue to find incremental improvements and make sure our distillation systems continue to be the best available.
MV: Has your model or your thinking evolved?
MT: Certainly! Those that haven’t evolved probably aren’t around to tell their story. We realized early on that our expertise was highly sought after, so it was natural to expand our lineup and branch out into other areas of processing. At the same time, we don’t want to spread our net too wide and lose focus on what we do best. The same thinking applies to the addition of our consulting services. So we now have a well-rounded operation, with the ability to provide all equipment required for a high-quality end-to-end processing solution.
MV: Did you have any major setbacks or miscalculations that caught you by surprise?
MT: Yes, it turned out that we were far too early to market with both high-grade GMP offerings and very large-scale distillation systems. That was unfortunate at the time, but the market is catching up now and we’re finally starting to see interest in these sorts of systems.
MV: What are you most excited about going forward?
MT: There’s a lot to be excited about in the cannabis industry at the moment. We’ve been having a lot of success in several international markets, and other countries are beginning to relax their laws and reach out to express their interest. Domestically, it looks like we might be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, with wholesale prices in major markets beginning to rebound and the prospect of federal legalization inching closer as a rare area of bipartisan agreement.
MV: What scares you?
MT: It’s still a very tight environment for raising capital, which makes it tough for our customers to get their businesses off the ground or to expand at the rate they might like to. However, we are probably through the worst of that particular problem and see brighter days ahead.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.