Hadley Ford followed a winding path to get where he is today.
He was an aspiring chemical engineer before being thrown out of the University of Rochester. He spent the next five years hitchhiking across America and Europe as a hippie, living in communes and the life of an anarchist. To support himself, he became a street performer, doing magic tricks and juggling.
He eventually rejoined the mainstream, earned an MBA and found his way into finance. He worked at Goldman Sachs before leaving to become an entrepreneur. His latest venture has him juggling different responsibilities as the CEO of iAnthus Capital, a public company in Canada that raises money to finance cannabis companies in the U.S.
“I had just left my health care company and didn’t really have any plans,” Ford says. “I hopped on LinkedIn for the first time in years and just clicked accept all on the invites. I instantly got a call from a former colleague who asked what I was up to. I said, ‘I’m looking for the next big thing,’ and he said he had found the next big thing — cannabis. I laughed and told him about my family.”
Two of Ford’s siblings own cannabis operations: one brother is the largest provider of medical cannabis in New Mexico and his sister is the founder of Grassroots Vermont, one of five licensed not-for-profit medical cannabis cultivators, manufacturers and dispensaries in Vermont.
“After all these years, I kind of found my way back to the family business,” Ford jokes.
Ford and his soon-to-be partner, Randy Maslow, discussed the “entrepreneurial dream” of $50 billion of revenue shifting from the black market to a legal one. They spent time traveling the country and gaining firsthand knowledge of the challenges. Ford soon realized raising money privately just wasn’t feasible for cannabis, so he went the public route in Canada.
The company, iAnthus, listed last fall on the Canadian Securities Exchange and hasn’t looked back. It has licenses and owns operations in five states: Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York and Vermont. It looks for barriers to entry in markets where there are limited licenses and opportunities for grows and dispensaries. It’s become the biggest public cannabis operator in the U.S. by number of states in a very short period of time.
Investors remain skittish about jumping into the sector given that it is still federally illegal in the U.S., but according to Ford, that’s why now is the time to invest.
“With 30% year-over-year growth rates, a proven demand for product and a shortage of capital, it’s a unique investment opportunity,” he says.
Most recently, iAnthus announced the acquisition of one of just 10 licensed medical marijuana producers in New York, expanding its portfolio across the Northeast U.S.
“We’ve put together a management team that could manage any public or private company, but we’ve just chosen cannabis,” Ford says. “The way we structure and finance deals is very typical in the financial world, but quite unique in the medical cannabis industry.”
According to Ford, when it comes to cannabis, after management, the most important factor when deciding where to invest is the regulatory status of the state. Also, real estate is incredibly important; it’s like the old saying: location, location, location.
In a budding industry such as cannabis, and one still federally illegal, money and private investors are hard to come by. Most cannabis entrepreneurs fund their startups with their own money and borrowed funds from friends and family. However, the startup costs can be daunting, particularly in states such as New York, which required a $200,000 refundable application fee. Even having enough cash to keep pace with the growth rates in the industry can be a challenge for entrepreneurs.
“There just isn’t the usual access to capital that ordinary companies can source from banks and investment companies,” Ford says. “You are not going to go to Citibank and get a loan to build out a greenhouse. We see the Canadian public markets as a cost-effective way to fund our companies so they can not just grow, but thrive.”
Cannabis entrepreneurs often win a license, but have no money for infrastructure. Ford has seen this scenario play out with his siblings. When they inherited a trust, his brother decided to use his money to apply for a license in New Mexico.
“He sat down and filled out the application at his kitchen table and sent it in and got one of the licenses,” Ford says. “You could have knocked him over with a feather when he got the call that he got the license. My brother’s reaction was like, ‘Now what?’”
Later, his sister jumped on the cannabis train when Vermont legalized medical marijuana. Ford’s brother helped her with the application and fronted her some cash, but needed it back for working capital. By that time, she had spent it building her grow. Ford stepped in with his financial acumen to figure the situation out. Thus, iAnthus was born and the company is invested in both of the Ford family cannabis businesses.
Ford has first-hand experiences of growing up around marijuana.
“It was just kind of around the house,” he says. “One day I heard my mother scream and I ran downstairs and asked what was wrong. She said the neighborhood kids had stolen her cannabis plants.”
Fast-forward to now, and the company Ford helped create now delivers a comprehensive solution for financing and managing licensed cannabis cultivators, processors and dispensaries throughout the United States, but Ford isn’t just in it for the money.
“You have a lot of people suffering, whether it be from medical conditions or addiction, like the opioid crisis, and cannabis needs to be an option available for treatment,” he says. “Not to mention that we need cannabis to be regulated like other drugs so that there is a standard across the board and products with toxins and pesticides don’t find their way to patients.”
It appears Hadley Ford has found his calling in starting a company that uses his vast financial experience, while going back to his roots and supporting a family business started long ago.
Bill Bongiorno is president of Blue Chip Public Relations (www.bluechippr.com), serving U.S. and Canadian cannabis financing companies in the area of media relations. He previously served as public relations counsel to iAnthus Capital.