Alex Levine

40 Under 40

For the past five years, the Marijuana Venture staff has compiled an annual list of some of the brightest young leaders and influencers in the cannabis industry. As in past years, we have narrowed the list from hundreds of worthy candidates to present 40 individuals from the vast and ever-changing business in the United States and Canada.

It is our honor to share their stories.

Alex Levine
Age: 26
Company: Green Dragon
Title: Co-owner

Even just eight or nine years ago, Alex Levine of Green Dragon thought discussions of federal legalization were more of a long-term thought exercise than anything realistic.

“It wasn’t something you would tell people out loud,” he says of when he first got involved in the cannabis industry. But as states like Colorado and Washington began to legalize in 2012, Levine saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I believed this was going to be like the end of prohibition in the 1920s,” he says.

Levine initially researched many states for possible investment but ultimately felt that Colorado had the best regulatory scheme. He was introduced to a small chain that had some prize-winning genetics and eventually this resulted in an ownership role.

Today, the vertically integrated company known as Green Dragon has grown to 14 stores through both acquisitions and new licenses. The company also owns two large cultivation facilities in Colorado, including a 120,000-square-foot hybrid greenhouse, and has more than 250 employees. Levine says the company’s growth strategy is centered around customer service, quality products and a great retail experience. The company is currently expanding into other states, following the acquisition of a highly coveted Florida license.

“There’s no playbook on how to be successful in this industry,” Levine says, but adds, “It’s just like any other retail business, just more highly regulated and federally illegal with no tax benefits. It’s definitely not a special, magical industry, where you can just mint money, as many unfortunate investors have quickly come to realize.”

Chris DeGraff

40 Under 40

For the past five years, the Marijuana Venture staff has compiled an annual list of some of the brightest young leaders and influencers in the cannabis industry. As in past years, we have narrowed the list from hundreds of worthy candidates to present 40 individuals from the vast and ever-changing business in the United States and Canada.

It is our honor to share their stories.

Chris DeGraff

Age: 32

Company: Nevada Made Marijuana

Title: Director

Working in the cannabis industry has been a bit of a fairytale for Chris DeGraff, having found success at every turn since he joined the industry in 2012. After working his way up to a management position for a Colorado cannabis business, DeGraff was approached by a license holder in Nevada who wanted to hire him to be the director for Nevada Made Marijuana.

“One thing led to another and we’ve been expanding ever since,” DeGraff says.

DeGraff’s role as director is more in line with the film industry than most executive positions, in that the company has entrusted him with directing packaging, marketing, digital media, the hardware for the company’s vaporizers, the company’s line of edibles, the flavor profiles for the vape pens, pricing at retail and research and development for the company’s cultivation and production facilities.

DeGraff also helped the company transition from Nevada Medical Marijuana to Nevada Made Marijuana in time for the launch of recreational sales. Today he says he’s busy putting the company’s newest license into action to open Missouri Made Marijuana and, hopefully soon, Utah Made Marijuana.

Sam Dorf

40 Under 40

For the past five years, the Marijuana Venture staff has compiled an annual list of some of the brightest young leaders and influencers in the cannabis industry. As in past years, we have narrowed the list from hundreds of worthy candidates to present 40 individuals from the vast and ever-changing business in the United States and Canada.

It is our honor to share their stories.

Sam Dorf

Age: 35

Company: Verano

Title: Co-founder and president

Seven years ago, Sam Dorf had just finished law school and was about to embark on his career as an attorney in Chicago. But after defending several individuals facing cannabis charges, Dorf turned his attention toward helping communities impacted by cannabis prohibition, and inadvertently became a force for change in the cannabis industry.

Today he is the president of Verano, one of the largest multi-state operators in the country. Dorf has helped secure 19 licenses in eight states and raised more than $140 million for the cannabis company.

“For Verano, and the cannabis industry, the future looks bright,” Dorf says. “My charge is to continue to drive growth and innovation across our organization, to be a champion for cannabis, to create employment opportunities across all skill levels and to ensure that we’re always delivering premium quality cannabis products to our patients and customers.”

Matt Janz

40 Under 40

For the past five years, the Marijuana Venture staff has compiled an annual list of some of the brightest young leaders and influencers in the cannabis industry. As in past years, we have narrowed the list from hundreds of worthy candidates to present 40 individuals from the vast and ever-changing business in the United States and Canada.

It is our honor to share their stories.

Matt Janz
Age: 29
Company: The+Source
Title: Director of THC Marketing

After four “very fulfilling” years working in legal cannabis and nearly a decade removed from an “uninvited and unwelcome” visit from the police at an earlier, uh, pre-legal venture, Matt Janz is having a “geek-out moment” after being hired by The+Source, a job he says he used to daydream about.

“They were always my dream job,” Janz says, noting the six interviews he had to go through before becoming the company’s marketing director in May 2019, which changed in August to director of THC marketing, making him the lead of the two-store chain’s communications efforts, ad strategy, public relations and messaging.

It’s his third industry job and his favorite so far, though he is still proud of the work he did for his first two. At The Apothecarium, he worked as marketing manager, helping promote the brand’s Las Vegas store. At The Oasis, he describes his role as a “helpful wrecking ball”; as vice president of marketing and operations, he helped redefine the brand with a new logo, website, strategy and point-of-sale system, resulting in a 150% increase in store traffic, a 233% increase in deliveries, a 180% increase in sales and a 19% increase in margin.

It was enough for the store to earn a Best of the City award from Desert Companion in 2019 and for him to get noticed by the folks at The+Source.

He’s already made his mark at the Nevada retailer, as last quarter’s revenue was up 38% from the one before, the company’s SMS click-through rate increased 80% and the number of Instagram followers doubled. He directed The+Source’s successful holiday campaign and spearheaded a partnership with High Times for the 2019 Las Vegas Cup.

It’s a long way from his original “distribution” business and looking back, Janz says the crazy thing is that after his run-in with the police, he got on the straight and narrow, only to wind up back near where he began, only this time legally.

“Cannabis found its way to me,” he says.

Justin Brandt

40 Under 40

For the past five years, the Marijuana Venture staff has compiled an annual list of some of the brightest young leaders and influencers in the cannabis industry. As in past years, we have narrowed the list from hundreds of worthy candidates to present 40 individuals from the vast and ever-changing business in the United States and Canada.

It is our honor to share their stories.

Justin Brandt
Age: 34
Company: Bianchi & Brandt
Title: Shareholder and Partner

Arizona attorney Justin Brandt has been representing cannabis clients since 2014. At the time he was focused on business litigation and employment law, but after doing some executive compensation and termination work for a few cannabis businesses, he says he never looked back.

“When we started, lawyers didn’t really want to work in this industry. There were a lot of unknowns,” he says. “Which has completely changed now.”

Today, Brandt is a partner and shareholder at Bianchi & Brandt, a Scottsdale-based law firm that primarily works with cannabis businesses, representing a majority of Arizona’s licensed operators. He says about 50% of the firm’s work is business litigation, with the rest being transactions.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Brandt says. “And we’re growing.”

Bianchi & Brandt is not only in the process of hiring additional attorneys to handle the workload, but the firm is also launching CannaBoss Advisors, a separate, consulting business of which Brandt is the co-founder and vice president. He says it’s a natural evolution to meet client needs. It’s not legal work, but instead draws on the knowledge and experience he’s gained from working with industry clients.

“There’s a need to have specific, non-legal work that’s more business-minded,” he says, adding that nobody wants to pay an attorney’s hourly rate for the type of significant, on-site work CannaBoss handles for its clients.

Brandt says he takes great pride in helping to end the stigma that still surrounds cannabis, a stigma he says is based mostly on misinformation and a lack of education. Brandt has been fighting the misconceptions surrounding cannabis since he’s devoted his practice to the industry.

“I always wanted to get into the industry and find where I’d fit in there,” he says. “I knew this is what I wanted to do.”

Michale Beraki

40 Under 40

For the past five years, the Marijuana Venture staff has compiled an annual list of some of the brightest young leaders and influencers in the cannabis industry. As in past years, we have narrowed the list from hundreds of worthy candidates to present 40 individuals from the vast and ever-changing business in the United States and Canada.

It is our honor to share their stories.

Shanel Lindsay

Alex Levine

Chris DeGraff

Sam Dorf

Michale Beraki

Age: 34

Company: Kush21

Title: Founder and CEO

From the get-go, Michale Beraki believed the legalization of cannabis would be a game-changer. He saw the new industry as an opportunity to put to work everything he’d learned over the past decade as a businessman and serial entrepreneur.

He spent a couple weeks in Colorado, visiting retail stores, learning about the legal environment and studying the up-and-coming industry.

“I quickly realized the cannabis industry needed the type of systems and processes that I had spent my whole life building and decided it was time to take the first step towards these goals,” Beraki says.

When he returned to Washington, he sold three of the four state-licensed liquor stores he owned in order to fund his transition into the cannabis industry. He eventually opened his first Kush21 store, near the Sea-Tac Airport, in 2016. He’s now opened four Kush21 locations and is working on a fifth, having turned it into one of the top retail chains in the state by focusing on the quality of the customer service, having a robust product selection and hiring the right people.

And in spite of his success, Berkai says he’s only getting started. He’s exploring opportunities in California and Oregon and is planning to open retail cannabis stores in the Chicago area this year.

Beraki grew up in Eritrea, a small, impoverished country in East Africa, where he started working as an interpreter at the age of 12. He came to the United States at 16 through the sponsorship of an Army captain he worked for, a woman he now refers to as “his second mom.”

A series of successful business ventures preceded his entrée into cannabis, including an adult family home and a money-wiring business, but he kept the same curiosity and drive from his early life in poverty.

“I heard a lot of great things about the United States from talking to people, hanging around with visitors, watching movies and working as an interpreter,” he says. “One thing that stayed with me about America was that, as long as you work hard, abide by the rule of law and do the right thing, no one can take away your success. I could now say I have proved it. I knew if anyone was going to stop me, it would just be myself.”

 

 

Jake Heimark

Jake Heimark

Company: PLUS

Title: Founder and CEO

Age: 31

Before creating PLUS, one of the leading edibles brands in California, Jake Heimark worked in the tech industry for Facebook and then with a startup called Gumroad. Having come from an entrepreneurial family, Heimark knew it was time to spread his wings and start his own business but had yet to settle on an industry. That’s when he received some direction from his father.

“He shared the ‘60 Minutes’ piece on cannabis and suggested that I look at what I could do in this completely new and undefined market,” Heimark says. “I headed to Colorado and joined Green Labs, a Denver accelerator focused on marijuana startups.”

While the industry in Colorado presented opportunities for cultivation, retailing and extraction, Heimark felt comfortable with edibles, since his family “has a strong background in that industry.”

Heimark analyzed future projections for the edibles market and then turned his findings over to his father, the former chief information officer at Swiss Bank UBS. They “both agreed that the business opportunity was unbelievably compelling,” Heimark says.

Heimark took what he learned to California and started PLUS in 2015. In 2018, PLUS revenue grew to $8.4 million, a 681% increase from 2017. Heimark says the company’s new goal in 2019 is to bring its gummies to shelves in other states.

“My entire family is involved in the company now and I know that they are fully invested in making PLUS a success,” he says. “We have seen amazing demand for our gummy products.”

 

Bethany Rondeau

Bethany Rondeau
Company: Falcanna
Title: Founder and owner
Age: 28

Despite being only 28, Bethany Rondeau is a hardened CEO who has no problem sticking to her price point and telling retailer buyers “no” when they try to get her to lower her price. It’s a skill she learned in her other business, raising and selling falcons to sheiks in the Middle East, and she literally laughs at the idea that any pot buyer in Washington state is difficult to deal with.

“Uh, no,” she says. “I would like anyone to talk to (a sheik) and try to get the deal you originally quoted them at and then come back to me.”

To this day, Bethany says Falcanna, the Tier 3 indoor grow she owns with her husband Justin, has never lowered the price of its product, which has led to monthly sales of between $150,000 and $200,000 and a reputation for high-quality bud that is so sought after it rarely gets off the Olympic Peninsula where the farm is located and into stores in Seattle.

“You can always say no,” she says about being asked to lower a price. “I’m holding on a price where our margins are going to make it so we can be here long term.”

Bethany has already been in the cannabis business for longer than most. She and her husband got their start in Washington’s medical industry more than 10 years ago when they opened the Olympic Sinsemilla dispensary. When the state folded the medical program into the recreational market in 2016, she and Justin sold product until the last legal day and then went “full throttle” into the recreational market.

“It’s going great,” she says. “I’m turning down stores.”

It’s partially her other business of selling raptors that allows Bethany to hold to a price point. She got her first bird, Nikoma, a red-tailed hawk, at age 14 after reading “My Side of the Mountain,” a young adult novel involving falconry. Bethany also met her husband through falconry when she was 18 — Justin was the apprentice of a falconer she was studying with and they bonded over a love of both the birds and the book.

“I have a passion for nature and a huge respect for it,” she says.

The two hit it off, continued their birding education together and started their falcon breeding project soon after. Bethany says they are youngest falcon breeders in the world registered to export their birds overseas, mostly to the United Arab Emirates, where their birds have helped the sheik win multiple titles in the country’s falcon racing circuit.

The overlap between the two businesses, she says, is the focus on genetics and breeding. In both businesses, you select for the traits you want and breed out those you don’t. And when Falcanna finds a strain the Rondeaus like, they stick with it, instead of cycling through trends. Bethany says it has created a recognizable brand with recognizable strains.

“We just don’t compromise,” she says. “We don’t cut corners.”

At Falcanna — a combination of the couple’s two main business interests — Justin is the “mad professor” while Bethany handles much of the business side, something she learned from her parents, whom she says are entrepreneurs that have run businesses her whole life. In fact, she dropped out of school at 14 to work with her parents at the family businesses.

“I learned a lot from them,” she says.

Despite her success and the demand for her cannabis, Bethany says Falcanna has no plans to expand in the next year or so, though the company recently purchased another production license from a failing grow. Instead, the goal at Falcanna is to keep growing the type of high-quality marijuana that she wants to smoke.

“We’re not industrial cannabis,” she says. “We’re really craft cannabis.”

 

Jeannette Ward Horton

Jeannette Ward Horton

Company: NuLeaf

Title: Executive director

Age: 38

As vice president of global marketing and communications, Jeannette Ward Horton has helped MJ Freeway become one of the largest cannabis technology companies in the world with clients in 11 countries, but her time in the industry has also allowed her to pursue another passion as the executive director of the NuLeaf Project, “an organization that is focused on solving the capital, education and connection hurdles that cannabis entrepreneurs of color face when entering the cannabis industry.”

“Our goal is to increase success outcomes for cannabis entrepreneurs of color,” Horton says.

The Oregon-based nonprofit received the nation’s first direct investment of municipal taxes into the communities harmed most by the War on Drugs. In January 2019, using money received from the city of Portland, the NuLeaf Project awarded $30,000 in grants to two minority-owned businesses — Green Box and Green Hop.

“Because Oregon is known for being very white, people in the beginning were skeptical that we weren’t going to find cannabis businesses owned by people of color to fund, but that has proven to be unfounded,” Horton says. “We’ve had over a 300% return on investment with these businesses. That, in itself, to me, is a huge milestone — that it wasn’t just a photo of a check. We have real results in dollars and cents.”

Horton says NuLeaf Project’s next milestone will be repeating this year’s accomplishments.

“It’s a big deal,” she says. “Hopefully people are hearing about our success over here and doing this in other places.”

 

Michael Steinmetz

Michael Steinmetz

Company: Flow Kana

Title: Co-founder and CEO

Age: 36

The stigmas around cannabis never made sense to Flow Kana CEO and co-founder Michael Steinmetz, who as a child, learned about the plant’s medicinal benefits from his mother. In fact, the myths about marijuana only fueled his passion for change.

“I’ve been a passionate advocate for cannabis for a long time,” Steinmetz says. “Because I was exposed to cannabis in the right light from day one, I want to be part of preserving that and helping others see it in that way too.”

His company is now one of the largest distributors in California and helps to keep cannabis in a positive light by promoting responsible farming and business practices.

“At Flow Kana, we promised to never cultivate directly, but instead distribute and source from the small farms and communities that have been cultivating this plant for generations,” Steinmetz says. “What we’ve seen in other states is the default vertical integration, but we have built a model that builds a healthy supply chain, while also supporting and serving the small farmers and the legacy that they have been cultivating for decades.”

In February, Flow Kana completed a $125 million round of financing, bringing the company’s total amount of capital raised to $175 million. In addition to helping fund the company’s next venture into manufacturing, Steinmetz says the money will also be used to continue its mission of supporting local and sustainable cannabis farms.

“This is a huge milestone for us as this capital allows us to continue to expand and support the partner farms we work with, expanding our sourcing to more and more farms who need a path to market,” he says. “Flow Kana will continue to source all cannabis inputs from the independent, sungrown farms in Northern California — namely Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties — and are so excited to provide more paths to market for their product.”

 

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