Ones To Watch, is a newsletter about the people shaping the European cannabis sector.
Each update contains a brief note on some of the exciting entrepreneurs and startups I’ve met on my journey, and some of the talent that is moving through the sector. Each email will have a different theme.
The focus today is on big vision companies and colourful characters, not just big looking companies.
Four big vision founders who are thinking about what’s next, and shaping the wider narrative around them.
The startups that have grabbed my attention this year, are ones that take a uniquely European approach to the cannabis industry. These four startups are all tackling different cannabis (and wider plant-based medicines) markets in very different ways.
These aren’t ‘cannabis companies’, there are biotech, technology, pharmaceutical, and consumer goods companies, with a focus on cannabis.
Expect to see lots more from each of them.
Superior molecules // Copenhagen-based Octarine Bio, the synthetic biology sweethearts developing radical new cannabinoid and psychedelic molecules for use in treatments for neurological and psychological conditions, spun out of a university and into the hearts for European investors.
Moving quickly on a clear life science trajectory, Nethaji Gallage and her team have attracted not only local cannabis-specific funds like Oskare Capital and Enexis but state funding from Vækstfonden (Denmark's state investment fund), and cannabis industry veterans including Bruce Linton. The Octarine team are causing quite a stir already, and it’s only early days, so one would be remiss to not follow them closely.
Digital Dallas Buyers Club // Speaking to Gavin Sathianathan, the founder of Alta Flora, you get the sense that few people working in cannabis have thought about the interface between traditional medicine and plant-based medicines as much as he has.
Eva, his new patient data app has just rolled out on the app store, putting data in the hands of patients to empower their choices. Alta Flora’s insistence on the primacy of the patient sets them apart from traditional competitors. Acknowledging the challenges of plant-based medicines and bridging the gap between them and the mainstream healthcare establishment seems like the most sensible path towards wider acceptance and market growth. Gavin was talking about this problem 4 years ago, so pay attention to what he’s saying about 2025.
Monopoly breakers // The Berlin-based medical cannabis startup Cantourage, led by Florian Holzapfel and Patrick Hoffman who previously founded Pedanios (bought by Aurora), is on a mission to take an axe to all your assumptions about how the German medical cannabis market works.
These straight-talking entrepreneurs have been around the block a couple of times and with this new think tank-styled venture they’ve been quick off the blocks to disrupt the dronabinol (a THC isolate) monopoly previously held by Canopy Growth in the region. Cantourage is symbolic of a wider shift in the sector this side of the Atlantic, towards homegrown founders shaping the narrative to fit European sensibilities. Holzapfel and Hoffman share a mischievous humour that makes you very curious about what else Cantourage has in the pipeline.
Hunting giants // I doubt many have come away from a meeting with Rebekah Hall, the founder of South West Brands, without being impressed by her plans to drag the Wild West of CBD firmly into the world of consumer corporates.
Before turning her attention to South West, Hall was leading Botanic Lab, a British functional beverage company, who were early to tap into the CBD craze. This one time banker has a huge vision for the future of the cannabis sector – and the heavily-credentialed team to make it happen. The engagement of large FMCG companies with the cannabis market here has yet to reach the level it has on the other side of the Atlantic, but those who can guide them into the sector are set for success. As the Novel Foods debate (read: very boring EU regulatory issue) nears it’s end in 2021, expect household names in consumer goods (your friendly multi-national drinks and food corporates) to begin entering the sector in earnest.
If your friends and colleagues have the same curiosity about cannabis entrepreneurs with proper visions for the sector, share this newsletter with them.
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