Finalists announced for Cannabis Start-Up competition

The five finalists in the Cannabis Start-Up Competition, an annual contest hosted by Innovate@BU, were released Friday.  The third annual Cannabis Start-Up Competition, which is hosted by Innovate@BU and Green Lion Partners and helps Boston University students and alumni who are developing companies ancillary to the cannabis industry, released its five finalists and slate of judges Friday.

The finalists are competing to win $10,000 and free consulting services from Green Lion Partners, a Denver-based business strategy firm focused on fostering ingenuity and development in the cannabis industry.

Five finalists were chosen from an applicant pool of start-up companies that support the regulated cannabis industry. Each team consists of at least one BU student or alumnus.

The finalists are Boundless Robotics Inc., Trella Technologies, Phenoxpress, SMART and Waev.

Boundless Robotics Inc., founded by Carl Palmer, a 2004 graduate of the College of Engineering and 2012 graduate of Questrom School of Business, employs robotics and AI to construct one of the world’s largest cannabis farms available to all prospective growers of safe and legal cannabis.

Trella Technologies, started by Angela Pitter, a 1986 graduate of ENG, also focuses on cannabis farming by using their TrellaGro LST horizontal plant-training technology to make indoor cannabis farming more accessible and efficient.

Phenoxpress, founded by Wendell Orphe, a 2019 graduate of the Metropolitan College, is a cannabis genetic testing company that offers low-cost sex testing, chemotype determination and plant pathogen screening to cannabis cultivation facilities.

SMART, The Student Marijuana Alliance for Research and Transparency, started by Mariah Brooks, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, is a national network that provides education, research, and professional opportunities to college students in the cannabis industry.

Waev, co-founded by Kendall Humphrey, a 2019 graduate of the College of Communication, and Nicholas Lai, a junior in ENG, is a cannabis consumption device that cuts the amount of product needed by 75 percent and uses a filtration system to eliminate odors and secondhand smoke.

The three returning judges, Peter Bleyleben, Jaime Lewis and Kimberly Napoli, will be hearing from the five finalists as they deliver their final pitches Nov. 7 at the Questrom School of Business from 6 to 9 p.m. The event is open to the BU community and to the public.

Humphrey, co-founder of Waev, said the smokeless, odorless technology of the Waev smoking device allows smokers to consume cannabis in social settings and outside without bothering those around them with second-hand smoke and odor.

“If you don’t smoke, you don’t want to be around smoke … we want to invest in and promote [Waev] so people know that this is the solution and it’s cheap, it’s effective and it looks cool” Humphrey said.

Humphrey said he and his partner, Nicholas Lai, hope to potentially use Green Lion Partners’ $10,000 prize and consulting services to develop new models of their product, including different options in size and material of the device, as well as to foster connections with local bars and other cannabis industries to promote sponsorship and awareness of Waev products.

Carl Palmer, Boundless Robotics Inc. president and founder, wrote in an email that the goal of his business is to distribute cannabis through a safer and more efficient way.

“Our mission is to ensure that more people have access to a high-quality, low cost, and safe product (flower),” Palme wrote. “The reason we are interested in this is because even though it’s [cannabis] legal in several states, a vast majority of the product still comes from the black market.”

Palmer wrote that he was affected after seeing the impact of drug cartels in his home country of Mexico.

“Being from Mexico and seeing what cartels have done to my country, I want to do everything possible to take that power away from [cartels] while still filling a demand for a safe product,” Palme wrote.

The Cannabis Start-Up competition began in 2017 thanks to the donation of a BU alumnus involved in the cannabis industry. Ian Mashiter, director of BUild Lab and Questrom School of Business senior lecturer, wrote in an email that the donation was made to give students inspiration to join the competition.

“The competition started in 2017 thanks to the generous donation of a BU alum who is himself involved in the industry,” Mashiter wrote. “He made this gift in order to encourage BU students and Alumni to come up with innovative new ideas and to get involved in this rapidly growing industry.”

The winner of the 2017 Cannabis Startup Competition was Cannabis Community Care and Research Network, a company aimed at bringing together members of academia, politics, healthcare, the cannabis industry, consumers and producers to collaborate on research, education and business practices surrounding medical and adult use of cannabis.

Marion McNabb, the CEO of C3RN, said the prize money and consulting she received after winning were very helpful to her startup.

“I am continually impressed with BU and its forward thinking leadership in the cannabis industry and with Green Lion Partners for their continued commitment to supporting entrepreneurs in the ancillary industry,” McNabb said.

C3RN has used the competition prizes to expand their network and develop new partnerships across Massachusetts, as well as launch event series’ surrounding cannabis education, science, and networking.

Randall MacCaffrie, C3RN chief information officer, said that the advice from BU’s partners and resources has been invaluable.

“The ongoing support in consultation from Ian [Mashiter] at the BUild Lab, specifically, but also from Green Lion Partners, has been invaluable,” MacCaffrie said. “They’ve continued their support all the way up until just today even, so we can’t say enough about that.”

Mashiter said that Innovate@BU is proud to see the previous winners, C3RN and Mary’s List, a service that promotes cannabis projects and providers, succeed with their start-ups.

“We are proud of our first two winners C3RN and Mary’s List,” Mashiter wrote. “We believe these kinds of entrepreneurs serve as great examples to our students on how to recognize and take advantage of new opportunities.”

Selena Chen, a sophomore in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Services, said she thinks that BU’s focus on the business side of the cannabis industry is a good thing.

“Personally, I think it’s good that [BU] is expanding the horizons of cannabis,” Chen said. “I feel like it’s always had a negative connotation so making it a business oriented thing is good and will open more people’s minds.”

Noah Klein, a freshman in the Questrom School of Business, said he supports BU’s exploration of entrepreneurship in the cannabis industry, but is interested in how the university’s involvement in the competition reflects its own cannabis policy.

“I know BU has a pretty anti-cannabis policy,” Klein said. “So I think it’s pretty interesting that they would embrace this merger.”

Claire Lukacs, a junior in the College of Communication, said she is unclear as to why BU is hosting a competition about a cannabis start-up, but marijuana related products are not allowed on campus.

“I guess I’m just a little confused,” Lukacs said. “Because I know it’s not allowed on campus but now it’s a whole thing with BU.”

by Ellie Yeo