Canada: Edmonton Company Looks To Boost Local Cannabis Sector

Photo Credit: Chad Hipolito

A new Edmonton company is raising million of dollars to invest in cannabis-related startup firms that could make the region into a major hub of the Canadian marijuana industry.

NorthCanvas will be one of the country’s first “accelerators” in this growing field, with plans to provide $3 million to $5 million in seed money and other assistance to 30 fledgling operations over the next three years, co-founder Sam Jenkins said last week.

He hopes to start a 16-week boot camp in June with the first 10 companies to work on such skills as business development, planning, idea generation and finding initial customers.

“There’s lots of people hoping to strike it rich in cannabis, which means lots of interesting things are happening,” said Jenkins, a principal in Edmonton technology development firm Punchcard Systems Inc.

“We thought it would be useful for the region if we built an accelerator … I think there’s a giant opportunity here in Alberta around cannabis.”

Jenkins, a founding member of Startup Edmonton, is particularly interested in enterprises in fields related to pot, such as agribusiness, technology, law-enforcement products and agriculture.

That could include finding additional uses for hemp, or coming up with ways to determine if drivers are impaired by marijuana.

“That could be a made-in-Alberta solution we could then take to the world, building technology we could then export to the United States, to Australia, to Germany … I don’t think the limit is the 30 companies we’re looking at investing in. I think there’s much more opportunity.”

There are few other firms in the country with a similar focus — Toronto’s Leaf Forward described itself as the first Canadian cannabis accelerator when it was formed by industry leaders last summer

With legalization of recreational weed set for this summer, analysts predict demand will be as high as 795,000 kilograms this year in an industry worth between $4 billion and $8 billion annually.

Glen Vanstone, vice-president for trade and investment at the Edmonton Economic Development Corp., said there’s good potential to develop companies in the region involved in hemp and marijuana.

This could involve turning sturdy hemp fibers into clothing, or making food and extracts using oil or other marijuana products, as well as building facilities to grow cannabis, which is being done by major players Aurora Cannabis and Canopy Growth, he said.

“There’s this growing awareness of the business community of the growth potential for the market,” he said.

“We want to lean into it more … I see this increasing to a global level, and why not here?”

Jenkins says NorthCanvas hopes to turn a profit, but also wants to develop strong entrepreneurs and possibly interesting people from other areas in setting up in Edmonton.

“We want to make sure the region becomes home to a bunch of great businesses, much like the way (video game maker) BioWare was created and … it spun off a bunch of other great businesses.”