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From wheat to weed: how an Alberta farmer found opportunity in cannabis

How diversification led Because You Cann to cannabis

3 min read

Serena Donovan has been farming in rural Alberta for more than a decade. In 2018 she decided to diversify beyond traditional crops like wheat, canola, durham and peas, starting a process that led to her startup - Because You Cann - which became the second licensed cannabis micro-cultivator in Alberta. In her own words below, lightly edited for length and clarity, Ms. Donovan reflects on her earliest challenges.

I am a county councillor as well for Vulcan County and I went to an agriculture conference in Grand Prairie two years ago and they were talking about diversifying the farm.

They had some really interesting speakers. They weren’t talking about cannabis at that point, they were talking about different seed crops. But when I got home I thought I would give cannabis some research.

I actually found some online courses at Mount Royal University. I took a course in cannabis marketing and brand management where we learned the Cannabis Act from front to back and had to come up with a marketing plan for a business.

That kind of got the ball rolling for me. I knew I wanted to diversify the farm in some way, so we started with that and then I did a plant and facility management course. Just an online course but it did so much.

I happened to find Delta 9 in Winnipeg and met them face-to-face at the Lift [& Co.] conference in January 2019 and flew out to see the facility in Winnipeg in February. We went there for February. My husband is very proud of having taken me to Winnipeg for Valentines Day.

I started the dream, but soon realized that living remotely, it is very hard to find people who are Health Canada-qualified for quality assurance. I had kind of gotten to the point where I felt a little bit defeated.

But then we had an opportunity to meet with some of the Health Canada officials, which was great. Realizing that they are just people like everybody else really took the fear of the unknown out of it.

In the meantime, while we were waiting for approval, I went through all the municipal levels, re-zoned the land, re-zoned the building on our land so I could use it for a commercial operation. On October 17th we won our license. 

That was very exciting, however, we got stuck in security purgatory. It took four months, 16 weeks to the day, to get our security clearance and then we were actually issued a license.

In terms of funding, we used a farm asset and personal money to get this whole thing started. There is no outside money, there is no angel investor. Delta 9 has not invested a penny into my building or my business (NOTE: Delta 9 has a right of first refusal on her production).

You have to be strong enough to make decisions. Indecision is the worst decision for an entrepreneur. Being able to make a decision, even if it wasn’t the right decision or the timing was maybe a bit early or too late, it doesn’t matter.

The lack of available funding is a stumbling block. There is no public funding until you have a license and of course you can’t get a license until you have everything built so I was fortunate in that we could leverage pieces of the farm, but for the sector it is a real chicken-or-egg problem.

Extracts

  • This story details the process of turning a business idea into an actual company
  • It should help you understand some of the earliest challenges cannabis entrepreneurs face when getting started
  • “Indecision is the worst decision for an entrepreneur”: Serena Donovan

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