Looming Legalization Gives Rise to Wave Cannabis Startup Accelerators

Article by Joe Castaldo, Globe and Mail

Cannabis legalization is attracting hordes of hopeful entrepreneurs to the sector. Yet when they have questions about complex regulatory issues and other business challenges, there have been relatively few mentors and programs to offer guidance. A new crop of cannabis-focused incubators and accelerators is hoping to change that by launching programs to assist fledgling firms in the marijuana sector.
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“Any startup needs a system of support, and it’s very tough to be an entrepreneur,” says Alex Blumenstein, co-founder of Leaf Forward in Toronto. Leaf Forward is currently raising $3-million for its first accelerator program, scheduled to begin in October.
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Incubators and accelerators provide mentoring, education, connections and seed funding to startups, with the aim of getting products and services to market faster. Programs often end with a demo day for outside investors. The model is well-established for tech startups. The Centre for Digital Entrepreneurship and Economic Performance (DEEP), a think-tank in Waterloo, Ont., estimates there are more than 140 startup-assistance organizations in the country.
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Even so, there are few specialized services for the cannabis sector, despite growing demand. Leaf Forward already has around 150 businesses preregistered for its accelerator and boot camp program, according to Mr. Blumenstein. “We’re pretty confident we have a strong pipeline for this,” he says.
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Along with two co-founders, Mr. Blumenstein, who previously worked in public affairs, first launched a meet-up for cannabis professionals in Toronto last year before expanding to other cities. Once armed with a network of entrepreneurs, industry leaders and other professionals, the trio decided to start an accelerator.

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