Ben Larson, CEO of Vertosa: Calling upon his experience as a serial entrepreneur, investor, and startup adviser, Ben and the Vertosa team enable mainstream businesses to enter the growing cannabis industry by providing water-soluble active ingredients to infuse beverages and other products. Previously, Ben co-founded Gateway, the premier cannabis startup accelerator based in Silicon Valley. Additionally, Ben is a Director and Mentor for the Founder Institute, where he formerly managed global operations and helped grow the program into over 100 cities around the world. He’s also active on several boards inside and out of the cannabis industry and travels the world for speaking engagements. Ben was recognized in the 40 Under 40 Class of 2018 by the San Francisco Business Times.
How did they start their business?
As a serial entrepreneur, I’m passionate about helping fellow visionaries realize their dreams and for building great products and teams. Before delving into the cannabis space, I was the Director of Global Operations for the Founder Institute, where I helped launch over 100 startups locally, recruited and trained business leaders globally, and formed startup ecosystems around the world to spur economic growth outside Silicon Valley. I played a key role in expanding the program into more than 100 cities worldwide and on-boarded, trained and guided local leadership. I’m still a Director and Mentor at the Founder Institute because I love working with entrepreneurs to shape the next generation of companies.
By 2015, my career journey led me to focus on the burgeoning legal cannabis industry in my home state of California, where I wanted to pursue advocacy and innovation. With that in mind, I co-founded Gateway, a full immersion business accelerator, and seed investment program. We’ve followed through on our goals of connecting aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs to knowledge, capital, and a conduit to the mainstream. Through the networking opportunities provided at Gateway, I met Dr. Harold Han, who was was the senior emulsion scientist at Bio-Rad Laboratories. We went on to launch Vertosa (formerly Nanogen) to help solve the emulsion issues within the infused marketplace and work with brands ranging from beverages to topicals to create incredibly homogenous and stable customized infused products that maximize bioavailability, clarity, and taste.
What 3 advice tips they can share with their startup journey?
- Make sure you have a product or offer a service that you believe in
Vertosa wouldn’t exist if Dr. Han hadn’t developed state-of-the-art pre-suspended nanoemulsion technology, which is our company’s founding achievement. His innovation filled a gap in the infused products marketplace and has the potential to truly elevate the quality of our partner brands. I’m so proud to help a company that offers this technological achievement, but I am even prouder of the true value we bring to our customers: trust and transparency in a historically complicated supply chain. Every day, our team works hard to build relationships and trust that transcend the capabilities of our industry-leading products.
- Be careful about whom you partner with.
Things change and evolve rapidly in the cannabis industry, so it can be difficult to tell which businesses can truly live up to the potential that they promise. You must do your due diligence — and even err on the side of caution. For example, when we first launched Gateway, it turned out that our very first capital partner didn’t have the capital necessary to launch our first program. There’s a lot of big talks out there and many houses of cards. Make sure you really know and can trust your partners, especially if your business relies on them.
- But most importantly, find your ‘why’.
Building a company is hard. This risk-reward often doesn’t pencil, and it takes a relentless drive to succeed. If you don’t have a strong reason to be doing what you’re doing, you’ll likely give up before you see success. Define your purpose and don’t give up. With Vertosa, I know that when we succeed, the power and truth of cannabis will be realized by the mainstream and that we will have played an integral role in making trustworthy and healthy pathways to critical medicine and healing.
They can also share a bit of their business and how did they improve or grow their startup business.
We’ve recently made some great strides as a company to drive the sophistication, efficiency, and scalability of our operations as we prepare for rapid growth. In September 2019, we proudly announced our rebrand, which includes changing the name of the company from Nanogen Labs to Vertosa. We created the name ‘Vertosa’ to more accurately reflect who we are and the promise we deliver. First, VERT speaks to both green and truth – in line with our roots in cannabis and dedication to being the best partners to our customers. OSA, Spanish for the female bear, portrays our strength and proud California roots, with an important nod to the power of the female cannabis plant. The new name embodies our best-in-class products, service, and scientific expertise while paving the way for long-term vision and growth.
Coinciding with the rebrand, we are proud to announce that five new leaders representing top talent in tech, food, and beverage, cosmetics, health, and cannabis fields, have joined the Vertosa team. It has been a benchmark year, exceeding our own expectations, and now with our expanded team, unrivaled technology and partners that match our vision, Vertosa will play a major role in the future of cannabis.
What Marketing methods did work?
The most critical component of our marketing strategy is built into our values of trust, leadership, and community. Every day, our team strives to build trust with each other, our customers, and all those we interact with. Further, as we learn more about what we do and the industry in which we work, we feel it is our responsibility to disseminate this information to our audience and lead by example. Finally, the power of our collective and supportive community inside and out of the cannabis industry has been our greatest superpower. Because of this, our reputation often precedes us all around the globe.
Additionally, we have extensive media outreach and guest publication efforts, and we continue to be an active participant and secure speaking engagements in cannabis, science/technology, and food & beverage industry events around the country.
What were the challenges they met during the process?
Sometimes in order to create the future that you envision, you must change how people operate and view what’s acceptable. In a supply chain where people have historically driven towards vertical integration and control, we are creating a thin horizontal technology that bisects the supply chain. We’ve seen ingredient providers in the mainstream industries, like food and cosmetics, and new that the same could exist for the cannabis and hemp industries. Many of our early on conversation ended with a larger customer simply asking if they could just bring us in house. We knew we were destined to be more and are now working directly with many of those companies as partners.
How did they manage to cope up with the challenges?
It’s all about having a vision and looking for positive indicators along the way. We knew that if we could catch the eye of major brands trying to enter the space and create value for them, that we would be on to something. We did just that. Our team spent countless days and nights building our own sophistication and responding to information requests to companies that we engaged and quickly proved ourselves a trustworthy partner. We then quickly got a lay of the land by understanding how we fit into the product development phase for these big brands. It was an exhilarating challenge and a very steep learning curve, but we succeeded.
Who inspired them in their journey?
I’m not much of one for idols, but the collective spirit of Silicon Valley is what inspired me to follow my dreams and create, have purpose, and effect change. Growing up, I was a dreamer, but when I witnessed everyday people acting on their dreams and creating and influencing people’s lives through technology, I knew I had the potential to do the same. This opportunity for me has now grown well beyond Silicon Valley and technology, and what drives me now is righting the wrongs of wayward politicians and corporations that have falsely stigmatized the cannabis plant.
How much did they spend during the startup phase?
Again, this goes back to my why and how much it drives me. Along the way, I have wagered everything more than once, but I always knew that I was gaining experience and potential exponentially. I always knew the downside wasn’t all that bad because I knew I’d never give up.
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