Lift Pitch Competition takes judges by storm at Lift Expo

The judges panel featured former Dragons' Den star W. Brett Wilson, as well as several heavy-hitters from the Canadian cannabis industry

It’s no surprise that the Lift Startup Pitch Competition was one of the most watched events at the Lift Expo this weekend. W. Brett Wilson, formerly of Dragons’ Den on CBC, was a featured judge, with cannabis industry heavy-hitters Aaron Salz, Chuck Rifici and Hugo Alves rounding out the judges panel.

This year, the competition had an amazing prize package for the winner, including $10,000 in advertising from Lift, a booth at the 2018 Lift Expo, $5,000 in legal services from Bennett Jones LLP, free onboarding consulting from Stoic Advisory, and potential financial investment from the judges. This year also had three fascinating and diverse entrants. Meet all three entrants - and the winner - here:

First entrant: Green Leaf Benefits Inc.

The first entrant in the competition was Peter Sproule, founder of Green Leaf Benefits Inc. The company is a “research-based benefits brokerage that helps employers implement preventative employment benefits," which Sproule says keeps employees happy and healthy and helps employers attract talent. Sproule cited rising drug costs and the reactive nature of employee benefits as reasons why the current system is stuck in the past. 

Green Leaf Benefits has two markets: the employee benefit market and the medical marijuana market. By switching to a prevention-focused health care spending account model, employers can enable patients to use medical cannabis. The company also helps companies write medical cannabis policies for their employees. The company would make money two ways: from broker fees for the health care plans, and two per cent of revenue on their patients’ licensed producer purchases.

Dragon W. Brett Wilson said he didn’t fully understand the ownership structure of the company, and Chuck Rifici wanted more information on how Green Leaf's health care plans differ from current plans.

Second entrant: Hotbox Café

The next entrant was Abi Roach of Hotbox Café, a café and lounge in Toronto's Kensington Market, where customers can bring their own cannabis and use provided vaporizers.  Roach has been active in the cannabis community for two decades, and says Hotbox Café is the longest-operating cannabis lounge in North America. Other Hotbox projects include Spliff Magazine and the Hotbox Bud & Breakfast resort in Jamaica, resulting in increasing revenue over the years. Hotbox has over 100,000 customers a year, enabling them to be a customer revenue “monster,” says Roach. The company is set to bring in revenues of $1.5 million, without selling any cannabis. Her next goal is to sell cannabis, once the recreational market opens up.

Franchising the long-existing brand, according to Roach, is the best step forward. Franchisees would have access to distribution companies and reduced pooling costs. Roach would use the money from Lift Pitch to create an interior design that could be mimicked by franchisees across Canada.

The judges had some questions; Alves wanted to know how important cannabis sales are to Hotbox's revenue (they aren’t) and W. Brett Wilson wanted to know the franchise fee (around $125,000).

Third entrant: AHLOT

The last entrant was Greg Pantelic of AHLOT. The company makes what it calls “beautiful ritual boxes” for cannabis consumption, and recently generated over $10,000 in pre-sales for their service. Pantelic says AHLOT's modular compartments can be mixed and matched for a customizable experience.

“It’s tempting to call us a box company,” Pantelic said, “but there’s nothing further than that.” The company created a separate box for a licensed producer that wanted to celebrate its IPO, and is working with medical clinics to onboard patients with AHLOT kits.

AHLOT also hopes to be Canada’s first cannabis-related subscription service by partnering with licensed producers and community members. The company is also creating a digital Spotify-like “visual playlist” to help customers match their surroundings to the effects of their particular strain of cannabis.

Chuck Rifici wanted to know the company’s pre and post-legalization strategy (it involves white-labelling cannabis strains from licensed producers), and W. Brett Wilson wanted to know how much money has been raised and what kind of time commitment the founders had made (Pantelic said the company raised $25,000 from friends and family, and he and his partner have been working on the project full-time).

Winner: Hotbox Café

While the judges discussed their decisions, audience members were asked to name their favourite entrant, with some choosing Hotbox and others choosing AHLOT.

Wilson presented the judges' “unanimous” choice, which was Hotbox Café. Abi Roach had a “more advanced business plan” than the other entrants, he said, even though they liked the “energy and enthusiasm” of final entrant Greg Pantelic of AHLOT. Abi Roach of Hotbox Café came to the podium to share some thoughts: “I’m just super excited for the future and I’m excited to stay a part of it and be a part of it, and make this cannabis industry amazing for everybody.”

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