Seed money: Edmonton group looks to invest in Alberta's budding cannabis sector

An Edmonton-based organization is raising big bucks to back companies looking to make their mark in Canada’s budding cannabis industry.

NorthCanvas plans to invest up to $5 million in early-stage startups

NorthCanvas, an Edmonton-based investment group, is looking to invest in at least 30 early-stage startups. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

An Edmonton-based organization is raising big bucks to back companies looking to make their mark in Canada's budding cannabis industry.

NorthCanvas describes itself as the country's first "business accelerator" dedicated solely to the cannabis sector.

The organization has plans to provide between $3-million and $5-million in seed money and other backing to at least 30 startups over the next three years.

Co-founder Sam Jenkins said ten investments will be made this financial quarter, as the final six months tick down to the day when recreational marijuana is fully legalized.

Investors will then work to group their ventures together into a series of collaborative "cohorts" over the next few years.

"We will be going out to the marketplace to seek out companies," Jenkins said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.  "Not only here in Edmonton, we're inviting companies across the country to participate.

"But we also expect people to come out of the woodwork with their pitches."

Technology and innovation

The organization is seeking opportunities to invest in all avenues of the business, including, healthcare, agri-business and law enforcement technology.

Jenkins said they aim to support innovation in the cannabis industry outside mainstream production operations -- instead focusing on ventures "across the supply chain" which may have been neglected to this point by big investors.

"We think there are a number of really amazing licensed producers both in this province and across the country," Jenkins said.

"We're looking to make investments outside that production space, looking at technology, yield improvement, food sciences — any of the companies that we think could be adding value.

"And Edmonton has typically been a really great place for those businesses."

Jenkins plans to launch a business boot camp in early June. The 16-week mentorship program would focus on skills development for their prospective entrepreneurs, and help proponents develop their business plans, and customer service strategies — while connecting them with established leaders in business.

Jenkins said NorthCanvas backers want to ensure their startups succeed in the long term.

"We're offering a number of other services geared towards the success factors associated with the investment we're making," he said.

"We like to think that we're trying to create smart money with the investments we're making."

The investments could help Alberta become a leader in cannabis innovation, said Jenkins and Edmonton is well-positioned as an industry forerunner.

We're trying to change the game a little bit- Sam Jenkins

He expects the retail sector will be particularly strong in Alberta. The provincial government has made it clear they're open for a green business boom, he said.

"We know there are going to be entrepreneurs across the country coming here to set up shop, because of the regulatory environment " said Jenkins, who admits that, as they foster a new business sector, it's a gamble. 

"Time will tell. I think there is more than enough capacity in the marketplace to be able to satisfy lots of innovation.

"Of the 30 to 50 companies that we invest in, not all of them will be large and not all of them will be successful, but we're trying to change the game a little bit."

Listen to Edmonton AM with host Mark Connolly, weekday mornings at CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM in Edmonton. Follow the morning crew on Twitter @EdmAMCBC.