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What's Taking Boulder's Pot Industry to Great Heights

What's Taking Boulder's Pot Industry to Great Heights
Image credit: Sweet Mary Jane Edibles
This story appears in the July 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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Karin Lazarus knows how to talk up her treats, and she especially loves her Keylime Kickers: “White chocolate truffles made with key lime oil and rolled in graham cracker crumbs,” she says. “It’s our most popular product.”

Oh, and it’s cannabis-infused. But so is everything she makes.

Lazarus owns Sweet Mary Jane Edibles, a wholesale bakery she launched in 2010, and it has since become an industry favorite. “Back when we were just starting, landlords would hang up on me when I told them what I wanted to do,” she says. “It took a while to find a landlord who was open-minded to the cannabis industry.” But today, Boulder is the go-to spot for entrepreneurs dealing in legal pot. The county government is welcoming (“You feel like they’ve got your back,” Lazarus says), and so is the community.

The industry even has its own local accelerator, called CanopyBoulder, which is laying a foundation for the fast-growing world of weed. Cofounder Micah Tapman is optimistic that the cannabis business can boom; in the past year alone, Colorado saw a 40 percent industry growth rate. The next challenge: He wants to attract people with solid business bona fides, rather than just a passion for the plant. “We need better entrepreneurs, better skills -- MBAs, JDs, people with years of experience at Fortune 500 companies,” he says.

Ideally, that will speed up the professionalization of the industry, says Roy Bingham of BDS Analytics, a firm that analyzes cannabis sales data. “This industry will hit $30 billion in a matter of years, and mainstream business is tuning in,” he says, though he understands their initial hesitation. Bingham is a former investment banker who was first encouraged to work in cannabis by two of his friends (who just happen to be the cofounders of CanopyBoulder). “It took them months to persuade me that it wasn’t career suicide,” he says. “But then I realized the tremendous growth opportunity.”

Other local startups are now carving out old-school niches in this New Age industry. Adistry helps navigate compliant advertising, and Tradiv’s marketplace connects cultivators and dispensaries. (Both are graduates of CanopyBoulder.) “We don’t grow anything,” says Meghan Larson, CEO of Adistry. “But we can help people figure out the topics that aren’t always sexy but are important.” 

Why set up shop in Boulder when Denver is just 25 minutes away? “I’ve lived in Boston, London, Chicago, Rhode Island,” Bingham says. “I’ve never known a community as energized around new businesses as Boulder is.” Larson echoes the sentiment: “It’s the Boulder bubble,” she says. “There’s a lot of support for people who quit cushy jobs to try to change the world.” But for all the blue skies, yoga and, well, weed that Boulder has to offer, the city isn’t some hippie utopia -- and the business guys here can feel comfortable being business guys. “I’m as boring as I’ve always been,” Bingham says. “People look at me and it’s like, ‘Who’s this stiff?’”

Related: Entrepreneur Magazine's 50 Best Cities for Entrepreneurs

Edition: October 2016

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