Classes teaching the ins and outs of the cannabis industry have been around since the birth of the industry itself, but one new institution wants to reach professionals further away from the plant than trimmers and growers. Inspyre, a school aimed at accountants, engineers, human resource professionals, government regulators and legislators, plans to educate individuals who can affect the future of a pot business but have little experience or training in the growing industry.
"We've identified a lack of continuing education. A lot of folks have their heads down trying to put out these day-to-day fires," says co-founder and vice president of business development Eric DeWine. "Technology, tracking systems, lighting systems, heating and air technology — you have to seek that knowledge out. It's not provided."
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Organizations such as Hemp Temps train for jobs in budtending and cultivation operations, and Clover Leaf University offers classes for high-level cannabinoid extraction and infused-product manufacturing, but DeWine and his team feel that other jobs and roles essential to the industry are getting stuck at a river with no bridge. Most traditional universities offer degrees in such fields as accounting and engineering, and pot-specific schools teach how to work directly with the plant. However, people who want to apply their traditional skills to a non-traditional industry are typically left to fend for themselves, according to Inspyre co-founder and CEO Will Metcalfe.
"They have the basic skills, but they need to understand the associated task with cannabis that makes it different," he explains. "We're trying to bridge that gap. We want to match up people within the industry with people outside of the industry, because they have such different perspectives."
The beginning of Inspyre even mirrors its goals: DeWine, who co-founded the Patients’ Choice of Colorado dispensary chain (now called Live Green), left the company to focus on his cannabis consulting firm before meeting Metcalfe, who has an MBA from Harvard and experience with companies such as AT&T, Cox Communications and technology firms in Silicon Valley. The pair noticed a need to create a link between their two different industry structures and built their team from there, bringing in DeWine's consulting partner, Mike Marquez, and his experience with dispensary and cultivation management to head operations.
With its industry depth covered, Inspyre decided to add human resources executives from Wells Fargo to teach about employee incentives and leadership programs, Metcalfe says. It also has an advisory board of well-known professionals both inside and outside of the pot industry, many of whom will help teach classes. The advisory board includes The Farm dispensary CEO Devin Lyles, government lobbyist Cindy Sovine-Miller, and University of Colorado Board of Regents member Stephen Ludwig.
Inspyre's first course is about commercial and medical cannabis extraction and how it can apply to emerging medical states with stricter laws that only allow concentrates, such as Texas or Minnesota. The school also plans to teach about combining an efficient business plan with cannabis cultivations, entering the emerging CBD and hemp industries, and integrated pest management for growers. Once it's up and running, DeWine and Metcalfe plan to teach classes in accounting, leadership management and human resources, too.
"Accountants need to understand 280E," a federal tax code that prohibits licensed cannabis businesses from claiming business deductions, Metcalfe says. "We also keep hearing that mid-level management is a continuing problem. A lot of folks get these management positions by attrition, and while they might be hard workers and good employees, they're not equipped to lead people yet."
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The courses will be held in Colorado because of the state's entrenched cannabis industry, but DeWine believes they will help people who work elsewhere. To establish the school's relevancy to people outside of the state and open more business opportunities for pot companies, he and Metcalfe lobbied during the 2017 legislative session for SB 187, a now-passed bill that created an exemption to the state residency requirement for participation in workforce development or education programs — meaning a pot-business employee doesn't have to live in Colorado to be allowed to attend educational or training programs on licensed cannabis locations.
"One of the areas that's an unmet need is the emerging markets. When you get into this new space, some of these [engineers or electricians] haven't built a grow before. They understand the concept, but they've never built something as detailed," DeWine says. "There are a lot of people who want to penetrate the cannabis industry but don't really understand cannabis. Unfortunately, most of them will jump in before understanding it."
Inspyre's first course, The Business of Extraction, will run Monday, February 5, through Tuesday, February 6; the dates of future classes will be announced soon. All of the courses will be held at the Denver Mart.