Ganjapreneurs Share Their Successes, Stories at Denver Startup Week

Denver Startup Week began in September 2012 as a chance for entrepreneurs to meet and trade ideas. Over the past five years, it's evolved into an expansive event where anyone hoping to start a business can choose from hundreds of panel presentations featuring people who’ve been there, done that. And this year, ganjapreneurs are among the industry leaders sharing experiences and expertise.

At a September 13 panel titled "From Kitchen to 'Shelf:' Smart Growth Tips for Packaged Food Startups" at the Infinite Monkey Theorem Urban Winery, Andrew Schrot, founder and CEO of BlueKudu, a prominent edibles company, joined food-industry reps from 34 Degrees, Saso Pepper Co. and Capello’s Gluten Free; BrandJuice creative director John Bellina moderated a discussion that focused on the ever-growing food market in Colorado.

While the other companies faced hurdles getting their businesses off the ground and dealing with state and federal regulations, BlueKudu experienced additional challenges as a marijuana-based company. “When we first started back in 2011, the regulations were so simple.... We just wrapped the chocolate bar like you’d see it on the shelf: blue foil wrapper with a label wrapped around it," says Schrot. "We didn’t have to do anything extra. People who saw it just knew: This is a chocolate bar.” 

But as the recreational marijuana market emerged, edibles companies faced harsher restrictions introduced by the Colorado legislature after a few highly publicized incidents; examples involved Jesse and Corinna Tamburo, who were arrested on a misdemeanor charge of child abuse for allegedly allowing their two-year-old to eat a marijuana edible, and Richard Kirk, who shot and killed his wife in 2014 while he was allegedly hallucinating after eating an edible.

Those stricter requirements, including child-safe packaging and warning labels, inspired BlueKudu to begin putting its product in a container reminiscent of a pill bottle, with a picture of a chocolate bar on the front.

"You don't think 'chocolate bar' when you see a pill bottle," Schrot shared. "We made that chocolate bar as big as we could on the packaging with the rest of the information we had on there. It was the centerpiece."

But the picture still wasn't big enough, he added: In many dispensaries, edibles are displayed behind the counter, sometimes six or seven feet away from the customer. It was hard for many to identify the product as chocolate. So BlueKudu decided to invest in significant rebranding in the last year and found higher-end packaging that more resembled its product.

"It was the best investment we've made since starting the business," Schrot told the audience.

Including BlueKudu on a panel about food was a no-brainer, explained moderator John Bellina, who says that Schrot "really cares about what it tastes like. Yes, it's an edible product, but he's also making a premier chocolate product, so I felt like he belongs in this space." 

More marijuana-industry leaders will be featured on Denver Startup Week panels, which run through September 16.

Cannabis advocate Kayvan Khalatbari, co-founder of the Denver Relief dispensary and Denver Relief Consulting, will take part in a discussion this afternoon titled "Who the hell is Kayvan Soorena Tyler Khalatbari-Limaki?" 

On Friday, a Cannatech panel titled "Baked in Design (Not Lipstick on a Stoned Pig)," hosted by SoKa Consulting, will focus on how professionals in the cannabis industry made design and technology a priority. Panelists include the co-founders of SoKa Consulting, the VP of sales at Baker, the editor-in-chief of Sensi magazine, the director of marketing at Dixie Elixirs and creative director and founder of Grit Advertising and Design.

All programs are free. Find the full Denver Startup Week schedule — including times and locations — at
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Kate McKee Simmons interned at the National Catholic Reporter, was a reporter for the New York Post, and spent a brief stint in Israel learning international reporting before writing for Westword.