Marijuana Startups Get Chance to Pitch VCs

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Sasquatch Glass co-founder Scott Hunter displays a glass banjo that can be used to both play music and smoke marijuana.
Sasquatch Glass co-founder Scott Hunter displays a glass banjo that can be used to both play music and smoke marijuana. (Sam Harnett/KQED)

So you've heard this one before: Venture capitalists are in San Francisco to hear startup pitches. Well, this time the story's not about tech. It's about cannabis.

The crowd at the grand ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco earlier this week could have been at any tech investment event. Everyone's dressed in business attire and talking startup lingo. But the entrepreneurs are pitching things like a medical marijuana delivery app, gluten-free low-glycemic edibles and $20,000 glass guitars and banjos that double as bongs.

Yes, you heard that right: glass instruments from Seattle's Sasquatch Glass that can make music or be used to smoke marijuana -- potentially both at the same time. I am not sure, as I did not test one.

OK, not every startup at the Fairmont is selling a stoner's dream. Many are agricultural companies that have found a new market in marijuana, like Nutrient Guru, which sells organic fertilizer, or Intelligent Light Source. Founder Jack Abbott says it makes energy-efficient LEDs to grow fruits, vegetables and now cannabis.


Pot, says Abbott, “is a hippie product. It has been developed in people's backyards and in their basements. Now there is a chance to apply technology and science and really take it to another level.”

Investors hope by taking cannabis to a new, scientifically improved, corporate level they can rake in the cash.

Venture capitalists from the tech world like Peter Thiel are already investing, making the bet they can capitalize as marijuana goes legal. Call it the startup-ization of hippiedom.

Emily Paxhia, for one, has built an entire investment firm around cannabis. She thinks cannabis will be a big thing, and she doesn't want to miss out on the opportunity.

“It's one of those things where, when you look back at the tech industry," she says, "you wish you could invest in the beginning of Google or in Facebook or whatever company comes to mind, but you can't go back in time.”

A boom in the legal marijuana market could come from the efforts of those like Dale Sky Jones. She is hunting down funds for another campaign to legalize cannabis statewide.

“I'm really pitching an idea that we have an opportunity to ensure that healthy marketplace and make sure the business plan sitting in all these folks' briefcases aren't dead on arrival,” Jones says.

She plans to get the initiative on the state ballot in 2016.