At Honeysuckle we’re lucky enough to enjoy a plethora of illuminating experiences that take us inside the cannabis industry. Our CANNABIS print issue was indelibly shaped by MJBizCon, the largest cannabis business conference in the country hosted by Marijuana Business Daily. Earlier this month, MJBiz hit The Big Easy for the debut of MJBizConNEXT, a tradeshow with a focus on the future of the expanding industry. In the heart of New Orleans, thousands of attendees were treated to the most cutting-edge innovations, latest technologies, and unique companies now emerging in the cannabis market. With the biggest names in cultivation, extraction, investment – even a keynote address by Shark Tank‘s Kevin O’Leary and an appearance by rock star Gene Simmons – it was a week to remember. Here are a few highlights.

Over 275 international exhibitors mixed and mingled on MJBizConNEXT’s immersive show floor. Representatives from Canada, China, Hungary, India, Israel, and more joined American exhibitors to view the best of what cannapreneurs can look forward to in 2018. The biggest areas of interest? Sustainability, Retail Tech, and Cultivation, which were all given the royal treatment in specialized Experiential Spaces. Visitors to the Retail Tech Space were introduced to new technologies driving seedless retail.

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At the Cultivation Space, attendees learned new techniques for promoting the growth of their cannabis and truly felt the embrace of the agricultural sector. Meanwhile, the Sustainability Space was transformed into a hub for all things green and how to gain more by using less. Those who walked through the Sustainability Tunnel got a crash course in what cannabis professionals can do to save the planet.Jesse Peters, CEO of Eco Firma Farms, the country’s first wind-powered cannabis farm, was proud to be included at the Sustainability Space. Delivering a speech at the NEXTLive! Onstage sessions, he discussed a cultivation walkthrough in Next Steps: First 100 Days of Operation.

Jesse founded Eco Firma, a licensed cannabis producer in Oregon, in 2012. He works closely on brand development, sustainability practices, product development and day-to-day operations. He is a founding member of the Oregon Cannabis PAC and the Oregon Cannabis Association; he has worked with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission on rules governing cultivation regulation within Oregon. Previously, Jesse served as a combat engineer in the U.S. Marine Corps. (Learn more about Jesse and the Eco Firma mission in our upcoming print issue ONE!)

Back at the exhibition hall, expo-goers could discover even more about sustainability in cannabis by checking out the Resource Innovation Institute (RII). Contributions to this nonprofit organization help bring together stakeholders to assess resource use in cultivation operations, set industry standards, convene best practices events and advocate for effective policies and incentives that drive conservation.

A particularly exciting addition to the NOLA conference was the premiere of the MJBiz Executive Summit, an exclusive 2-day symposium for C-level professionals to discuss real-world scenarios impacting the future of the industry.For the kickoff of MJBizConNEXT’s VIP Programs, Jim Makoso, co-founder and Vice President of Lucid Lab Group, spearheaded the invite-only Lead Extractor Program, which saw extractors come together to solve problems facing the industry, such as laboratory design and equipment.

“We find that the peer-to-peer interaction can be very beneficial for that leadership,” Makoso said.Next door, the Lead Cultivator Program, run by Maureen McNamara of Cannabis Trainers, provided a roundtable discussion for sharing and support. “Cultivators will take away connection, new ideas, and new insights to resolve any issues they may have cultivating,” McNamara commented, beaming at the forum’s success.Keynote speaker and world-renowned investor Kevin O’Leary (Shark Tank‘s “Mr. Wonderful”) emphasized the importance of entrepreneurship and shared the attributes found 100% of the time in a successful business pitch:

1) Be able to articulate the opportunity in 90 seconds or less.

2) Convince the investors that you have the right team to execute the business plan.

3) Know your numbers and understand your business model.

Following keynotes by MJBiz’s founding editor and Vice President of Editorial Strategy, Chris Walsh, centered on the future of consolidation in the cannabis industry and Jesce Horton, CEO of Saints Cannabis, encouraged emerging entrepreneurs to “find their purpose.” “It’s really about taking the time to figure out how you can combine your skills with what you’re passionate about in the industry,” Horton noted.Back at NEXTLive!, Amanda Melnick, founder and Principal of Maine Cannabis Consultants, joined Kris Krane, President of 4Front Ventures, for a panel called New Opportunities: Emerging Markets & Trends: Rec Markets on Deck: Maine and Massachusetts. Amanda’s company is Maine Cannabis Consultants, a full-service consulting firm aimed at helping businesses successfully navigate the cannabis industry. She specializes in business development, marketing, compliance support and government relations.

Amanda has more than 10 years of experience in operations, project management and supporting the growth of start-up businesses. She has worked closely with high-level executives at companies such as Google, Oscar de la Renta and IBM.

Aviv Hadar, co-founder and CEO of Oregrown, ran a session entitled Post Launch: Growth Strategies & Techniques: Dispensary & Rec Shop Tutorial: Expanding Your Customer Base. Aviv co-founded Oregrown in 2013. The Oregon-based, farm-to-table cannabis company grows indoor cannabis and processes extracts.

He is primarily responsible for maintaining the brand and the company’s retail stores, as well as contributing to and overseeing most divisions within the organization. Aviv is a founding member of the Oregon Cannabis Association and a member of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission Rules Advisory Committee. He has founded and sold multiple companies in the software and technology sectors.

And yes, there was a legend in the house. KISS icon Gene Simmons spoke at NEXTLive! about what it takes to be successful in any industry. Sharing personal stories from his life, Simmons’s session inspired everyone present. But the two biggest takeaways were pretty simple: Eat well and work a lot. (No news on what effects rock and rolling all night or partying every day may have.)

Finally, congratulations to the winners of this year’s Innovation Battlefield, an all new-format offered where companies had the chance to present their innovative products or services within three niches: Cultivation, Retail & infused, and Technology. California-based hardware/software technology platform Edyza won for Cultivation, biotech and IP development firm Harvest Direct Enterprises (headquartered in Washington State) took home the Retail & Infused honors, and the scalable online training platform BDTNDR, geared toward – you guessed it – the education of budtenders everywhere, scored for Technology.As we continue toward the brave new world that the cannabis industry is opening up, we can’t wait to find out what’s next! For MJBiz, it’s an adventure up North; their global marketplace, MJBizConINT’L, will take place in Toronto August 14-16. For the rest of the globe, the revolution is just beginning!

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