The Cannabrander: Canopy Case Study: The Branding Advantage of Thought Leadership

By Ben Weinberg

CanopyBoulder is a seed-stage business accelerator, operated under the Canopy parasol in Boulder, Colorado, where it focuses on the legal cannabis space.  It provides capital, a 16-week mentor-driven boot camp, and critical industry knowledge in return for a 6-9.5 percent equity stake in each hand-picked member of every incoming class.  After a three-month program, in which members are groomed to successfully access venture capital, the top three companies in each class also have access to a convertible note to aid in continued growth.

There are now 67 companies in CanopyBoulder’s portfolio, and classes for new entrants start twice each year, in the spring and fall.  In fact, the concept has been so successful that the Canopy accelerator model has expanded its reach to California, which necessitated a change in branding strategy from ‘CanopyBoulder’ to just ‘Canopy.’  “We use the CanopyBoulder and Canopy San Diego designations for the accelerators in those locations,” says Patrick Rea, Canopy’s Founder and CEO, “which allows the Canopy name to be an umbrella for our current and future programs, as well as other organizational branches that we hope to roll out in the future.”

Clearly the company is onto something big, and being a thought leader is a huge part of its up-and-coming brand.

The Front of the House

Rea has a background in natural foods and venture capitalism but moved to legal cannabis in 2013.  “I found a gap between those who wanted to start cannabis-related companies and those who brought lean startup best-practices and financing to the table.  There was clearly a need for a business accelerator specifically designed for this space.”

According to Program Director Mason Levy, the company is dedicated to building outstanding, professional businesses that help move the cannabis industry forward.  “We work with adult-use and medicinally focused firms, and are always looking to add tech plays, data analytics, market research, sales, advertising, and consumption devices to our portfolio.”

The Secret Sauce

Levy, who has a degree in Mechanical Engineering, an MBA, and a blackbelt certification in Lean 6 Sigma methodologies, admits that a portion of CanopyBoulder’s success is due to the Boulder-Denver metro area being the business nexus of and a model for the U.S. cannabis industry.  Business Insider has also named Boulder to its list of the 20 Most Innovative Cities, Atlantic Cities online named it one of the top 15 cities nationwide in attracting venture capital, and over the past five years it has garnered about 33 percent of all venture capital investment in Colorado companies.  Boulder boasts unparalleled scenic beauty, favorable cost of living, a highly educated workforce, a diverse mix of large and small businesses, and a world class university.

But a large part of Canopy’s program is based on process, not locational perks, and to Levy that means being a thought leader in consumer and agricultural technology.  “We focus on what each part of the whole is best at to achieve a greater goal.  What will the cannabis industry look like in 30 years?  That’s where we want to be.”

The company is built around the idea that cannabis is one of the first industries to come to maturity during the information revolution.  While Levy is passionate about empowering individuals in the new economy, at the same time he recognizes that traditional best-practices in branding, marketing, and the like are all still extremely relevant.  “Treating cannabis as a completely different animal means you’re trying too hard, but it’s easy to be excited about the fastest growing industry in the world!”

Rea believes that the core values of a modern economic methodology (transparency, shared profit, and impact investing) are crucial to his company’s brand.  An important consequence is that the decision-making processes of cannabis thought leaders should always be filtered through caring and empathy.  “Technology now exists for consumers to care as much as they want about anything and everything.  That’s why each mentor we connect to our members brings invaluable perspective on starting and growing a business, plus an extensive professional network.  Above all, these relationships are committed to Canopy’s companies, with everyone giving generously of their time and leveraging their experiences for ultimate success.”

Thought Leadership; A Final Word

Canopy focuses on thought leadership as a part of their core methodology.  I would also argue that thought leadership in general is an excellent place to start a brand, particularly in a space that is coming to maturity in the information age


About Ben Weinberg

Ben Weinberg, JD, MBA, the President of Ben Weinberg Consultants, has more than 30 years of experience in harnessing his creativity to tell your company’s story, including strategic and tactical marketing, sales, operational, and administrative consulting for small- and medium-size businesses across diverse industries such as law, medicine, wellness, leisure, and hospitality.