The cannabis space is full of innovation. As an emerging industry evolving at a breakneck pace, the market is primed for new ideas.
Kirsten Velasco is a plant medicine advocate, author, supporter of fellow women in cannabis, and inventor of the VapeNprop, a slick and useful tool for keeping vape pens secure and intact. As a long-time steward of the cannabis plant, Kirsten has a unique perspective on the space. Her invention appeals to consumers and brands alike, who can make custom VapeNprops for marketing and swag bags.
Kirsten shares her roller coaster journey in cannabis, discusses the highs and lows of innovation in cannabis, and offers her advice to budding inventors in this Cannabis Community College Q&A.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE CANNABIS SPACE?
My personal journey to the cannabis space began at age 13 in 1978, with consuming, then arrests of family members and me, followed by shame-filled decades of clandestine use.
In May of 2013, my niece explained that Illinois was about to sign a medical cannabis law. She had been struggling for years with chronic illness while advocating for legal access. I needed to do everything I could to alleviate and appreciate all of the struggles and suffering that our advocates contributed.
I studied cannabis which healed my shame. I trained for public speaking at my local Toastmasters club and boldly pursued my intentions to publicly educate on cannabis and the Illinois “Compassionate Care Act.” I did that by: a) joining and being active in cannabis advocacy organizations and b) sending out hundreds of presentation proposal requests to managed care, healthcare, social service, public libraries, etc.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST EXCITING THINGS ABOUT BUILDING INNOVATION IN CANNABIS?
Innovating in cannabis is dazzling and dynamic, with odds like a Vegas casino. It’s dramatic to see brands come and go, titans rise and crumble. The allure is irresistible.
Innovation means doing something new that no one knows about or understands. If you bring every component together with more than a little luck, you will be able to endure the drama of your endeavor and improve those casino odds.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU’VE FACED?
The biggest challenge has been finding my space in the industry. I thought if I showed up and tried really hard, someone would notice and think I was valuable enough to join their organization. That. Did. Not. Happen. As an innovator, I was doing things that were outside their bandwidth. My accomplishments with media, content, education, and advocacy had no track record of assessed value. Experience with non-traditional cannabis marketing was not identified as equal to a degree in marketing (which I don’t have).
My new challenge is illustrating the fun and function of VapeNprop. It’s a hit with women and vapers in a male-dominated space. Women want VapeNprop, and men want to “borrow” their VapeNprop when they realize how cool it is.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE VAPENPROP?
As an advocate, it was my duty to travel to Colorado to do “research.” When I hit my O.penVape, my worries of smelling like weed were over! Nirvana! However, every type of cannabis consumption has its little downsides, including cannabis vapes. The oil is thicker than nicotine vapes. If not fully upright, the oil will clog, leak, and stick to the side of the cartridge (away from the heating element).
I’ve invented, created, and designed many times, so I learned 3D design in 2015 to solve that problem. Not long after, VapeNprop was born.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR NEW INVENTORS AND ENTREPRENEURS ENTERING CANNABIS?
Network. Network. Network. Join organizations and show up.
Do not go into debt. The cannabis market is too volatile to rely on it for quick success that would pay dividends to investors. The internet and social media identify niche markets, so you can be very effective in identifying specific valuable relationships.
Be absolutely brutally honest with yourself about the risks and likelihood of success.
You must gain a brand identity and awareness. You must be able to widely distribute your innovations, services, expertise, and products.
You must have reliable production and delivery processes. You must be able to scale 10X when the opportunity strikes.
You may be inhibited by the threat of someone stealing your idea, but you can’t sell an idea no one knows about. A thief still has to invest in bringing your idea to fruition before you do.
Patents (intellectual property) can be initiated by yourself online. Then you have one year to shift from provisional patent status to filing a finished application with a patent attorney. WARNING: Patents are pretty useless.
Your innovation is a seed in the new field of cannabis. The best location, conditions, and timing are not enough. Your innovation needs to address the vulnerabilities of existing cannabis entities which will help them grow and, in turn, protect you from storms, while plenty of sunlight (awareness) creates strategically deep roots resulting in abundant fruit.