Growing up with an entrepreneurial spirit, Brett Gelfand’s path was straightforward as he finished his senior year at University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business. He followed all the typical career steps, completed the internships and had a job offer lined up in finance consulting.
“I just kept pushing that offer further and further back. I wasn’t sure I wanted to work in that corporate setting,” he said.
Then on a trip with his father to Colorado, it all seemed to fall into place.
“We were staying with one of his friends and we found out that he was buying into a dispensary and was planning on building out a fully integrated cannabis company,” Gelfand said. “When I got home, he called me and asked if I wanted to be his assistant.”
Gelfand packed up the life he had known in Georgia, helped to raise more than $15 million from investment groups, and within six months, they had a 44,000 square-foot grow facility and produced a variety of cannabis products at Colorado Product Services.
“Certainly, being in Georgia, where there’re a lot of more conservative views, I got a lot of weird looks,” he said about moving to Colorado. “People were asking why I would turn down a finance consulting job for this, but I knew it was a long-term play and that the opportunity would be great.”
Gelfand explained that while he did get raised eyebrows from family and friends, “I think they quickly understood how this opportunity was in one of the fastest growing industries in the world.”
The family friend who had recruited him later came down with an illness and could no longer manage the business. With more than 60 employees, CPS needed someone to take the helm.
“The investment partners ended up promoting me to CEO of that company,” Gelfand said. “I was in that position for about six months, but I decided that because I had no ownership in the company and I missed my friends and family, I would come back to Atlanta to start my own business.”
Not satisfied with just one new venture in the constantly expanding industry, Gelfand launched two new businesses when he returned home in March 2017, PAQ Ltd. and CannaBIZ Collects, trying to fill needs in a newly growing field.
“I felt the greatest opportunity was in ancillary cannabis companies,” he said. “I like the phrase, ‘don’t mine for gold when you can sell the shovels.’”
Seeing a future in pre-rolled cannabis, both in the medical and recreational dispensary markets, Gelfand invented the first childproof multi-pack container for pre-rolled cannabis products, PAQ Case.
“They were only selling pre-rolls in single tubes,” he said. “I was like: ‘Why don’t they sell them in multiples and have them packaged and preserved and presented really well?’”
Among the most important features of PAQ Case is its gasket seal, which preserves the product inside, a popular feature with both consumers and growers.
Now working with the top producers in Canada and the U.S., PAQ Case has expanded to cover wide swaths of a growing market.
Jumping headfirst into the world of manufacturing was a challenge for Gelfand, who noted that the time between an invention first being created and when manufacturing begins was a shock for him.
“I was self-employed and without a ton of income, and I had to figure out how to balance it all,” he said. “But today we’re fully operational, … Everything is managed through third-party contractors and I have a certain freedom that comes along with it.”
PAQ Case has been featured in High Times magazine, as one of the hot products for “cannabis consumers.”
Within its first quarter of sales, PAQ is on pace to exceed $1 million, and is on track for $5 million in sales by the end of 2019. It has clients in seven states and Canada. His other venture, CannaBIZ Collects, started with an unlikely partner.
His father was a retired attorney at the time. “My dad knew I was in the industry and he was supportive of it,” Gelfand said. “But when I called him and said I think there’s an opportunity here for you, he totally shut it down. Within about two months, he realized that there’s a big opportunity here.”
Because banking is such a problem in the industry as a result of federal and state laws, a common solution is for dispensaries to extend trade credit to each other, which can lead to some awkward phone calls down the road.
“People were not familiar with the idea of hiring a certain partner to call if you were owed money,” he said. “Relationships are a huge deal in this community and industry. Everyone knows everybody and so people were afraid to use a collections agency.”
Unlike other collections agencies, CannaBIZ Collects cannot accept payment, and in many cases the companies they work with do not have banks or virtual payment.
Since its inception in 2017, CannaBIZ Collects has recouped more than $1.5 million on behalf of more than 300 clients, including some major industry figures.
In terms of a future for the industry, Gelfand says he expects continued growth as has been seen year after year, and his businesses seem to have carved out key roles in that ever-expanding market.