Steve Berg is a northern California native with roots in the cannabis culture, who later was able to fuse his skills in finance with a career in an entirely new industry.
He had a background in investment banking on Wall Street and in San Francisco for around 20 years, prior to launching the ArcView Investor Network with Troy Dayton in 2010. There he oversaw the financial activities of 73 cannabis-related ventures and $52 million in funding.
In 2014, shortly after starting his own cannabis investment advisory firm, Steve became the CFO of Denver-based O.PenVape, one of the premier CO2 oil manufacturers in the United States.
What was the deciding factor for you to join the cannabis industry?
After many years of experience as an investment banker, I was seeking a new entrepreneurial challenge that could leverage my skill sets and background. I began to investigate the legal cannabis space, and did some networking to see if there was a need for someone with my experience. I met with Steve DeAngelo of Harborside Health Center, and he introduced me to his colleague, Troy Dayton. We discussed the large amount of investors interested in putting their money to work within the cannabis industry, but they were stalled by a lack of knowledge. There were also an increasing amounts of entrepreneurs interested in creating business plans with aspirations that needed capital. They weren’t exactly sure how to bring these two groups together, so we collectively figured out that the main we needed to do was to start an investor network.
Our goal was to bring companies into the network and prepare for them to eventually pitch their business plans to the investors. We want to help investors understand the growing cannabis industry. The foundation of ArcView Investor Network really served as the catalyst for me transition me from the world of investment banking to the cannabis industry.
How have you seen the cannabis industry change, and what do you think is next?
The market was much smaller 5 years ago. It was not very well established but the industry had a lot of potential. It seemed like public opinion was shifting in favor of legalization. Certainly the “black market” for cannabis was known to be very large, some estimated market worth at tens of billions of dollars. It seemed that the trend towards legalization and increasing public approval was going to shine a light on an already established industry.
My hope is that California will end up with one initiative in 2016 that will be well thought, and something that the people can really get behind.
Read more: Troy Dayton: Changing the Cannabis Industry
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as an entrepreneur?
The best advice I ever received was to work as hard as possible for what you believe in and have something of value to bring to the market. These are two basic principles that you need to have a crack at success.
What do you do to keep up your knowledge on the cannabis industry?
I really try to stay in tune to what major policy groups are reporting, what new initiatives are happening, and what we may be looking forward to in terms of new laws and markets opening up. I read as much press as possible to stay abreast on current events and to see how the industry is shaping up. This helps us bring higher levels creativity and analysis to the way the businesses are developing, which allows us to grow our company further and help ensure that this industry will be a long term success.
If you could tell a skeptic one thing about the cannabis industry to help them change their mind, what would it be?
I would ask them to try for a moment suspend their stereotypes and preconceived notions about the cannabis industry. They should be open to what is happening in this market and throughout the industry. I think one of the most surprising things to people who haven’t taken the time to see what is going on is the level of professionalism and strong beliefs of businesses and operators. The high level of professionalism is remarkable, comparable to the tech boom of the early 1990’s, where businesses thrived on professionalism and proper management.
What do you think is the most important factor affecting the legal cannabis industry?
I would have to say public opinion. Recent polls show overwhelming support for legalization of medical cannabis as well adult-use. According to Gallup Polls, support for medical cannabis legalization is over 80%, and recreational support is up towards 58 percent. Long term change and support is grounded in the court of public opinion, and more and more people are beginning to realize the importance of the plant, the benefit cannabis can bring, and the futility and harm of prohibition. Considering all of this, there is much more favorable view towards cannabis legalization.
Did you expect the cannabis movement to pick up as quickly as it has?
I’ve been in this industry for almost six years. In addition to advancements there have been plenty of challenges and setbacks. I think it’s terrific how much the industry has accelerated in recent times, but the momentum we are seeing now really is a culmination of all the previous obstacles the industry has, and continues to experience. I’m glad advancement seems to be building speed.
How do you think our conversation would go about the “green rush” one year from now?
We will be talking about the likely success of adult-use legalization in more states throughout the country. We have a good sense as to how the political winds are blowing, and there’s a lot of discussion and excitement around it. We will see more movement and action in legalization outside of the United States. It’s easy to miss, but there is a lot happening in South America, the Caribbean, and even Europe. In a year from now, we will be talking about progression and markets opening up throughout the entire world.
What’s something you wish you had known prior to becoming a cannabis entrepreneur?
Understanding the various state and international laws, as well as future initiatives, is absolutely critical to position your product or service, particularly when a business has ambitions to move beyond one locality. Having a strong sense of where we were, where we are at now, and where the industry is going is crucial to improving one’s positioning as a cannabis entrepreneur.
Any additional inspiration you’d like to share with our readers?
Our company motto – “It’s what’s inside that counts.”
This is the perfect description of O.PenVape because it speaks to the high quality of our product. Not only that, it also it speaks to the quality of what is inside of our business as we try to build the industry and bring the benefits of cannabis to as many people as possible. We are working very diligently on our new line of products that we will be introducing in the near future.
We also just closed a few big deals to set up an industrial-scale hemp oil processing facility in Pueblo, Colorado. We have received a very substantial amount of support from the city and county of Pueblo, who granted us $8 million in funds to help develop the business. This unprecedented funding will help stimulate the local economy and will create new jobs within the community. We have some exciting things to come.