Bobrow=WB: What brought you to the cannabis business?
Alan Ridgeway=AR: I was the Research Analyst at a boutique investment bank in Canada when the first medical cannabis companies began to go public in 2014. At first I was skeptical of the benefits of cannabis from a medical perspective but the more I read and researched the subject the more I became a believer in the potential benefits of cannabinoids – especially as pain relievers that could have an impact on reducing the use of opioids. I didn’t begin officially covering the sector until early 2018 and when the Farm Bill passed in late 2018, I decided that the legalization of hemp derived cannabinoids could be a game changer for the wellness community. At the time, I hadn’t yet clued in to the opportunities that would present themselves with CBN but it got me started looking at a number of different business strategies within the hemp industry and that culminated with me leaving Bay Street in October 2019 and co-founding FloraWorks.
I originally trained as a research scientist and spent 10 years pursuing that career choice. I obtained my PhD in Biochemistry from Western University in Canada and went to Harvard Medical School for a postdoctoral fellowship to do research in cancer genetics. After a few years I came to the realization that I wasn’t necessarily cut out for a life at the lab bench and decided to go to business school to get an MBA with the hope of breaking into the finance industry. Luckily for me, that is how it played out and I was hired by RBC Capital Markets in their equity research department working as a junior member of the team covering the healthcare sector. Fourteen years later, I was a senior research analyst covering the cannabis sector and looking to do something new.
WB: Do you have a mentor?
AR: Not one but many. I have been extremely lucky to have had a number of people/mentors/trusted advisors through the years who I looked up to and who were willing to offer advice to me, sometimes whether I wanted to hear it or not.
Did you always want to do what you do today?
AR: That’s an interesting question – I feel the answer is yes but I either didn’t know or hadn’t figured it out until recently. I’ve always been interested in the medical aspects of science and when I worked in the lab I always believed the work we were doing was increasing the basic understanding of some medically important issue whether it be stem cells in grad school or cancer during my postdoc. Then I went into finance and believed I was helping investors understand some highly technical investment opportunities so that they could feel comfortable with the risks of funding companies working on the next medical breakthrough. Now I feel like I’ve co-founded a company on the verge of providing a potential wellness breakthrough with CBN and I’m not on the sidelines anymore providing the background research or commenting on the progress of a management team, I’m directly involved and helping push this project forward. I truly believe this molecule has the potential to be an important wellness product that can help a lot of people and I’m extremely excited to work with the team we have at FloraWorks to bring it to market.
WB: Who inspired you?
AR: My mom, a single mother who moved home to Canada from the US with two boys, ages 5 and 8, to start over after my father left. She was a teacher but hadn’t worked since moving to the U.S. 10 years earlier and so she moved back to where she could work. She had her teaching diploma from teachers college but needed a university degree to move up the pay scale and earn enough money to support our family. So she went back to school in the evenings and summers and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree 2 1/2 years later. She then went on and earned her honours degree 18 months later. My mom would stay up late into the night and sit at the kitchen table to study after having spent the day teaching and raising her kids. Then, when I was 14 she was diagnosed with lymphoma which she successfully fought for 16 years until finally all the new treatment options ran out. She passed away in 2002 but by then had instilled in my brother and I a belief that hard work could overcome a lot of difficult obstacles.
WB: What are your goals in business? Six and twelve month? What about the obstacles? What about stigmas? ( we sort of have this covered in the first round )
AR: To bring products to market that help people live healthier lives. Pretty simple.
In six months I’d like to have a foothold in the market such that early adopters are talking about the benefits of CBN and companies with CPG products on the market are starting to reach out to ask about adding our CBN to their product line up.
By twelve months I’d like the general public to know what CBN is and how it can possibly help them.
The obstacles are largely educational – differentiating the possible benefits of CBN from CBD and the other cannabinoids that are hitting the market so that the consumer doesn’t try CBN for the wrong reason and end up disappointed by the experience.
Hemp derived cannabinoids, like cannabis, will always face certain stigmas in the market. It’s our job to educate the public and increase people’s understanding of the potential health benefits of CBN.
WB: Do you have a favorite food memory? What does your favorite meal look like? Made by whom? (Living or not)
AR: I have a favorite wine memory – I was out for dinner with my brother and my cousin who’s brother-in-law was the sommelier at the restaurant we were at. We were celebrating the launch of a business we had started together and my cousin took pity on the Ridgeway brother’s uneducated palettes and introduced us to California wine by buying a bottle of Shafer Hillside Select and then following it up with a few other top California wines which blew our minds. That was a very memorable and fun evening.
Favorite meal? Easy – steak. I’d start with a caesar salad then move straight into the main course of a bone-in NY Strip cooked medium-rare and served with mushrooms, roasted new potatoes, and grilled asparagus. The wine would be a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Then I’d finish with chocolate mousse for dessert.
WB: What is your passion?
AR: Sports. I loved playing sports as a kid and played on a number of teams in high school and still love to golf and ski. It’s where my competitiveness came from. Nowadays, sports are my escape, following the NFL and NBA, and listening to great sports related podcasts are what I enjoy when I’m relaxing.