Cannabis Insider: Oakland's Leviathan Building Becomes a Hub for Silicon Valley Cannabis Startups

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A local marijuana reporter's field notes and gossip from the intersection of pot, money, and power in the epicentral San Francisco Bay Area.


SCENE

Gateway founders Carter Laren (left) and Ben Larson, at the company's VIP launch event at Oakland's Leviathan Building. (Photo: Jennifer Leahy)

The New Gateway Theory

Silicon Valley elites are promising to super-charge the multibillion-dollar legal cannabis industry in 2016, starting in places like the Leviathan Building in Jack London Square.

The towering, angular, nautical-themed structure roared on Dec. 4 with a VIP Swinging Speakeasy mixer to launch Gateway, a new marijuana business incubator.

Set to a jazzy soundtrack, a wintery mix of banker vests, accountant sweaters, designer jeans, and shiny, thick-heeled shoes enjoyed free bottles of beer and cocktails. More than 120 of Oakland's professional cannabis class was invited, including Oaksterdam University chancellor Dale Sky Jones and her husband, Jeff Jones, as well as leading attorney James Anthony. Also spotted was Rotten Tomatoes cofounder Patrick Lee.

At the biggest tech companies, the word “marijuana" makes executive legal teams break out in hives, but “cannabis" is quite popular among rank-and-file developers, founders, and vested ex-employees who've exited with millions dollars, says Carter Laren, a director and mentor of the Founder Institute and cofounder of Gateway, along with entrepreneur-evangelist Ben Larson. The two are bringing the incubator concept to Oakland's Leviathan Building, the former home of Peter Thiel's far-out Seasteading Institute.

Gateway headquarters in Oakland (Photo: David Downs)

“Entrepreneurs reach out to me that I would have never thought to contact," said Laren. “Slowly, the tide is turning."

Folks from places like Google, Oracle, and Sun, down through Electronic Arts and Blizzard, are sailing across the Bay, said John Downs, managing director of MJIC, a private cannabis holding company and Gateway partner.

“For each of us coming to the industry, there's a moment when you look in the mirror and go, 'There's no going back. It's going to affect everything I do.' It's always going to be a part of the headline. And every time somebody takes a step forward and says that they're participating in this industry for the right reasons, it makes it easier for the next person."

Gateway reported 30 applications in the first few days of launching. Companies will get $30,000 in seed money for a six percent equity stake. Incubation begins in Spring.

TASTED

Organicann's High Life package series includes celebrity-branded strains such as Margaret Cho-G. (Courtesy of Organicann)

Hot Trend: Human Curation

With the Cambrian-esque explosion of medical cannabis products nowadays comes a new problem: that of discovery and curation. Algorithms may one day pick your bud. Until then, cannabis companies are getting on the box bandwagon, packaging strains for delivery and gifts.

The Guild's Box of Jane curated medical cannabis packages run $125 box each and are delivered to your door in the Bay Area with a mix of hot new strains like Dosido, a divine Patients' Choice contender, and OGKB; classics like Candy Jack; extracts such as Animal Cookies Wax; pre-ground flowers for your PAX2 or joints; topical salves; and unique edibles including infused potato chips or bubble gum. It's all lab-tested by CB Labs in Novato, and tuned to your level of experience and dietary restrictions (i.e. vegan, gluten-free, chocaholic—whatever's your bag, baby).

Other hot boxes: Organicann's High Life packages offer celebrity-branded strains with accoutrements like a lighter and chillum. You might try the Margaret Cho-G, an indica dominant strain whose flavor is "sweet and tangy with a pleasantly peppery finish."

SMELLED

House flipping is so 2008. Dispensary flipping is more on-trend. A company called Harvest is raising funds to purchase underperforming dispensaries and refurbish them for maximum profit. The first Harvest project in the legendarily trashy Hemp Center on Geary Blvd. is set to open with a new, European-style interior design in January. Harvest's rich Bay Area developers are also tied to upgrades at the long-natty Bernal Heights Collective and the renovated Urban Pharm in SOMA, reports indicate.

CALENDAR

On January 24th, The Brownie Mary Democratic Club of Alameda—voted the 2015 Club of the Year by the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee—will throw its first Pot Bowl benefit. Judges packs will be made available on January 6th.

Contact Cannabis Insider's Herb Caine with event announcements, tips, notes, and rumors at highsociety@7x7.com. Herb Caine is a pseudonym for Bay Area cannabis reporter David Downs—a columnist, editor, and best-selling author, with The Medical Marijuana Guide Book (Whitman) coming out in 2016.

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