In last week’s seventh annual Cannabis Start-Up Competition at Boston University (BU) in Massachusetts, on the same night Ohio became the 24th state to legalize adult-use cannabis, a stoner-friendly app JoinME took home the grand prize. It enables users to locate and meet up and join with stoners who share the same goals and interests.
Now in its sixth year, the BU alumni-founders behind Green Lion Partners sponsored an annual start-up competition for current BU Terriers and alums who are developing innovative cannabis-adjacent companies. BU Today reports that student- and alumni-led teams pitch their business concepts Shark Tank–style to a panel of judges for a chance to win $10,000 and free consulting services.
After listening to a series of speakers, each team had six minutes to pitch their start-up concept, and judges had six minutes to ask questions. Former judges include Shaleen Title, Kris Kane, and Jaime Lewis.
This year’s winner was JoinME, an app designed to meet and toke up with other stoners, “the brainchild of Marco Rotella and Claudio Bettini,” BU Today reports, who became friends a few years ago attending BU Italian Students Association meetings.
“We are very proud of what we are doing, and hopefully with everybody’s help we are able to develop our idea even more,” Bettini said after accepting the award and the oversized check.
“We’ve put a lot of work into the app so far, and we’re happy it showed tonight,” Rotella added.
“We have identified two main problems: cannabis consumers want and need partners,” Rotella said. “Social consumers have a much lower correlation with psychological side effects, such as social anxiety and agitation.”
Cannabis advocate, author, and local Peter Grinspoon, M.D., tweeted in support of the competition winner on X.
The application period for the competition closed Oct. 8, and the finals took place last week at the Rajen Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences and Engineering at the BU campus.
The event is co-organized and sponsored by Green Lion Partners, a cannabis-industry business strategy firm founded by former BU classmates Jeff Zucker and Mike Bologna. Green Lion Partners is a Denver, Colorado-based business strategy firm focused on early stage development in the regulated cannabis industry.
BU student- or alumni-led ancillary cannabis start-ups are eligible to enter the competition, so long as they don’t touch the cannabis plant.
Zucker said the cannabis industry is built on the “backs of advocates, people fighting against the War on Drugs. So many people have gone to jail over this plant, yet there are these thriving businesses that are being built around it,” he noted. “I always want to [remind] everyone involved how important it is to be involved in advocacy, continue to work to end the War on Drugs, continue to end racially disproportionate enforcement around cannabis. It’s been great to have this platform, and that BU has been supportive of our vision for the industry.”
The Next Steps
Rotella and Bettini plan to set up a university ambassador program and advertise in local smoke shops and dispensaries, BU Today reports. They also plan to monetize their app.
The topic of social equity entered the conversation, something the judges wanted to see in the roster of aspiring start-ups.
“I think you guys had a great presentation and immediate application in terms of what you’re offering,” said Kim Napoli, one of the night’s three judges. Napoli is an industry consultant and advocate, a Massachusetts Cannabis Advisory board member, and chief diversity officer at Soulstar Holdings, LLC. “If I can make one point, it would be to ensure that those pieces of inclusivity and diversity happen, that you hire someone to be the prime accountability position for diversity inclusion within the app and within your company as well.”
The other finalists were software company GreenCloud, developed by Eloise De Jarne; hemp company IPNPC, created by Ziwei Huang, Zhe Huang, and Xingxin Gu; and cannabis delivery service Smoking.com, created by Ethan Davidman and Bradley Magram.
The university is adopting cannabis business with open arms. Boston University defaults to federal law on campus, so cannabis use is illegal on campus, per its drug policy. But rapidly changing laws are pushing the school towards change.
Boston University School of Law Professor Jay Wexler’s new compelling book, Weed Rules (University of California Press, 2023) argues that now cannabis has been legalized in nearly two dozen states, it needs to be normalized.
The university is also involved in medical cannabis research to some degree, while not allowing it on campus. Meanwhile, researchers from Boston University joined other researchers from Brown and the University of Minnesota to find data to suggest that cannabis improves physical activity from people living with HIV.