Let me tell you about Ben Larson, or better yet, I want Ben Larson to speak for himself. And what an opportunity I had to crawl inside Ben’s head, even for a short while.
Interviewing someone as busy as Ben Larson can be a problematic adventure. But with the help of brilliant overseers, I could capture what I believe is Ben Larson unbounded by your typical corporate double-speak messages. After all, I have a deep interest in what Ben does for Vertosa. Ben has achieved a certain level of nirvana working in weed. Being able to share his passion for the plant with fervent entrepreneurs who have dreams but not necessarily the ability to harness THC-based technology, Ben has brought boundless enthusiasm into this nascent space. What Ben is talented at doing is a thing of dreams. He should know that deep in his heart, as he has achieved amazing things by being a deeply talented entrepreneur in the nano-technology space.
Ben is doing what others can only imagine doing. His deep passion for the plant is evident in his ability to capture the essence of cannabis alchemy. To me, he has truly woven straw into gold.
The things I’ve tasted spun out of the minds at Vertosa are nothing short of brilliant.
Thank you, Ben, for listening to my dreams and helping me achieve drinkklaus.com.
WB: Please tell me about yourself. Where are you from? Where are you living now? Tell me about Vertosa. Where did the name come from?
Ben Larson: I was born and raised in Northern California – setting aside a brief high school career in Utah. After graduating from CalPoly, San Luis Obispo, with a Civil Engineering degree, I spent the first six years of my career as a professional engineer working in the transportation planning and engineering sector. Having moved to the Bay Area and immersing myself in the Silicon Valley community and culture, it wasn’t long before I took the leap of faith into tech startups. Like a true, ill-advised leap where I abandoned my professional license and cashed out my 401K.
While I never did prove myself as a successful tech startup founder – I had my fair share of tries – I did discover my love of the creation phase and the startup community-building aspect. After managing global operations for Founder Institute, mentoring many early-stage founders, and directing programs around the Bay Area and beyond, I decided to take my expertise and passion to the cannabis industry where my business partner and I launched California’s first cannabis startup incubator, fund, and co-working space, Gateway. It was here where I had the opportunity to earn my place in the California cannabis community, was educated on the history of cannabis, and discovered my purpose and responsibility in the movement.
I’ve since settled with my wife and two kids in the East Bay in the City of Walnut Creek, where we’ve called home for the past six years.
I met my co-founder, Dr. Harold Han, while I was investigating infusion technology opportunities in the cannabis space back in 2017. He was just starting to explore the industry and had an infectious curiosity, remarkable humility, and the perfect expertise to fill a void we were observing in the market. Sometime between Harold developing the first prototypes that would eventually become the core offering of Vertosa and the structuring of the business, I discovered I was destined to be back on the operating side of the industry.
Not only did I know that the industry needed reliable technology to create the next generation of infused products, I knew this industry needed a reliable B2B manufacturing partner that infused trust into an otherwise challenging supply chain. We also knew that this industry deserved a company that strived to be the best place to work and walked the talk when it came to building a corporate culture that resembled the ideals that we all sought for this industry. This is what we’ve focused on building over the past four years at Vertosa: superior, proven ingredients, building trust with our partners and the industry at large, and creating the best company culture this industry has seen.
Now, we haven’t always been called Vertosa. We were actually called Nanogen for the first year of business. It was a great starting point as it screamed science and built a great deal of trust, but as we built relationships with more mainstream natural products companies, we knew we would have to rebrand.
The name Vertosa speaks to who we are and the promise we deliver. VERT speaks to both green and truth – in line with our roots in cannabis and dedication to being the best partners to our customers. OSA, Spanish for the female bear, portrays our strength and proud California roots, with an important nod to the power of the female cannabis plant. Vertosa – not too dissimilar from virtuoso – was intended to be the trusted expert that walks the line between plant and science, commerce and medicine, and business and consumers.
WB: What are your six and twelve-month goals? What obstacles do you face? How do you anticipate removing those obstacles?
Ben Larson: For many in the cannabis sector and beyond, the next 6-12 months are all about survival. We know that great companies are born and proven in challenging markets. Those that learn to navigate these waters will have the opportunity to ride the next wave to success. We’ve had great momentum thus far, so I’ve asked our team to give themselves the permission to not only believe that we will survive but that we have the opportunity to thrive in today’s environment.
What does thriving look like? Well, we will continue to create market-leading ingredients that provide the foundation for the fast-acting, infused product category. We believe that all infused products in the future will be fast-acting. It’ll be table stakes. Fast-acting everything.
We have recently launched our private label offering, where we are helping companies map out their future product releases and designing the products that are leveraging our ingredients. Not all brands need this assistance, but not only do we have the greatest knowledge of our products and how to apply them. We’ve amassed a great brain trust internally with professionals that worked at the likes of Mondelez, Constellation Brands, and McCormick.
Finally, we’re striving to continue the expansion of our global platform that allows brands who work with us to access the same reliable ingredients and services in many markets around North America. While we’re headquartered in California, we’re very active in Canada, Nevada, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Maine, and several other states. The goal is to be a multistate B2B platform that enables brands to grow their total addressable market with ease.
WB: When did you discover cannabis? How old were you? Why cannabis?
Ben Larson: I discovered cannabis when I entered college, but it definitely wasn’t love at first sight. Like many, I chose alcohol in college, or I suppose it chose me. Not saying it was a great choice; that’s just the culture of much of collegiate America.
I rediscovered cannabis when I was at Founder Institute, and people began inviting me to coach cannabis startups and judge cannabis pitch competitions. I remember attending Weed Club’s 420 Pitch Competition back in 2015, where I met many of the OGs still around today. There was so much passion and enthusiasm in the room, but also a lot of really— let’s just say, raw talent. The community needed help—professionalizing— and the ability to speak investor language. This was my entry point. It was my passion for helping people realize their ideas while building supportive entrepreneurial ecosystems that really allowed me to see an opportunity to create value. That was the genesis for Gateway.
However, why I stayed goes much deeper. I became a student of the plant and the movement: the history, the politics, the false stigma, the drug war, all of it. I saw the immense amount of good this plant could bring society and so many wrongs that needed to be made right. I’ve always had a little bit of vigilantism coursing through my veins, and this was a way for me to dedicate my career to it. For the past seven years, I’ve been hell-bent on building up the community around me, being a voice for those unheard, creating opportunities for others as I create them for myself, and ensuring that we all get to benefit from the rising tide.
WB: Do you cook? If so, what is your favorite thing to prepare? Favorite restaurant? Where?
Ben Larson: I love to cook. My wife certainly does the majority of cooking when it comes to feeding the family, but given the privilege of time and freedom of thought, I absolutely love getting lost in the preparation of a meal. Perfecting my art around preparing challenging cuts of meat, like racks of lamb or lamb loin chops, and then creating the perfect sauce to pair it with is probably where I get the most joy, but I really love cooking just about anything. I mean, have you ever had the joy of turning spaghetti squash into actual spaghetti? It’s so awesome and easy. Most of the time, I just love the challenge of creating something from nothing or whatever we have in the pantry and fridge. Finding creative ways to cook vegetables or preparing an unlikely main is where my creativity really gets to show. When I hear someone say, “we don’t have anything to eat,” it’s like a Bat-Signal for me, and I find myself springing into action while saying, “au contraire.”
WB: What is your passion?
Ben Larson: My passion is for helping people manifest their dreams. From the time I was a kid, I always had a lot of ideas but didn’t always see the path forward. My life experiences have allowed me to discover those paths, and I find great joy in lending those learnings to others and helping them see their dreams come to fruition. And in the event I don’t know the path, which is often, I think I make a great companion in the entrepreneurial journey. There is no greater joy for me. I’ve done this for the past decade by working with early-stage startups and now get to continue it every day through the work we do at Vertosa and the hundreds of brands and partners we work with in the space.