BANDING TOGETHER

Colombia 2020 | HEALTH | INTERVIEW

Clever Leaves' successful merger with Northern Swan, a multinational operator in the legal cannabis industry, has made it the third-largest federally licensed cannabis company in the Western hemisphere.

Kyle Detwiler
BIOGRAPHY

Kyle Detwiler is the CEO of Clever Leaves. Detwiler served as CEO of Northern Swan Holdings prior to the company's integration with Clever Leaves in 2019. Detwiler also co-founded Silver Swan Capital and was also a principal at the Blackstone Group. Detwiler was previously a member of the private equity practice at KKR, focusing on transactions in the oil and gas, energy, natural resources, and healthcare sectors. Detwiler graduated with distinction from Harvard Business School and cum laude from Princeton University.

Clever Leaves merged with Northern Swan. What does this merger mean for the two companies?
The merger is about growing the Clever Leaves brand in Colombia and transforming it into a global brand. Before the merger, Clever Leaves was the largest licensed cannabis producer in Colombia with over 600 employees. Clever Leaves broke down barriers internationally by exporting Colombian-made cannabinoid products to Canada and Europe. At the same time, Northern Swan, the majority owner of Clever Leaves, was active in a number of other cannabis-related segments, including production and distribution in Portugal and Germany, nutraceutical manufacturing in the US, a technology company in Canada, and some initial operations in the UK.

What impact will this merger have on the cannabis industry in Colombia?
We are now the third-largest federally licensed cannabis company in the Western hemisphere and have plans to garner a significant market share in the global market. Clever Leaves is one of the few companies entirely focused on the cannabis market in countries other than Canada and the US, and there are only a handful of companies starting to focus on Europe or Colombia. As a pioneer in Colombia, Clever Leaves also has the capability to become one of the most sophisticated operators in Europe. For the industry, this means Colombian products will be in countries where cannabis is federally legal, including Germany, the largest medical cannabis market in Europe.

How important is Colombia for the company and its global operations?
Colombia represents more than 75% of our workforce and the majority of our pharmaceutical assets. We have a 1.8 million sqft cultivation facility near Bogotá and the only Good Manufacturing Practice-certified cannabis processing facility south of the US. These are important assets as they help position Colombia as a leader in the medical cannabis sector. Moreover, the lessons we have learned in Colombia will be critical for our expansion in Portugal. With two years of large-scale, sustainable cultivation, processing, and regulatory experience, we are also exporting knowledge to our operations in Colombia, Germany, the UK, and the US.

Clever Leaves has invested around USD3 million in pharmaceutical and product development. What other strategic investments do you contemplate for the future?
The company does not generally comment on specific investment opportunities, but we are always looking to expand our global reach. The main thrust of our current investments is around expanding in Colombia; establishing our operations in Portugal, where we own around 9 million sqft of agricultural property; and expanding our importation and distribution capabilities in Germany, where we have already made two investments.

What positive impact has the company had on the communities where it works?
For more than 100 years, cannabinoid therapies have been prohibited by law in many countries, and the potential for those products is slowly just being understood. This was the original reason for including the 'changing lives' part in our three-part mission statement: Cultivate mojo. Create value. Change lives. As we began to scale in Colombia, we recognized the impact of cannabis was even more profound. It was not just about creating a benefit for our potential customers or patients, but also about changing the fabric of the communities in which we operate. Some 70% of our cultivation teams near Pesca and Boyacá are women, and about half of these are single mothers.

What are your projections for 2020 and the beginning of 2021?
We want to develop an ecosystem of 100ha of greenhouse cultivation and matching extraction capabilities. We have also secured a 700-ha outdoor growing plot, which would positively impact our future projections. Additionally, as one of the few companies to have “pre-licensed" operations in Portugal, we hope to achieve full licensing and commercial sales in 2020. Our current focus is less on expanding capacity and more on utilizing our capacity via successfully expanding our global commercialization efforts. With that in mind, we are excited to begin sales in Germany in 2020.