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Dr. Scott Kuzdzal and Melissa Fauth share their stories, challenges, and lessons learned, offering advice to those looking for success in a complex market.
Here, we interview two individuals that made a significant impact moving cannabis science forward. Dr. Scott Kuzdzal of Shimadzu Scientific Instruments and Melissa Fauth of Fritsch USA Milling are early pioneers that helped their companies become successful in the new cannabis market fraught with stigma, misunderstanding, and criticism. In this article, they share their stories, challenges, and lessons learned, but also offer advice to those looking for success in a complex market.
You are recognized by many as a pioneer in the cannabis science industry. Can you please share the story of how you first got involved in cannabis science?
Melissa Fauth: Thank you, being connected to contributing to the cannabis industry has been a personal privilege and unique business opportunity for me. About six years ago, I had begun researching the medicine and scientific momentum in key areas of the US and world. Making connections with several researchers and industry leaders allowed me to learn more. These discussions led to sharing of important goals, challenges, and solutions that would be meaningful contributions to their work. These professionals were tasked with increasing demand for high quality analysis and processing techniques, but were met with a lack of resources to prepare the materials up stream. Working with these folks to identify the most ideal sample preparation instruments through Fritsch led me to find Shimadzu, where I connected with Scott Kuzdzal and was later introduced to you, Josh.
Scott Kuzdzal: In short, it was a team effort. Two expert salespeople at Shimadzu, Paul Winkler and Will Bankert, were selling analytical solutions to cannabis quality control (QC) laboratories and they invited marketing managers to visit laboratories, dispensaries, and grow operations in Oregon. We had an epiphany while visiting Ken Kovash’s (GI GROW) cultivation site and learning about his personalized cannabinomics approach. Our marketing department worked expeditiously to develop materials to support their efforts. We also worked to standardize our product offerings and even simplify interfaces. Our Shimadzu North American Innovation Center and LC Product Group developed the Cannabis Analyzer for Potency to streamline potency analysis. Dr. Bob Clifford applied his expertise in food and consumer markets to guide our efforts, and Maureen Quaranta’s team (our MARCOM Group) created a very strong web and trade show presence in the cannabis market. It has also been tremendously rewarding working with the Cannabis Science Conference as a founding sponsor and exhibitor to identify new applications opportunities and learn different perspectives on the market.
Looking back, there must have been many obstacles and criticisms that you faced for working in a stigmatized and misunderstood market. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them? What inspired you to keep moving forward?
Fauth: While many faced obstacles within their organizations, our German parent company owners were supportive. They were open and willing to consider how our 100 years of experience could contribute to the industry. They trusted in the initiative to support science and education through the Cannabis Science Conference and the leadership behind it. As a newly launched US operation, our budget was limited but we took a leap because of the belief and advocacy of this new conference to connect the world.
The true challenge was the nature of the cannabis material itself. The restrictive nature of cannabis created an inability to perform our internal proof of concept testing, which is done as part of everyday business in the global laboratory. Fritsch Milling and Sizing works extensively- in all industries-with just about any tangible material. Although we had experience in food, pharma, agriculture, and US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) laboratories, the attributes of this plant were truly unique and behaved differently. We had to gain the practical, hands-on experience with our instruments in laboratories and cannabis processing operations. To overcome these challenges, we became creative, developed partnerships, and tested new methods and engineering in the field. In these months and subsequent years to follow, our commitment to cannabis-specific instrument optimizations and continuous improvement has been solidified. Those we have met fuel what we learn through scientific approach in this collaborative, energizing society. I can remember being mesmerized by Dr. Dedi Meiri and his genetic research discussions and then by Tracy Ryan, a mom and pioneer in pediatric cannabis advocacy, and her sweet little girl Sophie-who was excited to show me her blinking shoes as she danced-and so many more. You don’t forget these moments, these real-life stories of strength and determination. The passion for advocacy grows with each new relationship, each personal story of triumph, hardship, overcoming obstacles, and with seeing dedication of those who strive to bring health, wellness, comfort, compassion, and a cure to those most in need. When you can connect with, feel, and see the impact that a business operation can contribute to others-through its strengths-it provides an opportunity for everyone to win and to do it together. It’s doing the right thing, for the right reason, with the right people.
Kuzdzal: There was no shortage of obstacles. The stigma around cannabis was much greater a decade ago, and we had an extremely difficult time developing new applications and refining our products because of the Class I status of cannabis on the Federal Controlled Substances Act. We really had to focus efforts regionally, but share developments globally. Also, cannabis science was a new field that touched on everything from life science, nutraceuticals, food and beverage, clinical, and environmental markets. As such it required much more collaboration and sharing than other emerging markets. There are a lot of companies overselling the capabilities of their products into cannabis science markets, and I believe many of these companies are misleading their customers with deceptive marketing tactics. At Shimadzu we have a much larger portfolio of instruments and we work tirelessly to ensure that our methods are accurate and reliable, and that these methods will make our customers successful.
I am inspired and motivated by cannabis patients. Sophie Ryan, Rylie Maedler, and many, many others have a very special blend of courage and enthusiasm. It is a true honor to know them, as well as to know that laboratory testing and cannabis research ultimately helps all patients.
What advice do you have for others who are still trying to either position their products in the cannabis science market or are struggling to be successful in doing so?
Fauth: You have to be all in, immersed in learning, understanding, committed, and striving to make a difference because it’s part of your mission. There are plenty of companies that will put a label or sticker on their product for industry marketing purposes, but don’t invest in or become connected to making discoveries and advances within it. The sincerity and mission that you follow in this industry are valued when you can deliver beneficial solutions to improve the work of others. Your work, experience, and success will be driven by and connected to all those that you support and reflected by their success with your contributions. Stigma and misinformation still exist, but it’s up to you to educate and drive the advocacy required to advance the resources available to industry professionals.
Kuzdzal: Do not focus on the stigma, focus on the fact that you are helping improve the quality of products available to consumers and patients. Take the time to get connected to the amazing people in the cannabis industry-people like Dr. Sue Sisley, Tracy Ryan, “Amazon” John Easterling, Dr. Dedi Meiri, Dr. Ethan Russo, Reggie Gaudino, Stormy Simon, Bibiana Rojas, Carrie Kirk, Janie Maedler, Ken Kovash, Melissa Fauth, and Jack Henion. Their hearts are in the right place and they have so much experience to share. Also, be patient. If you are in the cannabis industry to make millions of dollars overnight, I wish you luck. Like any industry, fortune favors those with experience, dedication, and drive; those who are willing to overcome setback after setback yet keep moving forward.
Can you share one or two lessons learned along the path to becoming a leader in the cannabis science market?
Fauth: Although it hasn’t been easy, the effort and challenge have been worth it. Mistakes and failures are OK . . . they are hard to experience, but are essential to success. My journey has been, and still is, winding along this path with many folks alongside me. In the end, people make all the difference.
Kuzdzal: I have learned that cannabis science is still in its infancy and cannabis and hemp markets will grow exponentially over the coming years. It is encouraging to see new academic programs devoted to medical cannabis and I believe many incredible breakthroughs lie ahead. Many students training in cannabis science will shape the future of medicine, so please take some time to share your knowledge and experiences with these students. I have also learned that there is a need to move away from “one size fits all” pharmaceutical approaches to more natural, whole plant medicine approaches. We have far too many synthetics in our lives and it is simply time to get back to nature.
Melissa Fauth is President of Fritsch USA Milling. Since 1920, Fritsch has engineered and manufactured milling/grinding systems for agricultural, food, and pharmaceutical applications.
Scott Kuzdzal, PhD, received his doctorate in analytical chemistry from the University of California at Riverside and served as Director of Toxicology and Therapeutic Drug Monitoring at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. He is currently the Vice President of Marketing at Shimadzu Scientific Instruments.
Joshua Crossney is the columnist and editor of “Cannabis Crossroads” and a contributing editor to Cannabis Science and Technology magazine. Crossney is also the president and CEO of CSC Events. Direct correspondence to: Josh@CannabisScienceConference.com
J. Crossney, Cannabis Science and Technology3(4), 32–34 (2020).