Ep #5 - Bringing Beverages To The Cannabis Industry

Bringing Beverages To The Cannabis Industry With Harold Han

This week Eric & Isaac are joined by one of the people leading the way in the cannabis space and more specifically beverages, Dr Harold Han.

Dr. Harold Han is the Founder and Chief Science Officer for Vertosa. Harold specializes in emulsion chemistry for his whole career. He earned his Ph.D. from New York University in emulsifier synthesis and emulsion design. Vertosa specializes in turning oil soluble cannabinoids into water compatible ingredients.

In the cannabis industry, people call Harold “The Happy Chemist”, since he believes cannabis helps deliver happiness and healing to society. 

During the discussion Harold talks about his early years, how he got into the cannabis industry, cannabis beverages and the future they hold within the cannabis space.

Transcription

Bringing Beverages To The Cannabis Industry With Harold Han

Eric:

This is the Roots to Risk Podcast hosted by Eric Schneider, alongside Isaac Bach. Roots to Risk brings you insights, the latest stories, and long form discussions about the cannabis industry. You’ll hear interviews with industry leaders and their perspective on current and future trends, how they’ve built success and what challenges they have faced. Our goal is to facilitate candid conversations and provide informative content for the cannabis community at large. Let’s go. What’s going on, everybody? How we doing? We’re here on the Roots to Risk podcast.

Eric:

I’m with my co-host, Isaac Bach, a k a ib, my guy. How we doing today?

Isaac:

A little aga sorts not being, uh, able to get up on the 12th floor to record this. So, uh, people are gonna get a little insight into the little dungeon you and I working on a day to day basis. So a little bit different view than, uh, what, what we normally have.

Eric:

It’s all good. It’s all good. We improvise, adapt, and overcome. Um, we got an awesome guest on deck, uh, Harold Hahn, Dr. Harold Hahn from osa. Um, I think it’s gonna be a really cool perspective, you know, on the more science side of the plant and, uh, talking about, you know, emulsion and what they’re doing at osa. And just a quick background on Dr. Harold h. He’s the co-founder and chief science officer for osa.

Eric:

Harold specializes in emulsion chemistry for his whole career. He earned his PhD from NYU in emulsifier synthesis and emulsion design. Before founding Bosa, he was a senior scientist in BioRad laboratory leading the emulsion developed for digital droplet PCR system in cannabis industry. People call Harold as the happy chemist, the happy chemist. Apologies since he believes cannabis helps deliver happiness and healing to the society.

Eric:

I love that. I’m super excited to have him on.

Isaac:

Me too. I think, uh, it’s gonna be cool to get the more scientific view of it. You know, obviously he is got some great insights on the business side as well, but it’s gonna be cool to go deeper, dive onto the science aspect of, uh, you know, the beverage category in particular.

Eric:

Totally. Let’s bring them in. Let’s start it up. Great, great, great guest on hand here. Howard Han, uh, co-founder and chief science officer at osa. Um, I’m really excited about this conversation because it’s, you know, a little bit out of the, the norm of what we, you know, tend to think about, uh, in, in the cannabis industry, right. And the different suppliers, um, that are involved in the supply chain. So how, I really appreciate you taking the time and, and excited to, to learn more here.

Eric:

Great.

Howard Han:

Yeah, it’s, it’s really, um, a pleasure to be here. And, uh, I, I have been a scientist, uh, emotion chemist by training for many years. And, uh, now finding my, um, career path of the emotion scale into cannabis is really fortunate.

Eric:

Yeah. And if, if you could just give us a, a quick background on OSA and, and what you guys are doing in this space, just a little bit more about the company we’d love to, to hear. Great.

Howard Han:

So OSA has been, uh, in the business over four and a half years. We, our headquarter is in Berkeley right now, and our main focus is to turn all the olive cannabinoids into water compatible ingredients so that those ingredients can be infused mainly into beverages. And, but any aqueous containing products like gummies or candies we can infuse or cosmetics. Uh, but our main focus right now is beverage. And, uh, our mission is to, you know, unlock the healing power of the canvas plant and make it accessible and approach approachable to all.

Howard Han:

And, uh, we have a small team, you know, around 20 people now, uh, but we are infusing over, uh, one 30 clients within, uh, 15 legal states, including Canada. So, you know, small but powerful team. Um, and, uh, I’m really proud every team member seems to, uh, share the same vision, um, to heal the world with cannabis.

Eric:

No, and that’s, and, and that’s, it’s, it’s so interesting because beverage, I feel like is such a, a new category when you think about it, like the plant holistically, right? Um, and it’s, it’s tremendous because you could properly dose and like I always say, like I, I prefer beverage. Um, I, I’m definitely a big believer because you could properly dose it, and if you have a drink over a, you know, a five milligram drink over a 20 minute period versus taking one hit, right, it’s, it, it hits you very differently.

Eric:

And I, I do think that there is, um, you know, a lot of upside on the beverage side of things, especially, you know, Isaac and I were both from New York. Um, I know, I know you’re from, uh, you went to nyu, correct? I mean, could you imagine New York City had had just beverages?

Isaac:

That’s what I was gonna say. Yeah. I think it’s, uh, the cool thing about beverages. It’s a much more, um, natural thing for people to get involved with rather than smoking or anything else. Like our culture in America and, you know, kind of across the world at this point is very much like beverage focused or having a drink in your hand in a social gathering. So bringing beverages to the canvas industry is huge.

Howard Han:

Exactly. And you, the word, you mentioned culture, right? I feel we have a, a potential to change the culture of how our society social and relax and entertain.

Eric:

Absolutely. And, and, and kind of reverting back, Harold, you know, given your background, you know, what were you doing before the cannabis space? How’d you get into it? And, you know, how how did that Yes. Kind of culminate for you? So,

Howard Han:

Uh, I graduated from nyu, uh, as a, uh, emotion chemist, uh, my whole career focused on emotion, my training study. And then after that I came to the West Coast. Uh, I worked for a company called BioRad Laboratories. And in BioRad, our own division makes this, um, special machine is called Digital Droplet pcr, uh, with Covid, everybody knows PCR who test, you know, give you if you have it or not, but it doesn’t tell you how many covid genes you may have.

Howard Han:

And in some scenarios, understanding how many is important, right? To treat disease. So our digital droplet PCR use emotion technology, we can detect how many genes you have, right? The target genes. So I’ve been there for seven years. Uh, I lead a team of other three, uh, chemists with developed design and produced this emulsification oil. Um, and then, uh, in, in BioRed a coworker, uh, she give me a bank of cannabis and it triggers this whole journey, uh, of myself, uh, the relation with the plant and getting to know the plant and really, uh, <laugh> just making myself believe the plan is here to help the society.

Isaac:

That’s awesome. That’s right.

Eric:

Thank you. <laugh>.

Isaac:

No,

Eric:

So, so like how did come together and, you know, start veria, like wh where were the origins of that?

Howard Han:

So, uh, as a scientist, um, I, I love doing experiments and making motions. You know, that’s my tr training, but I don’t understand the, um, how deep the water is in the cannabis industry. So I do need a partner who is experienced from the industry, and that is my current CEO and business partner, bill Larson. Uh, I met Ben through, uh, gateway, which is his accelerator investing cannabis startup. And then through conversations, Ben and I, we built this rapport and the trust in Shutter, uh, and then Ben became, uh, ver CEO and I became vert cso.

Howard Han:

And from then, uh, we grew our team, uh, organically and grow our technology and our client base. Um, so it has been really exciting four and a half years so far. Um, like I said, operating in 15 states in Canada. Um, it’s just a lot of, a lot of learnings and operation science and just policy and, you know, culture. It’s, uh, it is, it’s such a unique experience for me, for myself.

Isaac:

From your background, I mean, have you noticed any of the cannabinoids being easier to create emotions from than others? Or is it kind of uniform across, I mean, I know they’re all lipid soluble by, by Trag initially, but have, are like, is txc different than CBD in that respect? Um,

Howard Han:

No. Uh, most of the cannabinoids, I would say are closer in their hydrophobicity in terms of making into the motion. Um, yes, so, and there are conversations, like recent conversations regarding, uh, live resin lab, rosin, you know, is not T C C B D plus some terpenes as a whole cocktail. And we have evaluated our method to even make a cannabis drink through, uh, rosin or Rein.

Eric:

That’s awesome. I know, I know Isaac’s not gonna say this, but he has, uh, he has a master’s degree in cannabis science and Therapeutics, so he knows a lot of the ins and outs. And, uh, when did you graduate? I

Isaac:

Graduated last May, but yeah, it’s fun. As much as we learned in that, like those simple things, I’m always curious from people actually working in the industry cuz um, I wouldn’t say that the, uh, water solu ability was something we discussed in great detail about the individual cannabinoids. So honestly, that was more of a personal question, uh, than anything else. <laugh>

Eric:

And, and I, and I think like with beverages, I mean, even from my own like personal experience, there’s, there’s a lot of great products, there’s a lot of, you know, products that are very bitter and, you know, not very water soluble. Like what really separates osa, you know, as, as one of the premier, um, you know, in your, in your specific category.

Howard Han:

Yeah. Um, I think we define ourself as a cannabis company first, and we apply technology to find solutions, for example, bitterness, for example, consistency. But oftentimes we don’t use the solution ourself. We have to work with our supply chain partners either upstream or downstream. So for example, let’s take the bitterness or her viciousness, right? The flavor issue. Um, it’s mainly in the input, right? When we, we have good partner in California who give us high quality when we go to other new states, newer states, right?

Howard Han:

The input quality can vary a lot. And we, the, the readiness can poke through the emotion and come into the beverage. So in order to solve this whole, um, whole issue and create some standards, we need to understand what compounds in a DIS is providing this readiness right? Analytically. And then after that, we need to know how to remove this compound in the extraction process. So you see VER doesn’t touch extraction, but in order to you under, for our clients to have consistent results and for consumers, we need to, you know, work with our partners upstream to figure this out.

Eric:

Got it. And that, and no, and that makes a lot of sense. It’s all about the input in, in high quality product. Obviously yields a, yields a better result. Um, you know, what, what most excites you about the industrial change in, in can beverage? Um,

Howard Han:

I will say, um, two things most excite me, excites me, uh, in a different se market segments. Um, the first is in the, um, metric system. We have seen a lot of new states coming up and within those states, new co-packers and distributors coming, coming online, especially Michigan, New York, uh, because beverage you can’t make yourself, it has to be working with so many different parts of the supply chain. So that, that is very exciting.

Howard Han:

Um, more people, more consumer is gonna have access of cans average through dispensaries. Another, another sector that is really exciting is, uh, coming from Minnesota and we know Minnesota hemp deny, uh, especially for low dose beverage is becoming a new trend, right? Um, so our team look at this, uh, state very closely because for me, um, I’m really curious about, you know, because Minnesota, we know consumer there, love alcoholic beverage, right?

Howard Han:

Either beer or or liquor. And I’m really curious to know how does lodos beverage change consumer’s habit? Do they really like it? You know, do they reduce drinking alcohol? Um, if not, why not? Right? So, and also the producers of those low, those infused beverage are, uh, 20 year, 30 year old experienced breweries, right? Co-packers. And they may have much higher standards compared to some other co-packers in cannabis space.

Howard Han:

And the product is maybe distributed by, uh, you know, alcohol distributors. So this all feels like, uh, a legalization already happened in that states. So I’m really excited to see, uh, through the states as a testing stone, uh, to tell, uh, our future.

Isaac:

Has there been any like, initial feedback from, you know, other states and even, you know, more legacy states like California and Colorado on what flavor profiles are across the, you know, beverage category? Like, have you guys seen through your partners certain flavors or selling better than others or, you know, kind of terpene breakouts or anything like that?

Howard Han:

Yeah, um, I, I think, um, one in Canada, the number one skew of beverage, uh, I think is still, uh, collective arts, orange soda. Um, and I believe there are something to it that orange flavor remind reminds us of our youth, right? When we drink this orange soda. Um, but there, the flavor side, uh, I don’t know if any single flavor is overpowering others. Um, but on the terpene side, um, that’s a little different.

Howard Han:

A lot of brands, uh, don’t want to taste terpene or wheaty at all, right? Zero, uh, but there are brands coming up they wanna highlights, uh, those, uh, flavors. So I see two spectrums coming up.

Isaac:

It’s funny cuz Eric and I have talked about it, it’s kind of similar with alcohol. You do kinda like having the, the taste of alcohol that reminds you what you’re drinking. Some of the, uh, cannabis beverages, you can kick yourself in trouble pretty quickly without having any reminder of what’s in there. Exactly.

Howard Han:

Especially high dose if you make the high dose taste really good. Yeah. You may just wanna chuck it

Eric:

From, from your perspective, Harold, like beverage, you know, when, when you joined, uh, OSA, you know, four and a half years ago compared to today, what are some, you know, like monumental, like changes or, or stepping stones that you’ve taken, you know, over the past four and a half years from, you know, where you initially started to, to where the category is today?

Howard Han:

Well, uh, milestones, um, couple of the big milestones in my mind is when we start the first year, there is a big crisis. Not crisis, but people want to go to cook to go use cans, but, uh, because the s scaling issue, potency get lost in a can and people has to use bottles, that’s, this is like four years ago. And I think ver we work with our, uh, packaging partners. We, we, we did multiple rounds of testing and figured out, you know, which emotion formula is best for stability in the camp.

Howard Han:

Uh, so that’s, that’s the first thing. So we convert a lot of clients back to the camp for economic, uh, is, uh, benefits another, um, milestone. There are a lot of milestones, uh, <laugh>, but another milestone is seeing new states coming up. Like, uh, especially Canada is our first expansion out of California.

Howard Han:

Uh, and uh, back then nearly two and a half years ago, we don’t know how Canada Canadian market will be looking like, especially Canada, uh, beverage. Um, but I think we made the right decision. We did the expansion and um, now the Canadian market, uh, especially beverage seems to be really booming. Consumer love it and consumer keep buying it, right? And there are many more brands coming online in Canada. So market expansion is really exciting and, uh, seeing, and, and for us, we copy the successful learnings from Canada and paste it into, uh, expanding into other states.

Howard Han:

So that has been really, uh, good, uh, lesson for us right. To learn. Um, so other than that, on the science side, you know, I start to see more people doing the PK study of the beverage, right? Doing, um, the formulation of the beverage to design for a certain experience. Um, but I think those are the initiatives are starting or we haven’t seen it mature yet, but, um, that’s just the process we have to go through.

Eric:

Very cool. Are there, are there any other like cool and exciting research that you’re also involved in?

Howard Han:

Yeah, uh, so we, we always believe we can’t do all by ourself, so we have to leverage other our partners, uh, resource. So, uh, one of the big resources universities and I, for one is really excited talking about talking with professors to do tests on the benefits cannabis can bring us. And, uh, throughout conversation with five or 10 universities, we are currently working with two universities.

Howard Han:

Uh, one is purpose David Seller from University of UMass Amherst. Uh, for this study we are studying some, uh, pk, uh, in the gummy versus, uh, emotion gummy versus dys gummy for C B G, and also with high fat food, with no food, with low fat food. There’s a, it is a complex, uh, PK study. Um, and, and that’s very exciting to see the results there. Another study we are having right now is with, uh, Dr. Hong Ma, uh, from University of Rhode Island.

Howard Han:

Uh, so Dr. Ma is focusing on skincare. Um, so we are studying all this bulk ingredient of cannabinoids. And when we emulsify them into one emotion formula and second emotion formula, all of the three categories, how do they affect the skin, uh, pigment, how do they affect the skin aging process? So, uh, those, this is a fundamental research could be a far away from a, a final product, but, you know, getting the foundation build up and see how the data looks like in general, I think it’s very exciting.

Isaac:

Has there been any like, initial data findings in either of those studies that have, you know, really piqued your guys’ interest? Or is it just kind of a too early to tell? Still right

Howard Han:

Now it’s too early to tell. Uh, both projects are still not published. Um, and, uh, I’m still working actively with the two professors. Um, okay, what are the data, look what, what kind of story, you know, the data is telling us. Yeah, stay tuned.

Eric:

Love. That makes sense. Is there, are there any other product categories that, you know, you had mentioned obviously ver you know, really focuses on beverage right now, mentioned skincare, topicals. Are there any other product categories that you’d think where, you know, you may delve into and, and you know, em, emotion is, is a needed?

Howard Han:

There? There definitely is. Uh, uh, for example, gummies, edibles, uh, we have proved, uh, that our emotion can increase the gummy onset, um, by the blood picket data. Uh, however, you know, with the lean team right now, I think is responsible for us to focus our energy into one category that is beverage right now. Uh, so even, even in this sector, we haven’t, uh, complete, we haven’t complete all the tasks that we want to do.

Howard Han:

Um, for example, um, we focus on emotion, but when you transfer the emotion to the downstream co-manufacturers to make the beverage, there are pitfalls. There are, you know, things that even experienced co-packers don’t know because you’re making cannabis beverage rather than just a simple soda, right? So right now our team is working actively with all our key co-packer partners and come up with the, uh, cannabis beverage manufacturing handbook.

Howard Han:

So the handbook will essentially contain, you know, how you measure emotion, how you introduce emotion to the tank, how you weigh, you know, how, what’s the calculation of emotion, uh, how you do rd, how you control do so, you know, with that I feel those are the things that can very sector still needs to mature and to level up as a whole.

Isaac:

Yeah, I have to imagine the, the degradation issue of the cannabinoids was a major, major hurdle early on and is still kind of, uh, causing problems with some of the co-packers now. Exactly.

Howard Han:

So, and to tackle those issues is involving, uh, OSA as emotion provider involving, uh, input provider and mainly involving the cannabis beverage manufacturers. So we, we kind of, and also labs, testing labs is a big key factor too. And we ber you know, for our clients and to be successful, for consumers to put trust into the sector, we need to kind of, uh, <laugh> combine everybody and unit everybody to find solutions together.

Eric:

Very cool. Isaac, I’m gonna, I’m gonna hand it over to you to, to go through the next segment and, uh, go through some, you know, some challenges and, and also just, uh, a few additional questions and, and we’ll get this wrapped

Isaac:

Up. Yeah, for sure. Harold, I think you, you kind of touched on maybe one of them, but, um, yo, what’s been kind of the biggest learning experience that you and the team have had? Um, you know, how do you, how’d you attack it? You know, how help you guys move forward?

Howard Han:

The biggest learning, uh, in cannabis startup is embrace change and always be ready for change. Um, you know, this applies to any industry, right? To any company. Um, but especially for us because a layer of complexity is the regulation, right? Um, the uncertainties. Um, and we are so in the so infancy step and, uh, compared to ex existing industries, um, we don’t have prior art to compare to <laugh> examples to learn from.

Howard Han:

So, uh, ex experiment feel quickly and embrace change.

Isaac:

I love that. Yeah. The fail quickly thing is, uh, definitely a good motto that people should, uh, embrace a little bit more. Cuz you can’t really learn if you’re doing everything right all the time. So it is, it is good to learn from mistakes quickly. Um, but la last two, you know, kind of quick fun questions. You know, what’s, uh, what’s on the top of your Spotify or, uh, apple Music playlist these days? What’s, uh, what’s getting you going in the morning? Oh,

Howard Han:

Um, well I I love the, uh, the band called Big Wild. Um, they give me, uh, inspirations okay. And their music, uh, you know, push me to, uh, in, into the zone that, you know, I just imagine and just relax. So I, I like those kind of music.

Isaac:

You, you got a favorite song from them or just kind of universally across their, their albums? Um,

Howard Han:

I often play when I get there and I often when some plays, okay. I often wanna replace the eye with we, when we get there for the whole industry, when we, when we get there, consumer gonna love it. You’re gonna change the culture, we’re gonna make society better, you know, we get there.

Isaac:

<laugh>. I love that. I I love that too. Yeah. Sounds very upbeat and definitely something, uh, we need guys in industry right now. Um, and then final one is, you know, what’s uh, what’s kind of the number one book or podcast that you know, you’ve turned back to multiple times you think everyone should kind of listen to or read? Um, you know, any recommendation? I think we’re building quite a book slash podcast list here with our guests these days. <laugh>?

Howard Han:

Yeah. Number one book I go back to. Um,

Howard Han:

I I think, uh, good, good to Great is a great book and it is worth going back to couple times. Another book I like is start with why I think start with why also is really set a tone for, um, because when we, when we were told start to make a decision, do we need to do this or do we need to do that when we go back to start, why, why you do this in the beginning, right? So for example, um, our mission is heating, right?

Howard Han:

Provide the, he unlock the healing power of the plant and make it approachable to all. So people ask me, can you do uh, fish oil? Can you also fish? I think we can, but does fish oil heal people? Yeah, it may, right? But I’m not so buy in with that. So, uh, with after you set the foundation, it’s very easy to make business decisions. So, uh, I think start with why always draw us back to our origin of, uh, mission.

Isaac:

I love that. Yeah. I think, you know, finding your why is one of the most important things people should do and kind of forget to do throughout the process. Um, cuz they’re so focused on the end goal. So sounds like another good book. I might just have to read every book we get recommended on here, so it’s good. It’s gonna be a long list, but, um, I’ll never read

Howard Han:

Book. The, the two book I recommend is short

Eric:

In Harold.

Howard Han:

It’s good. Is small book <laugh>.

Isaac:

Love it. <laugh>.

Eric:

No, and, and Harold, like, I, I really appreciate a, about, you know, what you’re saying is that, you know, that there’s a lot of applications to what you do at osa, but sticking with beverage and, and understanding that’s our goal and that’s what we wanna work on right now, right? Because I think a lot of times, and you know, even with us and, and just business in general and obviously the cannabis industry, sometimes when you try to do too much and you try to be the master of everything, you’re the master of nothing.

Eric:

Right? And I think, um, it, it’s really cool what you’re doing and, and trying to focus on building the, the beverage category, which I think, you know, me personally has tremendous upside. Um, and as more markets come online as it continues to normalize, I think it’s a very approachable way with people that don’t have a ton of experience with cannabis can get into it.

Eric:

Right. You know, I know like for instance, my wife, she doesn’t really like to smoke a few bad experiences, but she’ll have a, you know, a beverage cuz it’s low dose, approachable, you know, what you’re getting. So, um, I really appreciate the, the insight and it’s, it’s really cool to get your understanding and your perspective on the science side. Um, and it’s just very interesting the, the backgrounds of of guests that we have on, on this podcast. It’s investors, scientists, um, you know, marketing gurus and, and so there’s, uh, it was a really cool perspective and I I appreciate you taking the time today.

Eric:

Yeah, thank

Isaac:

You Harold. I,

Howard Han:

I really enjoyed the talk.

Eric:

That was an awesome session ib. I, I think it was really unique, a different perspective that we, we don’t traditionally get, um, and haven’t had on on the podcast yet.

Isaac:

No, I agree completely. It’s, uh, definitely great to get the, the scientific viewing, uh, enig on to what they’re building. It’s, it’s funny that you, you threw up my MS when we had, we definitely had one scientist on the podcast. I don’t think there were two for sure. But, uh,

Eric:

I had to give, I had to give you some credit cause I know you weren’t gonna bring it up on your own. You started asking questions that flew above my head, so, um, I had had to drop that,

Isaac:

You know, had to, had to make use of it somehow. Right.

Eric:

<laugh>, <laugh>, there’s no doubt. But, um, no, I I it sounds like Osa you know, from where they started five years ago to where they’re at today, it’s, you know, tremendous in in the growth that they’ve had. And I love that, you know, they stick to, to what they know, right? And they’re, they’re very keen and focused on beverage and really perfecting that category and not straying away from their ethos and strategy, which, uh, in this industry is, you know, we see it a lot, right?

Eric:

There’s, there’s a lot of different applications that you can, um, administer cannabis, right? And I think, you know, sometimes when you’re the master of one thing, it’s, it’s better than trying to be the master of everything.

Isaac:

No, for sharing. I think, uh, you know, they’re doing a good job of not chasing any shiny objects and really leaning into what their main focus has been. And sounds like it’s gonna continue to be for a while. Although I’m excited to hear about what the findings are, those two stubies they’re conducting.

Eric:

Maybe we’ll have to have Harold back on and uh, and give us an update.

Isaac:

We love that.

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