Speropharm grows cannabis in Switzerland (read the country report here) to order, for a specific client’s requirements. What makes an economist decide to enter the cannabis market? What problems does he encounter and how does he solve them? What will happen moving forward and what role does seed to sale software play in his success? Cannavigia client and Speropharm CEO, Thomas Stalder, talks to us and explains what it needs to grow cannabis in Switzerland.
What is your background?
I’m an economist and did a couple of courses about finance, so I’m from the economical side. I’m not a grower, I’m not a horticulturist, so I have nothing to do with plants. I started my own company when I was 25 concentrating on commercial real estate – big industrial properties, re-development, finding tenants, fit-for-sale and flipping buildings. Then I started concentrating on special properties like developing data centers and cannabis facilities. I acquired a building and a potential tenant came and presented his business plan for growing cannabis there. I was so impressed with the potential. At the same time I was suffering from insomnia and started taking CBD oil which worked very well for me. I started my own small production and then almost three years ago I started researching the medical cannabis market – the GACP, GMP, the whole ecosystem around it. Eighteen months ago the owners of Speropharm approached me to run the company. I thought about it for three days and decided to do it. So, here I am.
How does the structure of the company work?
We only produce flowers. We have a stand-alone building, everything happens under one roof and we have no intention to do anything else. In March this year we received GACP certification. We are now converting from CBD flowers to high THC medical cannabis. We are a small team, only nine people and we have two major shareholders who hold the majority of the company.
Why did you choose to grow in Switzerland?
The political stability is the first thing that’s important to us. When there’s a new government, things don’t change dramatically. Secondly, Switzerland is known all over the world for producing high quality, professionalism and expert knowledge. The black market for growing has also happened here for a long time which means that the knowledge on how to grow is here and the people are available.
How easy or difficult is it to get into the market?
It is very difficult. Finding the property, put some tables and lighting in – that part is easy. But to structure the company as reliable and professional and all the other puzzle pieces that needs to be brought together, takes time. It’s not only the growing part, it’s also the economical part, the rules and regulations and connecting the pharma know-how with the whole chain of command. After you have set it up, you have to live it – follow the SOPs, follow the internal guidelines and this becomes very complicated. Motivating everybody around you is also important. Everybody needs to understand their role and where we are going, why we are doing certain things.
What specific problems do you face with cultivation and production?
The problems we face are unstable genetics. A couple of years ago they imported the first CBD dominant strain and that got crossed so many times that we now have problems with yield, viruses and stability. We also have big problems with the seedling farms where they don’t select the mothers correctly, so that affect the production a lot. When you have 5000 plants in the room and 2000 are disabled you have a lack of yield. There was also a huge over-production the past few years and now the current demand for the highest quality the which means that the price dropped dramatically, went up again, dropped again… It’s volatile which means that long term planning becomes difficult – nobody could predict a year ago that the price of electricity would sky-rocket. So, it’s a mixture of uncertainty and unprofessionalism in this environment. Mix that with dodgy people and you have a volatile mix.
Why did you decide to start using seed to sale software?
I’ll give you an example: when you buy cheese in a grocery store every cheese has a batch number and an expiry date. If there is something wrong with it or it causes people to be sick they can track and trace all the cheese from that batch and recall it. They also have retention samples which can be analyzed to find out what the problem was. The logic is that this has to happen with cannabis as well. I wanted to be a pioneer in this field. Setting it up was difficult and understanding the whole process took some concentration, but I want to be seen as professional, so it has to be done.
How does the Cannavigia software help you on a day to day basis?
I know every room and I know in what phase every room is. I know what plants are where and what genetics we have. I can plan my production in a very proper way and for me that’s the most important thing. I can track and trace and use the information, and with the help of Cannavigia we fine-tuned the software to fit exactly my needs down to the smallest detail. I find that their software is growing month by month to iron our small issues and make it better.
Are you interested in planning your production and tracing your cultivation? Or do you have questions on how to grow cannabis in Switzerland?
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