How Atlas 365 Grows Hemp to Build Homes of the Future August 6, 2019 RICCentre After finishing his law school degree in the U.K., Akeem Gardner returned home to Canada in 2017 to discover two buzzworthy topics circulating the world around him—bitcoin and marijuana legalization. With an out-of-country law degree, some inspiration from society’s latest conversations, and a little bit of luck, Gardner shifted from pursuing a career in law, to exploring life as an entrepreneur. Later that same year, Gardner and his best friend Randy Osei founded Atlas 365, a fintech company that uses industrial hemp to allow their users to not only grow, but eventually own their own home. Together, Gardner and Osei aim to create a solution that rewards consumers who invest in the growth of industrial hemp by allowing them to purchase cheaper, greener, and more sustainable homes in the future. The two friends married technology and legalization to begin building their company. Now, as a RIC Centre client, Atlas 365 continues to evolve with the goal of reducing the barriers to home ownership for millennials and generation Z, while also sharing both the environmental and economic returns of growing industrial hemp with the community. How can we understand industrial hemp? In 2017, Gardner, intrigued by the rise of discussion around marijuana legalization in Canada, wanted to utilize the environmental benefits of industrial hemp for both people and the planet. Although industrial hemp, or “the secret weapon of legalization” as Gardner describes, originates from the cannabis plant family, it differs from marijuana because it contains extremely low amounts of THC, the chemical responsible for intoxication, and high amounts of CBD. This allows consumers to benefit from the industrial uses of the plant, as well as the medical properties. According to Gardner, hemp offers industrial properties when broken down into specific parts of the plant. The hemp hurd, or the woody part of the plant, is a substance almost like woodchips, says Gardner, that can be mixed into construction materials, such as bricks. Meanwhile, the hemp flower produces hemp seeds and oil, sometimes found in makeup and personal care products. Last, the hemp stems supply strong fibers that require 20% less water to grow than cotton and can be used in textile development. Atlas 365 primarily grows industrial hemp to manufacture sustainable and environmentally-friendly building materials for residential, commercial, and industrial spaces. With their industrial hemp bricks, Atlas 365 hopes to take strides toward creating more sustainable cities and communities by reducing the cost of building materials through their cheaper industrial hemp alternative. Alongside the social and economic impact, Atlas 365’s solution will allow communities to reap environmental rewards as well. A house built with industrial hemp bricks will continue to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere throughout its lifecycle, Gardner explains. “Our partner companies develop a solution that turns the woody core [of industrial hemp] into a building block material that can be used in place of concrete for our homes,” Gardner elaborates. “When you grow an acre of hemp, it absorbs carbon dioxide four times the rate of an acre of trees. So now we get material that is more sustainable, more resilient, more fire resistant, and mould resistant.” Atlas 365 plans to pair their green building materials with blockchain technology to offer consumers the ability to track, report, and monetize the environmental benefits associated with owning a greener, more sustainable home. With the legalization and implementation of cannabis products on the rise, Gardner believes it’s an exciting time for solutions that can offer benefits for the environment and the economy. Combining hemp and financial technology, like blockchain, Atlas 365 is working towards building greener residential spaces while increasing the accessibility of owning a home. Communicating with clarity and focus Persistent to bring his company closer to commercialization, Gardner met with the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) and they referred him to the RIC Centre. From there, Gardner registered Atlas 365 as a RIC Centre client, and currently work with Entrepreneur-in-Residence Paul Barter who is the company’s lead advisor. When reflecting on his experience registered as a start-up at the RIC Centre, Gardner emphasizes that innovation hubs are invaluable resources for entrepreneurs. He credits the RIC Centre’s services for providing Atlas 365 with the resources they need to move them towards commercialization. During Atlas 365’s time as a client, Gardner explains that the RIC Centre has helped them learn how to network, how to rebrand their company, and how to speak the language of venture capitalists and investors through various workshops and seminars. One of the biggest challenges the RIC Centre helped Atlas 365 overcome was enhancing the clarity of their company story and pitch. While explaining to other people how Atlas 365 aimed to create sustainable building materials for homes and incorporate block chain technology, Gardner noticed that he’d often lose the attention of his audiences. As he struggled with this roadblock, Gardner highlights RIC Centre’s pitching workshops and Champion Series Pitch Panel for helping Atlas 365 refine their pitch, build their confidence, and use feedback from panellists to continue improving for the future. “When I was telling my initial story, sometimes I could run on a little bit and lose my audience, and one of the things that RIC helped me with was narrowing my focus and being very clear with what I’m trying to present,” Gardner recalls. Now, Gardner has been able to narrow his company story down to one simple sentence: “Atlas 365 is a fintech company that allows their users to grow and then own their own home.” “It’s one thing to go to school and learn things in an academic setting, but then it’s another thing to be paired with individuals who actually experience these things through their own professional journeys. Learning in a safe environment has really been the biggest peace of mind that RIC has brought me,” Gardner explains. For Gardner, the RIC Centre provides his business with the opportunity to learn, grow, and develop in an environment that is not only educational, but supportive. Atlas 365 takes a step forward Moving forward, Atlas 365 has a busy summer schedule ahead of them. In the next few months, Gardner aims to continue growing his company while achieving three significant milestones. First, Gardner and his team are working towards completing their MVP, with blockchain ecosystem and manufacturing plant operational, and will begin pitching, marketing, and rebranding their business and their solution. Second, Atlas 365 plans to begin to raise a seed round, acquiring funding to support their growth. And third, Atlas 365 hopes to continue formalizing their business structure and model. To new entrepreneurs and startups who aren’t sure how to move forward, Gardner recommends listening to your own instincts, finding a reliable support system, and seeking out low-cost resources, such as local economic development centres, regional innovation centres, government programs, libraries, and online resources. But above all, Gardner accentuates the importance of determination and perseverance. “Sometimes you must take the feedback from others, go back home, and work on it. Come back again, show growth, take feedback, go back home and work on it again. Show some more growth until maybe the third or fourth time. If you’re persistent, then you’ll end up in the hands of good people,” says Gardner. “It wasn’t until the third or fourth time of me being persistent, that they introduced me to RIC. If you’re persistent, you’ll eventually get a breakthrough.” About the AuthorJessica CabralCommunications InternJessica Cabral is a recent graduate from the Professional Writing and Communication program at the University of Toronto Mississauga. In her four years at UTM, Jessica has worked on various campus publications and strengthened her passion for writing and editing.