The laid-back feel of the Hemp and Hops conference and workshop Saturday at the DoubleTree hotel belied a message of urgency and industry change put forward during a bullish presentation on investment opportunity.
"The hemp industry is the easiest industry in the world to get investors. They are everywhere," relayed David Wilkinson, whose company Hemp Business Advisors puts fledgling businesses in contact with deep-pocket investors.
"Watch what's going to happen in the next 24 to 48 months. You're going to find that the industry is going to grow up very quickly," Wilkinson told a sparse crowd of budding hemp entrepreneurs. "What's about to happen in the industry is so exciting. This is a great time to be alive," he said.
The legitimization of hemp is in full swing. A provision in the 2018 federal Farm Bill reclassifies hemp as a legal substance. And along with it, an industry is already sprouting. Researcher New Frontier Data reports that hemp's 2018 U.S. revenues were $1.1 billion, a number estimated to more than double to $2.6 billion by 2022.
Wilkinson's message Saturday was clear: the opportunity is now, as the hemp legalization movement sweeps states across the country. But with the momentum, and inevitable entry of corporate and big-moneyed interests into the industry, hemp entrepreneurs now need to focus laser-like on a single aspect of the business, and then go mainstream when it comes to business practices.
"You have business people right now flooding into the industry, and they have a business mindset that has protocol that you don't know about," Wilkinson said. "If you want to be in hemp long term, you have to follow business protocols or you won't be taken seriously."
Part of the exponential growth that's expected will include more than half of the current hemp businesses ceasing to exist within the next two years, industry insiders warn according to Wilkinson.
Other informed predictions for the next two years include the supply of hemp products — as varied as rope and fabric to medicinal tinctures powered by hemp cannabidiols — outstripping the demand as more and larger companies get into the game. Wilkinson also foresees numerous and creative lawsuits being filed related to hemp products as they become more mainstream.
"The industry is progressing, and even though it's at a lightning speed, it's in the right direction," he said.
One of the attendees was Emily Aguero, who was hoping to get an idea of what investors might be looking for. She has a fairly new business, Diamond Light Farms, is growing some hemp, and is exploring where to take the business.
"I think it's a combination of caution and excitement. It's a new arena," Aguero said. "There's a lot of things that can go wrong, but there's a lot of potential there."
"You can't grow without taking risks, so it's really important to get your feet wet and learn as much as possible," she said.
Wilkinson said ground-floor entrepreneurs like Aguero were in the right place at the right time.
"Hemp is a movement. You can literally be swept into a movement that is bigger than what you can possibly imagine," he said.
"If you ever wanted to really make an impact on the world, this is the time to do it."