Recently, Ganjapreneur had the chance to connect with Brian Westphal, an entrepreneur looking to innovate and spread awareness in the industrial hemp sector. Westphal’s company, Lotus Boards, is working to produce the world’s first hemp-plastic skateboard. The company’s goal, as stated on their website, is “to create awareness for the adoption of Industrial Hemp and Bio-Based alternatives with every ride.”
In this interview, Brian discusses how Lotus Boards came into existence, what his journey has been like so far, and what his predictions are for industrial hemp’s future.
Read the full interview below:
What’s the story behind your involvement in Lotus Boards?
I’m the founder of Lotus Boards. I have been able to get by thus far mainly working by myself though I have used outside help and experts to cover the aspects of starting a business which I am still learning. My background is in Mechanical Engineering. I just received my degree from Cal Poly Pomona this past semester and am pursuing entrepreneurship full time. Lotus Boards is only the beginning of what I have planned. I feel very strongly about the rising hemp movement and saw it as a great opportunity to make a change in society. This project has been about 1 1/2 years now in the making and we hope to have our product on Kickstarter later this summer pending our manufacturing lead times.
Who came up with the original concept?
I first heard about Hemp Plastic listening to the ‘Joe Rogan Experience’ podcast. Joe would bring up the illegality of industrial hemp and the real conspiracy perpetrated by the media during the 1920’s. He also would discuss Henry Ford’s Hemp Plastic concept car as a great example of the wide uses of hemp. From there I researched to see what happened to this material? Why is nobody developing with it? And how come bio-plastics and industrial hemp aren’t more prevalent in our society? As stated earlier I learned a lot about the history, the technical details of the material, and found that the US was far behind relative to other industrialized countries in terms of making ecological manufacturing solutions.
What did you do before pursuing a career in hemp-plastic skateboards?
During my final year at Cal Poly Pomona I entered the ‘Bronco Startup Challenge’, basically a business plan and pitch competition which featured a panel similar to ‘Shark Tank’ with experienced Angel Investors. Somehow, among a class of 50 business plans and 10 finalists I was able to come out on top, winning the Grand Prize which further boosted my confidence that Lotus Boards and the Hemp Revolution could be successful.
Something I hear more about from within the Industrial Hemp community is that even just a few years ago when the HIA would go to Washington DC they were joked out of the room you know, Industrial Hemp, Marijuana, getting high. But now there’s no laughing. People are finally starting to come around and get educated on the real benefits cannabis as a whole could bring to society.
Our vision is to spread the use of Industrial Hemp and Bio-Based alternatives with every ride. What better way to show people the capabilities of these new technologies than to let them cruise around on it?
I wanted to pursue a career that could help make a difference and use my engineering background to make game-changing designs. The money or success I feel that could come as a result is only a bonus.
How would you characterize other entrepreneurs and businesses you have interacted with in the hemp industry?
The folks I’ve met in the hemp industry could not be more helpful. It is a very tight knit community at this point of people developing some next-level ways to use industrial hemp. This network consists of both business owners/entrepreneurs and those on the front lines in non-profit organizations fighting to make industrial hemp cultivation legal. In most cases these people wear both hats.
It was surprising to me to find that not all of those in the Industrial Hemp community dabble in marijuana, or care about it’s cause for that matter. To them, Industrial Hemp is an entirely different cause, primarily environmental. Hemp offers many benefits to our current methods of manufacturing paper, textiles, houses, and of course, plastics. Saving the amount of energy used, reducing carbon emissions, and the amount of water used during cultivation. (Not that they don’t care about personal freedom and the ability to expand their consciousness using marijuana, they just view it as entirely separate. Sometimes, though, it can be seen as a hindrance to the industrial hemp cause as it creates a taboo.)
The Lotus Boards website states that the material used for your decks is 30% hemp and 70% plastic. Is this typical of most hemp plastics? How did you settle on this ratio?
The compound we are using is obtained by a third party supplier. This is the ratio they found would offer the best balance between strength and manufacturability. The more hemp fiber, the stronger and more rigid the result will be, though it is detrimental to it’s ability to be molded. The process we use is plastic injection. Other compounds use ‘Compression Molding’ similar to carbon fiber. Plastic injection is a very common technique to create detailed parts, with little waste, quickly and cheaply. A lot of every day items are made using it which makes the innovation of Hemp Plastic so intriguing.
These first steps though not quite perfect yet, are necessary. These beginning materials are only the tip of the iceberg for bio-based compounds. The more we use them and support the companies producing them and their continued research and development the closer we can get to the point where all of our materials can be produced organically with greatly reduced environmental impact. Our supplier is working on an even better compound that we hope to use in the near future.
How does the performance of a Lotus Board compare to traditional skateboard decks? Will it feel any different than riding a traditional board?
Our deck is similar to the Penny Cruiser deck. Is different from a traditional deck in that it’s more used for beach cruising, getting around town or to class, and to carve hills. Relative to the Penny our board will have a greatly reduced carbon footprint, will be stronger, and most of all, made using hemp ‘In The USA’.
At this point we have only tested using prototypes of the design. None from the Hemp Plastic compound yet as we are still in talks with manufacturing.
Our board design is very unique though; engineered to stay light while at the same time putting reinforcement exactly where the rider needs it. There’s a lot more detail about this aspect of design in the blog on our web page: http://lotusboards.com/blog.
If legalized and embraced globally, what do you envision the future of hemp plastics would look like?
I view a society which obtains all of its materials from organic sources. These materials will be free from toxins, be biodegradable, and have a low carbon footprint. It’s only a matter of time until everything we use can be made with 3D printing from fully renewable resources. The possibilities are going to blow people away, it’s only a matter of time. Trust me when I say Lotus Boards is in the forefront of this development with details I can’t even give away and has a lot in store for the upcoming launch.
What advice would you give to someone looking to forge a career in industrial hemp?
Anyone looking to get started in industrial hemp I think should come with an original idea. Break away from the common thread of making paraphernalia related products. I mean who would have thought the best method of making houses was to use industrial hemp to make Hempcrete? I hope that hemp entrepreneurs will continue to push the envelope and create original, groundbreaking ways to use the crop in ways others never even knew were possible.
Secondly, get connected and start doing research. These go hand in hand. It takes a wealth of knowledge to make a product from top to bottom and to learn the manufacturing processes behind its creation. Somewhere out there is an expert in the field that you’re looking for. Anyone looking to learn more about Hemp Plastics can contact me personally at Brian@LotusBoards.com.
Thank you for taking the time to share your experience, Brian! We are looking forward to seeing Lotus Boards in production in the near future, and are excited to witness the growth of industrial hemp and ecological manufacturing in the U.S.
If you have questions for Brian, post them in the comments below! You can also contact him at his email address listed above or visit the Lotus Boards website.