It’s been nearly five years since the first-ever CannaCon landed in Tacoma, Washington. Since then, the business-focused cannabis trade show has brought its unique networking-building experiences to new cannabis markets, big and small, across the United States.
CannaCon was founded by Bob Smart in 2017 because, as a medical grower himself, he found that professional education and networking options for people with serious aspirations in the cannabis industry were severely lacking. His vision was to provide a “one-stop shop” trade show where aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs could come together, learn from and teach one another, and connect with the many ancillary industries that are seeking to serve them. Bob had worked previously in trade shows and used that knowledge to kick off the original CannaCon — and the success of that early show indicated that demand for a B2B cannabis conference was indeed strong and the business model had merit.
Each CannaCon event features educational keynote presentations, panel discussions with a mix of entrepreneurs, industry representatives/lobbyists, and regulators, and a properly packed exhibition floor.
Since launching, CannaCon has hosted medical and adult-use cannabis industry expos in Washington state, California, Alaska, Colorado, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Massachusetts. This year, the team still has two events planned: one for Illinois in August and one for Virginia — one of the latest states to pass adult-use legalization laws — in November. CannaCon also recently announced conferences planned for 2022 in New York, Oklahoma, and Michigan.
Considering the proliferation of its trade shows, one might assume there is some sort of corporate powerhouse driving CannaCon’s success but that is not really the case. In fact, CannaCon is a family-run business with only a handful of full-time employees, according to the company’s marketing director Angela Grelle. That said, things are still run “very much like a business.”
“It helps because since we’re such a small team, if we see something that needs to get done, we just do it,” Grelle said.
That collaborative spirit has led to dozens of successful trade shows over the years, and CannaCon has risen to become an industry standard for other cannabis conferences and expos.
Over the years, Grelle said it has been particularly rewarding to see some now-household industry names getting started with just a tiny tradeshow booth only to grow within a few years into a magnificent trade show presence, buying out huge sections of the exhibition floor to better facilitate those early conversations. She obviously won’t take full credit for their successes but likes to think that the company’s early CannaCon experiences played some role.
She recalled one specifically satisfying story about an Oklahoma processor’s first CannaCon experience — “They did so much business at our first Oklahoma show that they went and bought a new 15,000 square foot extraction facility,” Grelle said. “He emailed us afterward and said it was, ‘one of the best trade shows we have ever done.’”
Perhaps the biggest indicator of CannaCon’s success, however, is that their presence is essentially temporary in any new market they visit. This is because CannaCon is dedicated to facilitating important early conversations between cannabis farms and processors and the ancillary firms who service them — and once those conversations are sparked, the attendees who go out and launch successful cannabis companies won’t necessarily be looking to return to another CannaCon-type event in the future. Consider that while the first-ever CannaCon was hosted in Washington state in 2017 and the cannabis industry is still very much going strong there, event organizers have decided they won’t be returning to the Evergreen State anytime soon because “those relationships are already made,” Grelle said.
While there are new and bigger cannabis markets opening up each year, eventually prohibition will be fully lifted and there won’t be any new markets opening up. At that point, CannaCon is likely to shift its business model to either focus more on larger region-specific shows or to look internationally as other countries open up their cannabis markets — but until then, there are new cannabis marketplaces and businesses popping up around the country, and the show must go on.
CannaCon currently has upcoming events scheduled in Illinois, New York, Virginia, Michigan, and Oklahoma. Visit CannaCon.org to learn more.