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Show Coverage: CannaGrow and the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo

May 19, 2016

Cannabis is conference crazy. Rarely a week goes by without a tradeshow, conference, workshop or seminar. In May, two of these events — CannaGrow in San Diego and the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo (MBC) in Orlando – ran back-to-back. The staff of Cannabis Cultivation Today covered both.

The timing provides an interesting opportunity to compare a general industry event with a cultivation-focused-event. Here is a comparison of the two events from the perspective of cannabis cultivators.

MBC: 3,000
CannaGrow: 458
MBC is a much larger and broader event. It is also more national and even international in scope, with attendees from 49 states and many foreign countries. While there were quite a few Floridians evaluating opportunities in anticipation of the state’s medical marijuana referendum this fall, the audience had a national footprint—thanks to the large numbers of attendees from major Western markets including Colorado, Washington, California, Oregon and Arizona. The audience had a distinctively corporate look. Dark suits far outnumbered ponytails and tattoos, even more so than MBC’s fall show last November in Las Vegas.

CannaGrow was more regional and more representative of the blue-collar side of the industry. There wasn’t a dark suit in sight, but there were plenty of T-shirts, ponytails and tats. But make no mistake: The audience was serious about cannabis, their craft and learning. They peppered speakers with questions throughout the presentations, and most sessions ran long due to robust question-and-answer periods at the end. Both shows had a good mix of industry veterans and newcomers, though CannaGrow seemed to have a higher proportion of practitioners and MBC seemed to favor owners, managers and investors.

MBC: 200
CannaGrow 51
The CannaGrow show floor was relatively small. And while exhibitors represented the range of cultivation products and services, many vendors weren’t there. So, attendees could talk to at least one company in about every product/service category, and frequently two or three. But they couldn’t talk to all vendors in the category. That made the show less helpful to serious shoppers looking to compare products from all the vendors in the category.

MBC was a more complete show. Most of the major vendors were there, and buyers could “go deep” in any product or service category. But perhaps most interesting was the fact that, although MBC was a general industry show, nearly all of the exhibitors were relevant to growers. The number of booths featuring products and services of interest only to dispensaries and retailers was small. The show floor felt as much like a grow show, as did CannaGrow.

Number of conference sessions
MBC: 26
CannaGrow: 22
Percent of sessions of high interest to growers: MBC: 60%, CannaGrow: 100%
For a general industry conference, MBC had a lot to offer cultivators. By our measure, 13 of the 26 sessions were of high interest to growers, including the sessions in a full track of cultivation topics and a cultivation roundtable. General sessions focused on many topics that growers are or should be as interested in as retailers, including market projections and the future of medical marijuana. Breakout sessions for growers covered topics ranging from scaling cultivation facilities to wholesale grows and converting to greenhouse growing. However, in our evaluation, many of the breakout sessions failed to deliver on the promise of the topic. Speakers and panelists were generalists when practitioners were needed. As an example, panelists for the breakout session “All the Rage: Converting to a Greenhouse” consisted of a general consultant, a lighting vendor and a cultivation consultant. They spoke in general terms and couldn’t answer the most fundamental questions such as the cost range for installing a greenhouse. The panel suffered for lack of a grower who had made the conversion and could speak from experience.

Not surprisingly, all of the CannaGrow sessions were of interest to cultivators, and sessions tended to get very granular. Topics included automating a large grow, fundamentals of growing, soil, the science of light deprivation, breeding, light spectrum for growing, strain-specific cultivation techniques, beneficial insects, indoor facility design and others. Two sessions were particularly noteworthy. By way of comparison, the CannaGrow session on greenhouses was among the best of the conference. The main presenter was Josh Conley of Next G3N; although he’s a vendor, his presentation was non-commercial and went right to the details of types of coverings (including samples), heating, cooling, ventilation and humidity issues, photo period control and supplemental lighting. Secondary presenters were Jeff Way and Fadi Yashruti, principals of Suspended Brands, a Washington-based grower that has made the transition to greenhouse growing. They provided insight into their journey from deep skepticism to completed harvest including the setbacks and successes, at a level of detail that the audience seemed to find very helpful. Another outstanding session was Jennifer Martin’s “Plant Health Management for Optimal Quality & Yields.” Martin is a veteran grower and cultivation consultant. She shared many of the lessons she’s learned, including research behind her conclusions and practices.

Yes, MBC is a much bigger event with a lot more revenue to work with, but the MBC staff continues to produce some of the best-run events in the industry. Though they are growing very fast, for the most part they continue to do the little things right. From an organized and efficient registration process to good signage to a well-designed show floor, their attention to detail and level of professionalism shows. However, we think they may have let the quality of breakout session speakers slide. In many cases the topics were right, but the speakers weren’t. We also suggest they rethink the use of reporters to moderate panels. Being a good reporter and a good moderator require some different skills. And for the most part their reporter-moderators didn’t seem well suited or particularly comfortable with their duties, causing several of the breakout sessions to be even weaker.

CannaGrow’s strength was the quality of their speakers and sessions, but they could learn something about staging a conference and expo from MBC. For example, registration wasn’t well organized—lines were too long for such a small event and, during the peak time, the registration line blocked access to the sessions and show—signage was short of being fully helpful, they used a “customize your badge” approach that resulted in it being difficult to read names on badges, and there was a serious shortage of places to sit during the luncheons.
In spite of the industry being flooded with conference and shows, if you select carefully they offer the opportunity to learn more about your craft, extend your network of industry contacts and comparison shop for products. Cannabis Cultivation Today highly recommends both of these events. Both have fall versions coming up—CannaGrow will be in Denver in October and MBC will be in Las Vegas in November. We hope to see you at one of them.


By Tom Brooksher, Executive Editor

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