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Medical marijuana looks like cash crop to Miami’s entrepreneurs

(MiamiHerald) Real estate speculators stake out territories for what’s to come, infrastructure builders and lawyers queue up for business, investors jostle to get in on the ground floor, and tech startups seek ways to make a new industry run more efficiently. This could be any nascent industry, but in this case it’s marijuana. After graduating from Yale, Steve Berke played professional tennis. Then, after a career-ending injury, he became a medical marijuana patient. That led him to be a marijuana activist, and he ran for mayor of Miami Beach twiceon a marijuana-legalization platform. After the second election loss in 2013, marijuana companies had seen his social media campaign and were reaching out to him to plug them into videos. “That’s when I realized there was no way for these companies to connect with consumers,” said Berke, and he turned to entrepreneurship to find a solution. When one of his activist YouTube videosdid not truly go viral despite pickups on Buzzfeed, Upworthy, NBC and other sites, the YouTube enthusiast learned that Facebook’s algorithms suppressed it. He thought the cannabis industry needed a different way of marketing. “I’ve been on a very organic journey to a leadership role in the cannabis business community.” Today, Berke, 35, is CEO of Bang Holdings of North Miami Beach, which has a subsidiary that provides brand management, cannabis-related digital content and social influencer-based marketing for the cannabis industry. While major media providers restrict online marijuana advertising, Bang’s marketing networks allow cannabis companies to directly reach consumers. Today, Bang runs one of the top two or three cannabis-related Facebook pages as well as sites on Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. BioTrackTHC, a Fort Lauderdale software company employing more than 60 people spanning three offices nationally, tracks cannabis sales from seed-to-sale for government agencies and other organizations. Since winning its first state contract, Washington, in 2013, the company now has contracts with five states and a city, and more than 2,000 companies use its software, said CEO Patrick Vo. Then there’s High There!, a social connectivity platform some have called “Tinder for tokers” because of relationships made there. Co-founders Darren Roberts and Kenny Frisman moved their company back to Boca Raton from Colorado this fall in anticipation of Amendment 2’s passing and have expanded the platform to include a news feed. They join growers and dispensaries such as Costa Farms’ Modern Health Concepts of Miami, which holds one of the six licenses in Florida to cultivate low-THC cannabis and medical cannabis but hopes to make medical marijuana in other forms now that Amendment 2 has passed. There are also specialized construction firms, security companies, product makers, consultants, even a staffing company checking out the cannabis climate in the Sunshine State. Ganan is interested in Florida, too: With a population of 20 million, lots of travelers and a large geriatric community, “the demographics in Florida make it a compelling market for the long-term,” he said.

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