SōRSE Technology earned position #61 in in Fast Company’s 2020 Best Workplaces for Innovators list.
Meet our Chief Science Officer and Certified Food Scientist, Scott Riefler, who applied his food and beverage knowledge and experience to create SōRSE, our water-soluble emulsion technology for infusing beverages, food items, topicals and nutraceuticals. Before entering the food and beverage world, Scott worked as an advanced materials scientist in the aerospace industry. By nature, Scott is a teacher; he is a wealth of knowledge on a variety of subjects and is a mentor to many of SōRSE’s employees. When Scott is not at work, you can find him spending time with his wife and daughter, practicing yoga, and making a mean loaf of sourdough bread, which is also a science!
After working in the aerospace industry and at TIC Gums, how did you end up at SōRSE?
Serendipitously. I was at a concert with a friend who had brought a friend, and in chatting, I asked him what he was up to. He said he had left Microsoft and had entered the cannabis space, which I thought sounded pretty interesting. As we continued talking, I let him know that I had recently retired, and I mentioned something about the edibles platform. He then rattled off a whole bunch of reasons why it couldn’t be done. It gets me pretty excited when somebody tells me you can’t do something, so I responded by saying that I had some ideas that might work. That led to lab work, ultimately delivering his version of the impossible. It was revolutionary to the people who were working at the startup, which led to an invitation to join the team.
In your time with the company, what are you most proud of?
I am proud of watching a cohesive team form and exploit the value or the potential value this technology brings. I am proud that we have adopted a food business mentality with everything that goes with it in terms of food safety. I am most proud of the progress the team and my colleagues make.
What do you love about your work, and what do you find challenging?
I love that it’s applied technology into new frontiers. It’s new — we are pressing into the not-yet-possible with incredible speed. At times, I do struggle with setting high expectations and then delivering, so what is most challenging for me is outwardly projecting a realistic level of expectations while keeping my internal, unbridled enthusiasm a bit hidden. I often feel I wish I could be a stronger contributor. I do my best to practice that serenity poem.
At SōRSE and outside of SōRSE, you are a teacher – you mentor scientists, and you give presentations to people inside and outside of the cannabis industry. Why is sharing your knowledge with others important to you?
There are several levels to this. I follow the teachings and philosophies of a few people. In the world of systems, I am a W. Edward Deming disciple. I believe very strongly in his principles. In selling cycles, I believe in spin selling completely — so there are several facets to this answer.
First of all, everybody sells and everybody should be selling 100% of the time. One of the cornerstones for successful selling is first building trust. If you don’t first build trust, it is going to be very hard to get someone to give you their money. Sharing knowledge and educating is fundamental to building trust. For example, if I go to buy a car, and I find out early in the game that I know more about the car than the salesperson does, that person is never going to sell me a car. If the sales manager doesn’t listen to my request to talk to someone more knowledgeable than me, then they have lost my trust. We absolutely need to listen to the customer and hear what they are saying.
I also believe that I practice the idea of leaving it better than I found it. Something that we all inherently have is knowledge we share, particularly knowledge on topics other people may not have. If you can figure that part out, then leaving it better than you found it is become easy…paying it forward, if you will.
Back to selling — we are attempting to build a brand; we are attempting to get our phone to ring. One of the ways to build that brand and earn trust is to have our brand recognized as an authority in our space. Being invited to speak at industry symposiums, trade shows, attendance at our webinars, or even conversations with major customers is an indication that the marketplace sees us and our brand as an authority figure in our space. This is critical, it’s bedrock, it’s the foundation for us to be able to sell our product. Thus, it is incumbent for every one of us to be a teacher.
Then of course there is the burning platform theory — as a company, we need to continually grow and educate our employees, and acknowledge how important it is that employees are always training and learning. You can’t learn through osmosis. Personally, I am constantly reading and attending seminars; I make a personal effort to constantly upgrade my training and then pass that knowledge on to others. I want to help people become “dangerous” and turn them into dangerous players in their space, and for me, that is almost always about knowledge and experience.
If you were to give a piece of advice to someone entering this industry, what would it be?
The first thing I would say is that nothing is special about this industry. Anyone who says that it is, is wrong; they are likely smoking the product. Work hard, never substitute knowledge for familiarity, make sure it is your passion, and have fun.
To end, this is one of my favorite quotes: “If we knew what we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” Albert Einstein
For people who believe in the power of the cannabis plant, 4/20 is a day of celebration. Some people attend rallies to promote national legalization, some celebrate at concerts, and others simply gather with friends to share their ‘stash’. While 4/20 looks a little different this year, for those who work in the industry, every day is 4/20 – including the employees at SōRSE. And it’s busier than ever.
Our team is comprised of people from all walks of life with different roles in the company – we are scientists, project managers, designers, product developers, regulatory experts, writers, and thought leaders. These are some reflections on 4/20 from members of our team #poweredbySōRSE.
What Does 4/20 Mean to You?
“4/20 is not generally a special holiday in my book because CBD has become a regular part of my regimen, but it is a great time to reflect on how far the industry has come and where it’s headed. The more we understand about the plant, the more we realize that everyday can be 4/20. For me, 4/20 doesn’t symbolize a day to get high; it’s about living a higher quality life.” – Diana Eberlein, VP of Marketing
“Life–changing at many levels. My wife and I were just reflecting how marijuana social norms have shifted so much during our lifetime. The Sixties was the time of “Turn on, tune in and drop out;“ the Seventies (my teen years) brought the war on drugs, literally vilifying all things marijuana. Fast forward to today, not only basically legal, marijuana is now considered a “vital” resource and medicine with dispensaries kept open and classified as “essential” services….Wow! What a long strange trip it has been! 4/20 is also Monte’s (our daughter’s dog) birthday; he is turning two this year.” – Scott Riefler, CSO
“4/20 is a time of celebration! To celebrate the legality of cannabis and to celebrate all the companies out there that are trying to make the word a better place though cannabinoid research.” – Michelle Sundquist, Director of Product Development
“4/20 is a time to think about the past, present, and future of cannabis – with the hope that people will continue to embrace and accept all that the plant has to offer.” – Dana Perkins, Corporate Communications Specialist
“The best excuse to use cannabis.” – Jalen Tims, Medical Applications Specialist
How Has CBD Positively Impacted Your Life or Someone That You Know?
“A good friend I grew up with struggles with an eating disorder and substance abuse. Recently, she was diagnosed with epilepsy. The treatment program she is on the waitlist for will not admit her into the program unless she is seizure-free for 30 days. Since using CBD, she has not had a Grand Mal seizure. She is now eligible to be admitted into the treatment program!” – Jalen Tims, Medical Applications Specialist
“One of my favorite stories is family friends who have autistic sons or daughters. CBD has helped with calming aggression and forming sentences with more structure and understanding. These parents have tried everything under the sun to help their children, and they are willing to try anything. CBD has been very helpful.” – Emily Skrobecki, Process Engineering Manager
“One of my best friends has a 15–year-old German Short-Haired Pointer, Ruby, who started having seizures last October – which was scary for everyone involved. There were some days where she was seizing multiple times. I suggested that my friend start giving Ruby CBD with her meals to see if it would help – and it did. Ruby’s last seizure was on 2/18 — she has been seizure-free for two months!” – Dana Perkins, Corporate Communications Specialist
We Asked the SōRSE Team How They’re Celebrating 4/20 (during shelter in place) This Year, and This Is What They Said:
- Topping off a glass of champagne with a THC bubbly, Vertus, our Washington State processor’s take on cannabis ‘champagne’
- Infusing drinks with Pearl Mixer and watching How High on the couch.
- SōRSE CBD emulsion & citrus–based mocktails. Full of CBD and Vitamin C!
- Trying out some new recipes infused with CBD in the kitchen.
- Wrapping up the workday at the SōRSE office and sipping on Happy Apple and Utopia
- Hanging out with the dogs and drinking Mad Tasty
- Rooting for our Culinary Director, Stacy Primack, who competed in “Cooked with Cannabis” premiering on 4/20/20 on Netflix.
We’d love to hear from you on what 4/20 means to you, how you’re celebrating 4/20, and stories on how CBD has positively impacted your life! Follow us on social to find out how you can enter for a chance to win a complimentary CBD Wellness Kit!
Meet our Director of Product Development, Michelle Sundquist, who brings over 20 years of product development experience in the food and beverage industry to our team. If you have ever wondered who was behind Starbucks cold brew coffee product launch, that was Michelle. Her dedication to creating quality products is evident in the work she does with our customers; she listens carefully to their ideas and helps them clarify and actualize their product vision. Outside of SōRSE, she is an active outdoors-person who loves skiing and scuba-diving and a dedicated Packers fan.
What have been some of the significant moments in your time working at SōRSE?
For the Mad Tasty project, we were able to put together a number of beverages quickly. I think having Ryan Tedder be able to choose something, go into production and move to market so fast is impressive. What I enjoy the most is building the infrastructure for R & D — how projects come in and get approved, and how we approach timelines. As long as you are confident and good at what you do, it’s pretty easy to turn something around quickly and efficiently. I like creating the processes for getting projects done.
In the very beginning when we were creating the emulsion, we had a good product — people liked it, but they didn’t know why they liked it. Once you try it, you become a strong believer in how controllable the experience is. Because we understand the science of the emulsion and have gathered documentation on it, our customers feel confident in our products. It makes me really proud that as a food ingredient company, we have gotten to that place quickly. Having all of the different departments represented that you would typically see in a bigger company also makes me proud — it shows that we are thinking about the big picture.
What is it like working with customers who are trying to figure out how to create and then launch a product? How do you coach them through the process?
It’s really exciting working with customers. When they talk about their products, there is so much passion. There is a big difference between hearing someone talk about something they are excited about and reading about it somewhere. In person, you get pulled into the passion.
When I start talking to someone about a new development project, I like to have them tell me what they want to do in their own words. My goal is to get to know them and their personality through talking to them. From there, I look at the words they are using to describe their product, and think about if those are words they would use in their life in general. After that, you can get a better idea of who the customer is. At the same time, you have to know what the current trends are and what the competition is doing.
Once you get a sense of how the person communicates their ideas and an understanding of the product they are looking to launch, then you can get into the specifics, coaching them through the nitty-gritty, like calorie count, organic, low sugar…. People are very focused on calorie count, but the more calories you allow, the more ingredients you can use. You need to really explore the customer’s reasoning for the decisions they are making for their beverage.
At Starbucks, we were constantly training, particularly in problem-solving, dialing in on the development process and delivering what the customer wants and needs. A lot of this comes down to conversation and communication. We need to think about how we can make the customers’ ideas work while constantly remembering what their goal is. It’s important to explore the “why” — because there could be multiple ways to get to a solution that may work a little better.
When you think about someone who has been a mentor to you or influenced your career positively, who is that person and how did they help you along the way?
There are a number of people who have influenced my career and who I look up to. There are two people in particular I turn to for advice, and each has a unique skillset I gravitate towards.
One is Lani, a Global VP for Beverage at Starbucks. She has the ability to stay incredibly Zen through any situation, which I think is really impressive. A lot of the classes she had us take were around mindfulness, self awareness and understanding how others may work differently, which was something I really appreciated. Mindfulness helps you get in the moment, step back, stay in the moment and reset. The class made me realize that everyone gets stressed and that we have to own it.
Jill is the other mentor I rely on; she is very creative and a very strong food scientist. In my creativity, I am methodical — whereas her creativity comes from all directions, which makes it messy and chaotic. I love to learn from her because it challenges me to think about things in a different way. I’m constantly curious as to which way is a faster or more successful process.
What advice would you give to someone entering this industry?
I would remind them to focus on all of the attributes that make people who work at start-ups valuable to other companies. If you join a company because you enjoy the culture, you have to know that culture can change quickly with the turnover of a few people. If you join a company because of the product they sell, the industry is so new that the products they sell can also change.
I think it is better to not have expectations. What you can expect is to work hard and know that you won’t get a lot of direction, but you’ll have your name on the plane when you get done building it. You also need to have a lot of self-confidence in the work you are doing and be able to figure out if you are being successful or not — you have to be able to assess and evaluate yourself.
You also have to know that there can be chaos anywhere, in any business. At the end of the day, businesses are made up of people, and people can be messes — you have emotions, frustration, newness to the business, and disagreement. Because of that, every business has their struggles.
If you could, what product would you create for consumer use?
If I had the know-how, I would come up with more reusable, compostable packaging. If there is a compostable solution to packaging, companies should be forced to use it.
Can you share a fun fact that not a lot of people know about you?
I met Kurt Cobain once at the Health Department in highschool where I used to volunteer as a Peer Educator. He came by with his daughter Frances and signed a bunch of swag — so I won a pair of hot pink, glow in the dark boxer shorts that he signed.
My husband and I also got married at the top of Whistler and skied down in our outfits together — peak to creek!
Meet our Chief Revenue Officer, John Kueber, who brings over twenty years of experience as a business executive building companies and developing brands to the team. John loves the challenge of building out new processes, educating new customers, and finding people to manage new projects. When he is not at work, you can find John spending time with his wife and twin daughters who love sports as much as he does or putting miles in on his bike. An accomplished athlete, John has completed an Ironman, summited Mount Rainier two times as well as ten other Cascade peaks, and has ridden over the major cycling passes for the Tour De France and Giro D’Italia.
What have been some significant moments or some highlights in your year at SōRSE?
I’m most proud of what I accomplished in Canada; I was able to find about half a dozen marquee accounts for SōRSE and Valens, and I felt this validated that we can take what we have to another country. It also validated Valens’ initial investment in licensing the technology, and I’d like to think it played a big part in them increasing their investment on the second license. They saw it was working in Canada and hopefully that was a factor in them seeing the opportunity for the other countries where they have licenses. I’m really proud of jumping in feet first, going out and finding those accounts without a ton of direction and helping get that business set up, from messaging to pricing to process, to helping the Valens team build their sales team. It’s all been super rewarding and fun. People were genuinely excited about SōRSE in Canada, and it’s cool when you have a product that people are interested in. Currently I am happy with the changes and the progress that we’re making in the sales team. I feel like we’ve gone from having limited structure to a more solid structure, and we are forming a team with powerful personalities to build up our business.
What do you enjoy about your role and what do you find particularly challenging about it?
In comparison to last year when I was managing my accounts and answering to one person, my new role as CRO has shifted me towards management. The fun thing right now is that we are an early stage company with a startup atmosphere that is trying to reach a national and global market. There is no end of productive work to be done, whether it’s bringing on new customers, building out new processes, or finding people to manage new projects – and all of that is fun. The downside is that every day you’re questioning your priorities and you’re questioning if you’re moving fast enough, using the right amount of capital to go fast… what do you with complete regard to speed, and what do you do a little more slowly and carefully and make sure it’s done right? Every day I’m defining priorities, which is true for most leaders in businesses, but it’s a little more true for this business. I think the cool thing is, unlike a lot of startups, our strong capital base allows us to execute in the right way.
What is your philosophy on sales, and what qualities makes a salesperson successful?
Salespeople have to have their own internal engine. It’s an overused cliché, but they absolutely have to have grit — the ability to stay persistent and tough even when a deal is taking a long time or a period of some lost deals. The most important qualities for me, and two of the hardest ones to hire for, are the ability to be both empathetic and the ability to create a narrative.
To be empathetic, you need to be able to listen to your customer, and be able to repeat back (in different words!) what you hear them saying, and understand what they are going through. That is a skill you have to develop, and a lot of people don’t ever develop it.
Combined with that, you’ve got to be able to create a narrative for the customer: “Here is what you are going through, here is what SōRSE does, and here the way those two things can be woven together.” You have to build a story on how our product can provide a solution for the customer. Humans tend to think in terms of stories, they think in terms of what works well for others; what we are working on is taking data and figuring out how it fits in to the narrative.
Good salespeople also understand when a project is not a good fit. They value the customer’s time, and if a project is not worth doing, they’re not afraid to say so and move on, because they know that if they work hard, they will find better opportunities.
Can you describe your first sales job, and how you learned how to build relationships with customers?
My first sales job was selling programs for the University of Washington crew team. As a freshman you had to sell 100 programs on Saturdays before you could move on with your day. Many of my teammates dreaded this, but one friend and I had a ton of fun with it and would sell 500 programs each, really just by going the extra mile to have fun with the Husky fans walking into the game. If you love your product and love connecting with people, I found you could have a great career with sales. After college, I sold internet advertising for the New York Yankees. That was a lot of fun because it was very early days of the internet, so I was learning a lot about technology while also getting to sell.
Having said that, I did decide early on that while I love to sell, I didn’t want to purely be a professional salesperson. Back in the 90s, if you were 25, a lot of people weren’t comfortable handing you $500,000 to start a company. Once I left my ad sales job, I raised $200,000 from friends and family, and started my first company which I sold for just under $5,000,000 after two years. That was a confidence builder and an experience that made me realize that I had some good entrepreneurial qualities.
More importantly, I also learned an important lesson about conviction from that experience; that first business I built was an early internet commerce store, and I probably had 200 people tell me it was a dumb idea and that it wouldn’t work, and they were proven wrong. Most people really have no clue what’s going to work and what isn’t. If you think your idea is going to work, if you have conviction and passion for your idea, don’t let the haters keep you down.
That experience parlayed into a voice technology business which merged with one of Howard’s companies; then it happened with a media business that was bought by a larger media company. In situations like these, you have to do the selling, you have to do the work, but you also have to have conviction, believe that you’re smart, that you’re doing the right things, and building the right business.
Bringing this back to SōRSE, early when I heard about this opportunity from Howard, I started looking at the CBD and cannabis market – and the conventional, common wisdom out there is that cannabis is weird business for a variety of reasons. Yet once I dug in and looked closely at the marketplace, particularly around CBD, I saw that is was a compelling, good-for-society business. I’m passionate about it, I have convictions around it, I knew I could sell it, and there is room for growth, so it sounded like the right opportunity.
If you were to give a piece of advice just entering the cannabis business as well as someone who has just started at SōRSE, what would it be?
That one is easy: Find a specific problem to solve or a specific solution to create and work hard to meet it. Don’t jump into the cannabis business just for the sake of it. Right now, don’t JUST launch a CBD sparkling drink; it’s been done. Launch a CBD drink that is targeted towards a specific market or provides a certain function. Fill a specific need.
At SōRSE, I think it’s important that we stay lean and stay hungry. We need to work each month with the same hunger that we did in the beginning. Let’s keep up the intensity and enjoy it.
We are at the beginning of a new decade. What was your life like in 2010? What were you doing for fun?
Ten years ago, we were living in Seattle, and my twin daughters were three years old. My wife and I were knee-deep in parenting them. I was COO of a media company, raising my twin girls, and not having much time for anything else. I wouldn’t trade having kids for anything, but it was definitely all encompassing for a few years! Having two little girls waking up at all hours for a few years definitely took it out of me and my wife, Katarina.
Meet our Manager of Quality Assurance and the Analytics Lab, Zahra Marin, who brings over five years of experience in quality management in FDA-regulated industries. Zahra’s background in Chemistry and Business Administration allows her to bridge different industry experiences with the goal of implementing thorough quality programs. After years of living in frigid North Dakota and the Midwest, she is happy to have settled on the West Coast and is now adjusting to life as a mother, having given birth to her first child at the end of December. She and her husband also love to travel – and their goal is to visit every state!
How did you end up working at SōRSE?
Coming from the ChicagoLand area and passing by Kansas, my husband and I have always wanted to live on the West Coast (the Best Coast). When he had a job opportunity in Tacoma, I followed and started working for Amazon. I thought working for a big corporation in a liberal state would be a dream.
After just a few weeks, I realized that working for such a big company wasn’t for me. It felt way too impersonal, and there was too much structure. Everything is tracked in multiple programs, no one knows anyone, and people just walk by without saying “Hello.” There are cameras everywhere, a lot of security, facial recognition devices, controlled access everywhere, you name it.
After deciding to remove myself from that environment, I found out about SōRSE and thought how cool it would be to work in this industry in the state of Washington. I liked that it was a startup; it seemed like a place where I could make a difference. There weren’t a lot of people here at first, but you could really see how everyone came together. I thought the building itself was pretty quirky and in an odd neighborhood, but I liked that it had personality.
Cannabis was not legal in states I lived in before, so I didn’t know much about it. CBD definitely interested me, and I wanted to learn about the fast-growing industry and see SōRSE grow with it. Working Quality in a company that uses CBD means that you get to do a lot of detective work and figure things out on your own, which is very satisfying.
There aren’t a lot of places where you are on the cusp of discovery, and here at SōRSE It feels like we are modern day cowboys during the Green Rush.
What have been some of the significant moments in your time here? What are you proud of?
The renovation of the lab has been an important project in the last few months, and it is coming along nicely. A huge project we have been working on is restructuring and revising our safety plan and making sure it is aligned with the company’s goals. When we have had quality issues, we have worked well as a team to find out the problem, gathered documentation, and investigated, and then were able to make decisions on how to proceed.
I find a lot of satisfaction putting systems in place – it’s important to get information out of people’s heads and into a place where others can access it. I am also very happy about working with other departments to organize information flow, how the team tackles major challenges and is committed to finding reliable information when they have to solve a problem.
What do you love most about what you do?
What I really love most is that I get to use so much of what I have learned in my educational and work background in QA/QC—Business, Microbiology, and Analytical Chemistry. I feel like everything I have done in the past has prepared me for this role. And I love that I have great people to turn to who are so committed to the success of SōRSE and are not hesitant to offer their expertise.
What can be challenging about your work?
With this industry being so new, sometimes there just isn’t any information out there that you can go by. This is especially difficult when working in QA/QC where the goal is standardization. This means that we need to put our detective hats on to find resources, solutions and answers to our questions; this kind of work is challenging but intellectually stimulating. Sometimes we have to create the answers we need and show the work behind why we think it is a valid answer.
Where do you see yourself in this role moving forward?
I foresee making our food safety program even more robust. This means fine-tuning the foundation work we are doing right now. For me personally, I want to continue to grow the quality side and take on aspects of the regulatory systems, to keep the customers safe and the quality of our products high.
Can you share a fun fact that not a lot of people know about you?
I am originally from Morocco – I lived there until I finished high school. Then I went to Fargo, North Dakota for my undergrad studies. NDSU had a low cost of living (I wonder why?) and good quality programs. The transition to Fargo was difficult; between the harsh weather, strong accents and me looking so different from everyone else, I felt like I was living on Mars…except Mars was warmer on some days. Living there makes me appreciate the beauty of Seattle, the people, and the mild climate.
For a company that started 2019 with 15 employees and is finishing with over 40, it has been an exciting year for SōRSE Technology, one filled with change, growth, challenge, and promise. The articles listed below document some of the many highlights for SōRSE from the year — from Geekwire’s peek into the goings-on in our Seattle offices and labs, to a press announcement about our expanded partnership agreement with Valens. The articles highlighted throughout the year are on some of the people who power SōRSE and the events where we have showcased our products and our knowledge about the marketplace. SōRSE is definitely ending the year on a high note, having emerged as an innovative leader in the industry.
In May, a team from Geekwire paid a visit to SōRSE headquarters and wrote this piece about the company’s beginnings, the products #powered by SōRSE, and on the magic happening in the labs. Writer Kurt Schlosser commented, “Lee considers what his scientists are working on to be more of a platform — like Gortex — and he said the breakthrough for the company has been in understanding food technology, speed to market, and getting the right people to actually help drive the product.”
In July, Chief Science Officer, Scott Riefler, was interviewed by columnist Warren Bobrow on his background in aerospace and food science, as well as the work he is doing at SōRSE. When asked about short and long-term goals, Scott commented: “Regardless of the timeframe, our team is always focused on improving and evolving our technology.”
In August, Manager of Process Engineering, Emily Skrobecki, was named one of the Cannabis industry’s most powerful and innovative women by Forbes. When describing Emily, writer Warren Bobrow commented, “The challenge of the unknown is what drives Skrobecki to search for knowledge and dive deep into this type of science.”
In September, Ryan Tedder, frontman of the band, OneRepublic, appeared on the Today Show to talk about his successes, his failures, his creative process. Toward the end of the interview, after being handed a can of Mad Tasty (powered by SōRSE) and asked what it was, he commented, “In all my downtime, I started a beverage company about a year ago with Interscope Records, my label, and some friends…It’s got 20 mg of CBD in each can…zero sugar, all natural. I drink about five a day.”
In October, at SupplySideWest in Las Vegas, the SōRSE team unveiled its agglomerated CBD powder, which allows for rapid hydration for instant beverages. When describing the power of the powder, VP of Science, Michael Flemmens commented, “This is a game-changer and silver bullet for the cannabis functional ingredient space and infused products.”
In November, CNN ran an article on Drake entering the cannabis space through a partnership with Canopy Growth. VP of Marketing, Diana Eberlein, shared her thoughts on which types of celebrity brands resonate with customers, and which don’t. “People are attracted to brands that are real and authentic…If it feels inauthentic, they will lose that audience very quickly.”
Also in November, Manager of Process Engineering, Emily Skrobecki, was honored for her work in the cannabis industry in the inaugural honoree class of the High Times’ Female 50. Each woman featured on the list was nominated and voted on by the public. High Times staffers wrote, “This collection represents fifty women in all areas of the cannabis space, from research to business and from politics to activism, who have made their mark in a truly significant and impactful way.”
In December, the SōRSE team traveled to Santa Monica for the company’s debut as an exhibitor at BevNET Cannabis Forum and as a Gold Sponsor of BevNET Live Winter 2019. A highlight of the conference was SōRSE partnering with Drop Water and hosting a “Build Your Own CBD Beverage” station where guests could create their own CBD beverage. CEO Howard Lee shared, “Our team showed the breadth and array of flavor and dosage possibilities to attendees and generated positive buzz around our technology and this emerging category.”
In December, SōRSE and Valens announced their expanded partnership agreement, which grants Valens an exclusive license for Canada, Europe, Australia and Mexico to use the proprietary SōRSE emulsion technology to produce, market, package, sell and distribute cannabis-infused products. Tyler Robson, CEO of Valens, commented, “We expect the expanded exclusive territory will provide our clients with improved visibility and greater opportunity as they look to build global businesses around cannabis-infused products over the long term.”
2019 has proven that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts at SōRSE. Yes, we have increased our staff three-fold in twelve months, but what is most important about this growth is the intelligence, innovation, and the range of professional experience that each member of the team brings to the table. SōRSE is powered by creative, analytic, fun-loving people who are passionate about what they do, who believe in the products they are producing, and who appreciate the strengths and talents of their co-workers. When we look back at what the company has accomplished in 2019, we can only be excited for what is ahead of us in 2020 and beyond.
Meet our Technical Project Manager, Mike Schmitt. His academic background in Business, Food Science, and Microbiology and sixteen years of experience in the food and beverage industry lends itself well to working on the Operations team at SōRSE. Mike is the kind of person who will take on any challenge put before him, and he loves being a problem solver and mentor to his colleagues. Mike sees himself as a Jack of all trades who finds all of the work he is doing fascinating and fun, which makes him a valuable member of the team.
How did you end up at SōRSE? How did you find out about the company?
Prior to SōRSE, I worked at Doehler North America as a Technical Project Manager, and prior to that, I was a Food Scientist at Darigold for nearly ten years. After leaving Doehler and not working for a while, I got to the point where I just threw my hands up in the air and started calling people I had known from my past jobs, and Scott Riefler (CSO) was one of them. Scott and I had a wonderful supplier/customer relationship at Darigold; he really impressed me with his ability to be straightforward and honest, and he was someone I really trusted.
Scott asked if I was open to working with CBD, which I was. He said there might be a position at a company he was involved with, and it was SōRSE. The process from the first conversation to job offer was a whirlwind – it happened in 12 days! I came into the job knowing I would be doing a wide array of things – and it has been fun seeing how I can be of help with my food, tech, and business background. Officially, I’m a Technical Project Manager here, but “Startup Technical Generalist Manager” is a title that I created for myself.
What have been some of the significant moments in your time here?
Definitely coming to the understanding that we are so new in a young industry, that we have the ability to work with and guide lawmakers who are trying to regulate this industry, and that we can set ourselves apart through best practices. Having a food and beverage mentality and mindset is already built into what we do and what makes our product stand out. We have opportunities to improve, but we are definitely leaps and bounds ahead of our competitors. One of our competitors has even asked if we could convert some of their extract for them because they liked our liquid emulsion so much; it is so clean compared to their product. Our competitors are trying to follow us and are definitely not at the same level as we are.
In your time at SōRSE, what are you most proud of, and what do you love most about your job?
I’m proud of being trusted to get things done. In the past I’ve been entrusted to do a lot of different things, but to be trusted right off the bat feels fantastic. I am also encouraged to try something new all the time. At SōRSE you can really do anything you want. After working for companies with so much structure, I didn’t realize that I would flourish in a startup environment, but it turns out I like to build structure around the chaos. It’s also been fun to have been able to mentor and help others in ways that I hadn’t imagined.
What I love most about my work is the daily challenge. Because there is something new every day, I know that am not going to be bored. We have new markets we are going into, new suppliers we are working with – it’s great to be a part of this world. Today’s challenge is ensuring that our B2C products have risk assessments done, because B2B assessment is a lot different than B2C. This is connected to our overall goal and long-term strategy to be ready for when the FDA makes a ruling on how CBD can interact with food. We have to be FDA-ready to make the big sale. Consumers are demanding that they get access to products with CBD in them, and it’s just a matter of time before the FDA makes a ruling on how it can officially be put into foods and beverages.
Where do you see yourself in this role moving forward?
I envision myself talking on a variety of roles, as needed, to help the company grow. I ask that any company I work for challenges me, lets me do a little bit of travel, and gives me the opportunity to teach and learn. That has happened to my heart’s content here at SōRSE. In Week 8 of working here, I was able to travel to London to teach others about CBD in products and how it will affect development in the UK and EU. I’m also sharing as much as I’m learning with team; I see how important it is to understand state and federal regulations. We have 11 states with recreational laws, 33 that have medical. Each set of laws is different – and you have to know those differences. SōRSE needs to have a background in the similarities and differences of regulations in the industry to help make sure we can grow as the industry does, and I’m trying to help SōRSE understand this.
Can you share a fun fact that not a lot of people know about you?
Whenever I travel to a new country, I always have to stop by a McDonald’s to try a localized product or get a cheeseburger and fries. I really appreciate the effort that goes into making a cheeseburger in India taste like one in Seattle. I’ve met the team tasked with this effort at McDonald’s headquarters, and I love to nerd out with fellow food scientists doing their job on a global scale.
Meet our Manager of Process Engineering, Emily Skrobecki, who brings over three years of experience in the cannabis and hemp space as an Analytical Chemist, along with an academic background in Chemical Engineering with an emphasis in biochemical processes. Emily’s knowledge and enthusiasm for her work makes her an amazing brand ambassador. She believes strongly that there is no “I” in teamwork, and this ethos is evident in the way she collaborates with the SōRSE team.
How did you get started at SōRSE?
Prior to SōRSE, I was working at an edibles company. My last company brought in Scott (CSO at SōRSE) to do a presentation, and it opened up my eyes to the emulsion technology world. Months later, I met him again at a Cann-STEM meetup where he was presenting. We started talking about working together, and he encouraged me to come to SōRSE. Funny enough, I was hesitant at first because I was well aware of how chaotic the 502 industry is and already had plans on leaving this industry.
After consulting with my parents and close friends, I decided not to leave the industry because it’s a once in a lifetime experience, particularly watching cannabis become legal — medicinally and recreationally — and now going through a huge growth period. Now, one year later, I am so happy I took this job. I’ve had endless opportunities to play in the lab and shape myself into the scientist and engineer I wanted to be. I feel appreciated and seen as a knowledge source, and I am happy with the team we’ve created. I firmly believe that the science drives the integrity of our product.
What is Cann-STEM?
Cann-STEM is a cannabis science group that I started, for people like me, to meet and talk about the industry’s scientific progression. At that time, the industry was still so new that most “discoveries” were being kept a secret due to the illegal/closet thinking tendencies when cannabis was a federal crime.
Cann-STEM was made to promote the development and sharing of cannabis scientific knowledge through the collaboration of cannabis research, innovation, and technology. The group has speakers to come talk with us every month about what they were working on and share their knowledge.
What have been some of the significant moments in your year here?
One of my first projects at SōRSE was to create a powder formulation that would have similar water-soluble properties of our liquid, but also be easy to process with high yields. I worked closely with Scott and Michael Flemmens (VP of Science at SōRSE) for guidance in creating this challenging monster. Long days, weeks, and months were put into this project, but all became worth it in the end. Long story short, creation and commercialization has been my most significant moment here thus far. Scale-up is usually a long process, and man, we commercialized that product in less than 10 months. What a record!
In your time at SōRSE, what are you most proud of?
I’m really proud of how the company, and the people within the company, have grown in one calendar year. We all have been pulled and stretched in many directions, but we have grown so much from it. We failed — a lot — but failing is good. If you are not failing, you are not learning. One of my favorite phrases, both in the workplace and my personal life is, “there is always room for improvement.”
What do you love most about what you do?
I love the challenge of someone saying, “I want to put CBD in this.” People have crazy ideas for products – and there are endless opportunities to help people get their idea off the ground. I am happy to be on a team that explores these ideas and does insane things in the lab.
Can you share a fun fact that not a lot of people know about you?
One of the most important things in my life is spending as much time in the ocean as possible. My goal is to be in the ocean at least once every day. As of right now, I am close to once a week! Baby steps…
In case you missed it, our VP of Science, Scott Riefler was a speaker at Smart Kitchen Summit 2018. This executive summit on the future of food and cooking took place in Seattle on October 8-9th, 2018.
SKS says this about the Summit:
“Reinventing the food, home appliance and kitchen industries takes vision. SKS brings together a roster of all stars to share insights, educate and connect. Meet the CEOs, founders, and visionaries reshaping your industry.”
Check out this interview by The Spoon featuring our VP of Science, Scott where he coins our new favorite hashtag: #LiftOffTime
This is one of our favorite events that brings science and food together under one roof. We’re excited to see what next year will bring!
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Photos via The Spoon