From Restauranteur to Pot Entrepreneur: An Interview with Compass Clinics' Dave Martyn

From owning his first restaurant at 22 to selling a retail cannabis brand in Canada in 2018, Dave Martyn has seen it all. Now, he's bringing his business acumen and cannabis knowledge to the land down under.

Over the past few years, the cannabis industry has made enormous strides. Canada federally legalized the full gamut of cannabis form factors, many U.S. states have legalized or decriminalized the plant, and countless ballots are now arising across the world, in the hopes that cannabis can be made legal in those areas. Despite all of this, however, the industry remains very much in its infancy. It's not yet entirely clear who the 'Coca Cola' or 'Nike' of cannabis will be, and it's also unclear as to what the laws surrounding cannabis will look like over the next few years.

As such, the industry is still evolving and taking shape, and new players are constantly entering the cannabis space from a wide range of backgrounds, whether it be pharmaceutical experience, cultivation experience, or experience that seems unrelated entirely to cannabis.

One such player is Dave Martyn, the President and Founder of Compass Cannabis Clinics. Dave Martyn's work experience started with being a delivery driver for a restaurant in Alberta, Canada at age 17. Over the next few years, through his experience in working for restaurants, Dave soaked up all the insights he could into how the food industry operates, which he used to open his own restaurant at age 22.

I've been interested in the business world for as long as I can remember. Dave Martyn, President & Founder of Compass Clinics

For many, owning a restaurant at 22 is enough to keep their hands full, but for Dave, it was just the beginning. Over the next eight years, Dave Martyn went on to expand his restaurant locations throughout Canada, before selling all of them and traveling the globe.

Entering the Canadian Cannabis Sector

Once he had returned from his travels, Dave became a shareholder and executive for a restaurant franchise based in Vancouver that was later awarded the Food Service and Hospitality Magazine's 'Canadian Food Service Company of the Year Pinnacle Award.'

Although it was Dave's restaurant expertise that brought him to Vancouver, it was during his time there that he became increasingly exposed to the groundswell of excitement surrounding the cannabis industry in Canada.

After noticing the palpable energy and development surrounding cannabis in Canada, Dave moved to Kelowna B.C. to launch his own cannabis venture in 2017. That venture became Compass Cannabis Clinics, which arose out of what Dave describes as a "confusion" around medicinal cannabis in the country.

Vancouver was the centre of the cannabis movement in Canada in the early days, and it was there that I was exposed to cannabis's medical benefits and economic opportunities. Dave Martyn, President & Founder of Compass Clinics

"We found there to be a lot of confusion around medicinal cannabis from all levels of stakeholders. This included government, physicians and patients. Our goal was to create a process that was easy to understand and navigate for each stakeholder. We also wanted to remove the stigma around cannabis by having open discussions around its benefits, while discussing some of the falsehoods that developed during the war on drugs," said Dave.  

Though unlike other emerging cannabis clinics at the time, Compass Cannabis Clinics wanted to take a more "holistic approach."

"Compass Cannabis Clinics has been developed as a consequence of our changing view of health care. We are entering a period of time where the discussion is moving from "lifespan" to "healthspan". People no longer want to just live a long time, they want to be healthy for a long time. Cannabis may be a tool to help in that process but there are other services that also aid patients towards long-term health. As either stand-alone services or combined, our offerings will help to promote improved health."

Unlike other cannabis clinics, which often serve as a platform for health practitioners to prescribe medical cannabis products, Compass Clinics also provide other therapies like chiropractic, naturopathic, and metabolic medical services that are designed to work in "synergistic unity" with cannabis-derived medicines.

Expanding Compass Clinics

Having now entered the cannabis space alongside the other co-founders of Compass Clinics, Dave and his colleagues could feel that there was something bigger, bubbling under the surface of the cannabis industry, and so Dave and the team headed to Colorado, the first U.S. state to legalize the plant. It was there, in Denver, that Dave found StarBuds.

"Colorado was unique in that there was no public company money allowed in the state, all of the players had been built from the ground up," remarked Dave.

"I was very impressed with the Starbuds operations, They had not only grown statewide but had also begun to expand outside of Colorado. I also loved the name, it was catchy and memorable which we felt was an asset in a new market. I was able to connect with the founders and we developed a joint venture to bring the brand into Canada in 2018."

The timing couldn't have been more perfect, as it was in 2018 that Canada made the bold leap of federally legalizing recreational use cannabis, and the Compass Clinics team was ready to ride that wave through Starbuds' Canadian operations.

"As legalization moved forward, we built out stand-alone locations and converted some of our clinics to retail locations," said Dave of the Starbuds operations. However, despite the success of Starbuds, Dave realized that the medicinal and recreational cannabis markets were moving in different directions from one another, and it was the broader medicinal market that presented the largest opportunity.

The major growth sector, over the next decade, will be the medical cannabis industries outside of North America. Dave Martyn, President & Founder of Compass Clinics

Realizing the direction he wanted to move within the cannabis space, Dave and the rest of the Compass team decided to sell their Canadian Starbuds brand.

"We sold the Starbuds business to a public company in 2020 and it continues to develop in Canada and the USA up to today. The founders in Colorado recently sold that business to a public company based in the USA for $118 million."

Bringing Compass Clinics To Australia

Having built up experience in the cannabis space and identifying the medicinal sector of the industry as a key growth area, Dave brought his attention to Australia, which he believes will experience an "explosive period of growth over the next 5-7 years."

"Australia's Patient growth has been record-breaking for the last year but it is nothing compared to where we see it going, likely in the range of 350,000 active patients per month by the mid to late 2020's," Dave said.

In order to place himself at the epicentre of this growth, Dave and his team opened up the first two Compass Cannabis Clinics in Sydney, Australia in 2019.

Compass Clinics

"We see strong opportunities in the Australian product market, via white label agreements. Better product quality and improved pricing for patients will drive growth in patient counts and likely improve results for patients. Lastly, should CBD be reclassified in early 2021, that market will be huge and Compass Clinics intend to be in it. Over the counter CBD has already found big markets in the USA and UK, so there is no reason not to expect the same in Australia.

I feel like CBD will be the new multivitamin for the 2020s in terms of public adoption and daily use Dave Martyn, President & Founder of Compass Clinics

Now, Dave and the Compass Australia team plan to further expand their operations Down Under, and have launched a crowdfunded cap-raise on Birchal, an equity crowdfunding platform, with expectations to raise up to $2 million. In just over a week, the company looks on target to exceed its goal, having raised close to $700,000, with 13 days left in the campaign.

Cannabis in the APAC Region

There's a lot of buzz surrounding Compass Clinics, and Dave reports having been "approached by groups in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America around expansion or licensing opportunities."

However, for now, he's keeping his eyes set on the APAC region. stating that "we want to build and develop our current operations in Australia before we stretch ourselves thin, trying to do too much."

Though once Compass Clinics expands throughout Australia, Dave states that the opportunities are rapidly opening up across the globe with regards to cannabis:

"There is too much momentum behind cannabis for it to slow and it's not just in Australia and New Zealand. We think most people would be surprised to see where medicinal cannabis is in the early stages of development in the region, places like Japan with CBD, South Korea with a medicinal program, and Thailand moving from the death penalty for possession to free access for patients in under a year."

"Compass wants to be a key player in expanding patient access and developing products that are high quality and competitively priced. Patient counts will grow faster and at a higher volume than most expect. There are likely to be adult-use opportunities we will explore over time as well. In the next decade, cannabis is likely to grow faster than any non-tech industry on a global scale."

And while COVID-19 has sent the world into a tailspin, Dave predicts it will push the momentum of the cannabis industry even further.

"The world coming out of COVID-19 is going to be much different than the world going into COVID-19. Changes in perceptions around cannabis and telemedicine are happening at a speed not seen since perhaps the launch of the internet. The acceptance of cannabis as medicine to deal with major issues such as anxiety, in the most anxious period in modern history, is going to blow most observers away. Very exciting times for cannabis are coming in the 2020s."

To find out more about Compass Clinics, you can visit their website here and you can find their Birchal crowdfunding campaign here.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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