Each week we highlight entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry for our viewers to learn more about the leading cannabis executives of our time.
This week, we highlight Steve Sakala of Mana Artisan Botanics.
Steve Sakala is the co-founder and CEO of Mana Artisan Botanics, as well as the owner of Honaunau Farm. Steve has been a leader in the medical cannabis and sustainability movements for more than two decades. Over the last seven years, he’s focused on CBD-rich (cannabidiol) hemp strains that have diverse and potent health benefits.
He has served as the president of the local chapter of Hawaii Farmers Union United, part of the oldest agriculture organization in the country. He has also spent time lobbying for sustainable agriculture in Washington, D.C., and in the Hawaii state legislature. In his efforts to support sustainable hemp legislation and cultivation in the State of Hawaii, Steve’s company Green Hawaii Genetics was awarded the first contract to grow hemp seed for the state.
He graduated from Humboldt State University with a bachelor’s degree in natural resources and city planning with an emphasis on appropriate technology.
In our interview with Steve, we asked a variety of questions to learn more about Mana Artisan Botanics, what it takes to build a business in the cannabis industry and much more!
First off Steve, congratulations on being featured as this week’s entrepreneur of the week and for all that you do! Can you please share with our readers your elevator pitch for Mana Artisan Botanics?
Steve Sakala: Yes, of course! Based on the Big Island of Hawaii, Mana Artisan Botanics is a purpose-driven hemp company with a mission to be a voice for sustainable agriculture, our local economy and community wellness. We offer artisanal hemp infusions handcrafted with pure Hawaiian botanicals.
DCN: So, what ignited the spark for you to start to launch your business?
Steve Sakala: I became an environmentalist at a young age in part after learning about hemp and how it can alleviate many serious environmental challenges. I worked on California’s first medical cannabis legalization initiatives in the early ’90s, which turned my attention to the medical benefits of cannabis. I witnessed the benefits of hemp first hand, both on an environmental and medical level, many times over the years.
In the past seven years, I have learned a lot about the balancing and healing power of our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), the benefits of different cannabinoids and terpenes and the problems caused by cannabinoid deficiency. Last year I was on the team awarded one of the first contracts to grow hemp in Hawaii. Subsequently, I co-founded Mana Artisan Botanics, a hemp-based botanical company, to serve two purposes.
First, I want people to achieve the full benefit of the medicinal qualities of CBD-rich hemp and other Hawaiian botanicals, which is why we grow and source all ingredients using organic, sustainable and regenerative agricultural methods in partnership with other local farmers who share our values.
Second, I want America’s nascent but expanding hemp industry to serve as a vanguard, showing other cash-crop growers the financial and environmental value of adopting sustainable and regenerative agricultural methods on a large scale.
DCN: Wow, I love your passion and motivation and very excited to see your journey. With that being said, how do you believe you are helping the cannabis industry in a positive way?
Steve Sakala: I am committed to educating the cannabis industry on the value of using sustainable, regenerative and organic methods for growing cannabis. We need to leave our land better than we found it. In general, the cannabis industry is very resource intensive. Many growers currently use chemical fertilizers, fungicides, and pesticides, as well as massive amounts of electricity.
The current growing model is not sustainable. I want to help show other cannabis growers how to apply and profit from a regenerative approach that builds an ecosystem using cover crops, composting and other sustainable agriculture techniques. Our nation’s food system is closely watching the cannabis industry because it is such a high-value crop. We have an unprecedented opportunity to influence what methods and techniques big agriculture adopts. Why not show the food industry the best possible example that will benefit us all for generations to come?
DCN: That is very true! Now growing up and throughout your professional career, who would you say is your role model, and why?
Steve Sakala: I’ve had many inspiring teachers along the way. My father and both my grandfathers were major role models for me from a young age. My Dad, Ron Sakala, instilled a work ethic that continues with me today. Both of my grandfathers played a major role in cultivating my interest in agriculture.
DCN: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Steve Sakala: In my opinion, persistence, dedication, and creativity are essential for an entrepreneur. Also, having a real passion for your work rather than just doing it for an income is a major factor in success!
DCN: If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?
Steve Sakala: I would love to talk to Gandhi. He’s an inspiring leader because he took his spiritual dedication to a new level and became an activist and catalyst for a worldwide movement that empowered the underserved.
DCN: Now when it comes to being an entrepreneur finding balance can be hard. How do you stay balanced?
Steve Sakala: Well, I’m not sure that I’m exactly balanced. I’m a farmer at heart, and working on the land here in Hawaii is certainly part of my balance. I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle through growing and eating good food. I also practice yoga and have recently started to enjoy Zouk dancing, which is a social activity that builds community.
DCN: Where did your organization’s funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it?
Steve Sakala: I had already started the first CBD hemp company in Hawaii while simultaneously running our education retreat farm. One of our retreat guests, Pelin Thorogood – a former tech CEO and now a Mana co-founder – connected us to our current investor, Andy Noorda, who was already interested in CBD as a way to treat his son’s cerebral palsy. Andy’s initial interest was around starting a non-profit CBD research and education foundation. Through our discussions, he also decided to help fund Mana Artisan Botanics based on common values and a shared mission.
DCN: What is the best piece of advice you can give to others looking to launch a company in the cannabis industry?
Steve Sakala: Serve your clients by creating high-quality products based on sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices.
DCN: What’s the hardest part of founding and running a startup?
Steve Sakala: It’s hard to find a balance of what you can do yourself and what you need to pay someone for in the beginning. The key to success is knowing best how to manage resources and surrounding oneself with the right team members. Everything in life is about relationships, so creating a synergistic team is essential.
DCN: Is there anything that surprised you about being an entrepreneur in the cannabis industry?
Steve Sakala: Having been in the industry for 25 years, it surprises me that it has taken this long for cannabis to be recognized for its multitude of medicinal applications. Concurrently, as cannabis has become increasingly recognized, there is an unfortunate lack of widespread access to healthy, clean, medical-grade cannabis products.
Also given cannabis acts as a phytoremediator (i.e. soil cleanser), it is disheartening that there hasn’t been more attention to the way cannabis is grown. I hope to see the increasing consumer demand for organic, healthy, foods translate to a similar demand in the cannabis industry.
DCN: Being a founder, we are bound to make a mistake or two, what is one mistake you made that turned up being one of your biggest learning lessons?
Steve Sakala: Being a farmer and an environmentalist without a formal business education, I was led by passion and inspiration. Those qualities don’t necessarily translate into the skills needed on a daily basis to run a company. I am continually learning. I’m also cultivating the necessary support for success by surrounding myself with a complementary team, along with an honest recognition of my own shortcomings.
DCN: Continous education is important and we believe continuous reading allows for continuous growth. What book has inspired you the most?
Steve Sakala: Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi’s autobiography “My Experiments With Truth”
DCN: Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Steve Sakala: I admire Patagonia because it’s a true example of a mission-driven company. It was also the first B Corporation in California, and it continues to donate part of its profit to environmental causes.
DCN: How can we as an industry continue to make a positive difference in society?
Steve Sakala: I think the cannabis industry can improve two critical systems in our society: big agriculture and health care. If the cannabis industry commits to sustainable, regenerative agriculture practices, I believe we can start to influence the way big agriculture grows our food. And if we can continue to demonstrate the critical role cannabis can play in improving people’s health in a natural and pharmaceutical-free way, we can take a major step to help alleviate the current healthcare crisis — with the opportunity to touch everything from opioid addiction and pain management to chronic disease and cancer.
DCN: Thank you, Steve, for sharing your story and offering such real and insightful advice! It was so great being able to feature you as this week’s entrepreneur of the week!Is there anything you would like to share with our readers before we let you go?
Steve Sakala: My hope is that consumers start demanding organic, sustainably-grown cannabis products. Hemp will be just another a cash crop until consumers demand more. We want our farm and company to serve as a force for good and to be that example of the high potential the cannabis industry can reach.
For those looking to learn more about Mana Artisan Botanics, click here. Find them on Instagram:@manabotanics