- On 17 October, New Zealand will hold a referendum on the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.
- In 2018, Rua Bioscience became the first company in NZ to hold a cannabis cultivation licence; in 2019, it was the first to legally import seeds for planting.
- Rua Bioscience is set to go public via the NZX on 22 October with a focus on pharmaceutical grade cannabis products and cultivation.
By Joshua Gliddon
Cannabis is a contentious subject. Demonised by some, hailed as a medical and spiritual breakthrough by others, it has long been illegal in many jurisdictions, including New Zealand.
Come 17 October, that could change. It’s the date of the New Zealand general election and included is a referendum (waggishly referred to as a “reeferendum” by some) on the legalisation of recreational cannabis.
Despite the possibility of legalisation, Rua Bioscience, a medical cannabis company based on New Zealand’s East Coast, isn’t expecting to ride the prospective wave of recreational users to prosperity.
Established three years ago, and initially bankrolled by crowdfunding and then institutional investors, the company focuses on pharmaceutical grade cannabis products and cultivation. It’s set to go public and start trading on the NZX on 22 October.
Deeply involved in the listing process is Hamish White CA, Rua’s CFO. White says the capital raised from the IPO will enable Rua to expand its operations and further focus on supplying medicinal cannabis products to lucrative markets such as Germany.
“It’s our next stage of growth,” he says. “We have our commercial cannabis licences and have built a pharmaceutical grade manufacturing facility and a high-tech cultivation facility. This capital will provide the funds we need to take the business to the next level.”
How White got into the cannabis business
White says he was always interested in business, but for the first few years of his career – and in the last couple at high school – he focused on action sports and adventure tourism.
“In high school I did outdoor pursuits, got a qualification as a snowboarding instructor and wanted to follow that line of work,” says White.
After leaving school he completed a diploma in adventure tourism and moved to Queenstown, where he lived for five years.
Then he met his future wife and realised that if he wanted to make it to the top of adventure tourism, he needed to understand business. He went back to university, studied accounting and information systems, and then moved into a graduate program with PwC.
About five years ago he obtained his CA designation, and although he still had a burning desire to work in action sports – “I thought maybe I’d work for Quiksilver or Rip Curl” – he later met the founders of what became Rua Bioscience, Panapa Ehau and Manu Caddie.
“They were having a hemp harvesting day, and they put word out for people who were interested to come along,” White recalls. “I went along, met them and said that if they needed an accountant, to let me know. I got the call the next day.”
Image credit: Josie McClutchie.
The CA in a crowdfunded start-up
Rua’s founders are interested in social justice and started the company with a mission to provide local employment opportunities for their East Coast communities around Ruatorea (Ruatoria), 90km north-east of Gisborne.
They pursued opportunities in housing, native plant regeneration and other bioactive extracts but quickly saw the opportunity medicinal cannabis had for improving economic outcomes in their communities and the wellbeing of people everywhere.
White started working with them when they crowdfunded the business on the back of an opportunity in an emerging industry,
“We actually crashed the crowdfunding platform a couple of times, before eventually raising just over NZ$2 million from around 1300 local investors,” he says.
In parallel to the crowdfunding, Rua raised more funds from institutional investors, something White, as a CA, was intimately involved with.
“Being a CA, you have an excellent business skill set to draw from; this is particularly valuable in a start-up when you’re moving fast and making lots of important decisions,” says White.
Picture: Hamish White CA.
“Being a CA, you have an excellent business skill set to draw from; this is particularly valuable in a start-up when you’re moving fast and making lots of important decisions.”
CAs often get a seat at the top table, and White says knowing that the business is being run properly is something the leadership team values.
“Being a CA creates confidence,” he says. “The CEO and I would bounce ideas around – constantly checking to make sure decisions we were making are aligned to our strategy.”
A focus on pharmaceutical cannabis products
With the cannabis referendum and the IPO looming, Rua aims to capitalise on its intellectual property and accelerate growth. It has raised NZ$20 million after receiving strong support from broker offers and a priority offer to the local community and original shareholders from the crowdfunding.
“Other investors will be able to purchase shares once Rua is listed on the NZX,” White says.
And regardless of whether New Zealand legalises recreational cannabis, White says it won’t distract Rua from its focus on pharmaceuticals derived from cannabis.
“We have the IP, we have the facilities, and now we just need to grow,” he says.