Published on
September 7, 2020

Vic Neufeld | Executive Chairman, Havn Life Sciences

Companies Mentioned
People Mentioned
Vic Neufeld

You were on the ground floor of scaling up one of the largest cannabis companies on the planet. What similarities do you see from the early days of that opportunity and where things are at now within psychedelics?

With any organization in a rather "new" industry sector, the launching pad for success is to have the right vision, with corporate sights set on and built for success. In the early days of Aphria, when many doubters were most skeptical of the cannabis sector and the usual stigma attached to the use of cannabis, the uphill battle continued for several years, but our focus (given the Health Canada limitations at the time) was to ensure that we had the best quality at the right price for the growing number of medical users. With  many doubters, both in terms of growing cannabis in a greenhouse to ramping up cultivation to scale to selling online to medical patients, the Aphria team stayed committed and dedicated to bringing to market the Aphria medical channel business model. Unwavering to the vision, I can proudly state that the TEAM persevered with great success. At Havn, although relatively new to the organization, I can see at our early stages the same sort of passion that fuelled the Aphria business model. What needs to be emphasized is that the Havn vision, albeit in the psychedelic space, is on solid footing - now we must continue down this path, despite the obstacles that we will confront. Still in a rather fledgling industry, Havn has mapped out a path to success, both in terms of the underlying health conditions of mental health research and adopted a commercialization model for Health & Wellness. Both pathways have many opportunities, as did Aphria's medical and eventual recreational models.

You spent two decades building Jamieson Laboratories in to a global brand, helping them exponentially grow the business and become a leader in vitamins and botanical medicines. What do you see being possible for functional mushrooms as nutraceuticals? How will your experience at Jamieson inform your contributions to HAVN’s retail strategy?

My passion has always been in the Health & Wellness category, and my 21 years as Jamieson's CEO exemplified this desire to bring to market products that are consumer friendly, safe and effective. Growing the business over the years was filled with opportunities as well as challenges. But the thrust of the Jamieson business model was always to bring to m,arket prducts that had formulations that the consumer either wanted/demanded, or that a new category was blossoming, and as the market leader, being in front of this growing curve was important. Whether formulations took the path of a NPN or was regulated by Traditional Herbals and Functional Foods, the focus was to be part of new categories in the Health & Wellness space. This is where Functional mushrooms, akin to the nutraceutical sector, has lots of promise. With the right science that supports safety and efficacy, and a consumer trend moving more and more to plant-based products, Havn is well positioned to be part of this potentially explosive consumer trend. From a retail strategy perspective, i can see the usual channels of trade like health food, grocery and drug all becoming educated on the merits of psychedelics like the mushroom family, and with consumers becoming more advanced in their personal search for improved quality of life as it relates to mental health, i can see several models working synergistically. The process of obtaining NPNs is the most obvious, but only with the right verifiable science driving this model. At the same time, with functional foods gaining lots of traction, the Traditional Herbal pathway can more readily be commercialized. But let's not overlook the longer term prospects of true science that is not based on the pharma model, rather, sourced from Mother Nature - more and more consumers are turning their personal search for improvement in health (and specifically mental health).

What got you personally excited about pursuing psychedelics?

My involvement with Havn started as a reach out from a friend in the cannabis industry who was making an investment in Havn, and my respect for him turned into several discussions on the psychedelic space based on the science and the research of mushrooms. From the outset, my focus was on the skillset assembled within the management team. One can have access to lot of capital, can talk about great industry opportunities, but without solid leadership at the helm, and a commitment to further the vision, I would not have been excited. But it became clear to me that as I researched and evaluated the team, and all critical areas of responsibilities were properly covered off, my excitement level rose to the point where I invested personal funds, and eventually accepted a Board position. Over the years, I only invest both time and money where the business model is sound and executable, and where the leadership is solid.

What do you think most people don’t yet understand about psychedelics?

Psychedelics is really in its infancy stage, with only a few really understanding what this plant-based functional food can provide in terms of health benefits. Part of this is scarcity of true research on a clinical basis, but also a societal inhibition to the many applications of a plant-based food like mushrooms. Media is starting to bring more attention to this space. Investors are waking up to the fact that those that missed the cannabis rage in 2014 and 2015 when entry price levels were "cheap", see this category as something that they can invest in. But there must be solid clinical research that supports the mental health benefits, because without this sort of independent support, the traditional channels like drugstore will remain on the sidelines (unless product launches follow the Traditional Remedies path). This is where social media support is absolutely part of the messaging and education. Consumers will either drive this category or kill it - they need the comfort of safety and efficacy, and this requires evidence-based  science.

Can you share how you see HAVN growing and expanding as a brand?

Havn as a brand will be one of several getting into this space. What will differentiate Havn from others is our models will be based on evidence-based science, led by a great team of skilled and diversified leaders. My support for the Havn model has compelled me to reach out and bring on board as Chief Science Officer Gary Leong, who was my CSO both at Jamieson and at Aphria. I do not recommend career path changes to friends I respect unless I fully endorse a business. The Havn brand must be based on supported evidence, both safety and efficacy, and Gary will ensure that these priorities remain at the top of his responsibilities. From a branding and market positioning, lots needs to be better understood. We need to really understand the consumer profile, their knowledge of psychedelics, how to get connected (and stay connected), price points, the retail channel environment and acceptance, how to effectively manage the social media campaign. But in the end, a well engineered (with possible re-engineering in the future depending on how the landscape changes) business model led by top-tier C Suite leaders is a great way to begin the Havn journey.