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October 16, 2023

Former Curaleaf exec Jonsson carves out new path in CT’s growing cannabis industry

HBJ PHOTO | BRIAN AMBROSE Patrik Jonsson is the founding member of The Collective, a group of investors and industry experts who are partnering with social equity cannabis entrepreneurs to open new businesses in Connecticut.

After more than four years working at one of the world’s largest cannabis companies, Patrik Jonsson has stepped out on his own to launch a new business venture aimed at helping entrepreneurs enter the industry.

Jonsson, former Northeast regional president of Massachusetts-based multistate operator Curaleaf, is the founding member of The Collective, a group of investors and industry experts who are partnering with social equity cannabis entrepreneurs to open new businesses.

Jonsson also is CEO of the Higher Collective, a retail storefront brand nested under The Collective, that is helping open as many as eight cannabis dispensaries in Connecticut, including five in the coming months.

The dispensaries will be owned by social equity entrepreneurs and outside investors, and operate under the Higher Collective brand.

In total, Jonsson, 49, said he hopes to help open 10 social equity-led cannabis businesses in Connecticut over the next several months.

Idea to execution

Jonsson, who has a business background in various industries including finance and technology, has been involved in the cannabis industry since 2013. He got his start in Massachusetts, where he said he became the first operator with five licensed dispensaries.

He joined Curaleaf in 2017, initially overseeing the Massachusetts market, and then the entire Northeast region, including Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont.

The Collective was founded shortly after Jonsson left Curaleaf in March 2022. However, the consultancy’s roots go back further than that, he said.

“Even before I left Curaleaf I had spent a lot of my time helping young entrepreneurs get into the industry, which happened to be a lot of people of color because they are the ones who tend to have the hardest time finding access to capital,” Jonsson said. “From there, it kind of started as an idea — if I were to leave Curaleaf, I want to work with women, minorities and veterans, because that is who I’ve been helping in different capacities get in the industry, because they’re underrepresented and I have a pretty good network to figure it out.”

In addition to Jonsson, The Collective is made up of three other cannabis industry veterans who also worked at Curaleaf. They include Head of Retail Strategy Ricky Figueroa, Head of Retail Operations David Bernier and Brianne Dezzutti, head of brand and marketing.

They’ve partnered with their former employer Curaleaf, several investor groups and social equity entrepreneurs who are opening various types of cannabis-related businesses, but mostly dispensaries.

The Collective doesn’t own any cannabis retail companies. Instead, it’s paid fees to provide consulting services to fledgling cannabis startups.

Jonsson declined to name specific investors The Collective works with. He did say there are investor groups focused on different market segments, including retail, cultivation and other business types.

“Everybody kind of brought their own area of expertise,” Jonsson said.

‘Operational experience’

Jonsson said Connecticut’s adult-use cannabis law gave The Collective a good opportunity to launch.

The 2021 law incentivized existing medical cannabis companies — mostly multistate operators including Curaleaf, Green Thumb Industries and Verano Holdings Corp. — to form equity joint ventures with qualified social equity entrepreneurs to open new businesses.

Social equity partners must own at least 50% of any new business, while the remaining ownership can be split between the existing medical cannabis company and other investors.

Jonsson said he successfully pitched the concept of The Collective to Curaleaf, which announced last year it plans to partner with 10 equity joint ventures. Curaleaf has been operating in the state since the medical marijuana program launched a decade ago.

It currently owns four Connecticut hybrid dispensaries and a cultivation facility in Simsbury.

The Collective is helping Curaleaf and its equity joint venture partners get their businesses off the ground, including with the difficult task of finding startup capital.

In addition to Curaleaf, investors working with The Collective makeup the additional 50% ownership of each equity joint venture. Jonsson said he personally doesn’t have an equity stake in any of Curaleaf’s retail equity joint ventures.

“I said ‘look, I can take all this off your plate.’ I can find investors, I have operational experience and a team that wants to work on this, so I can find social equity partners based on people I’ve met in the industry for years,” Jonsson said, describing his pitch to Curaleaf.

In addition to recruiting investors and social equity partners, Jonsson said The Collective helps secure real estate locations, provides employee onboarding and offers other startup support. Right now, The Collective has locations finalized for five of the eight equity joint venture adult-use dispensaries, which will operate under the Higher Collective brand, he said.

Two dispensaries — in Killingly, at 1078 North Main St., and Willington, at 11 Phelps Way — opened earlier this month.

Several other dispensaries are expected to open by the end of this year, including in New London, at 595 Bank St., and near Hartford’s Parkville Market, at 1396 Park St., Jonsson said. The Hartford retail site is being opened by social equity partner Kevin Henry, a city resident and founder of professional consulting firm KTH Advisors.

A dispensary in Torrington, at 53 McDermott Ave., has just begun construction and is expected to open in early 2024, Jonsson said.

The Collective plans to announce other dispensaries soon, Jonsson said, but finalizing locations has been a challenge. State law says retail equity joint venture dispensaries owned by the same backer cannot be located within 20 miles of each other.

“We should have hopefully three more in early 2024,” he said. “It’s a bit of a struggle because … we’re running out of real estate. Connecticut’s not that big.”

Future growth

While retail has been the main focus so far, The Collective is supporting other sectors of the cannabis industry. It’s currently helping open a micro-cultivation facility in New Britain, and has assisted the launch of Green Coach Delivery, a cannabis delivery service founded by former high school football coach Jack Cochran.

Cochran, whose equity joint venture business partnered with Curaleaf, said Jonsson provided critical support to help him launch the business.

Former Connecticut high school football coach Jack Cochran is the co-founder of cannabis delivery company Green Coach Delivery, which launched operations earlier this year.

Jonsson also personally has an equity stake in the business.

“I couldn’t have put my business up without (Jonsson),” Cochran said. “From A to Z, I just leaned on him, and if he didn’t have the answer to something, he had the connections in the industry to figure it out.”

Cochran said he and Jonsson met by chance while attending a dinner event at Foxwoods Resort Casino. A collaboration spawned soon after that meeting.

The Collective provided guidance on how to set up a website and manage a cannabis delivery service operation, Cochran said.

Green Coach Delivery now has two full-time drivers on staff and a few part-time employees. It currently provides deliveries from four dispensaries — three owned by Fine Fettle in Manchester, Newington and Willimantic, and one owned by Curaleaf in Stamford — that serve both medical and recreational customers.

Jonsson said Green Coach will be the primary delivery partner for Higher Collective dispensaries.

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