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April 3, 2023

Home healthcare entrepreneur Gibbs sets ambitious sights on cannabis industry

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Derrick Gibbs Jr. is co-founder of Budr Cannabis, a new company hoping to open five adult-use marijuana dispensaries in the state.
HBJ PHOTO | SKYLER FRAZER Budr Cannabis’ West Hartford dispensary will be located at this retail building at 1037 Boulevard.
Derrick Gibbs Jr. 
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More than 15 years after starting a home healthcare business fresh out of college, Change Inc. President Derrick Gibbs Jr. is shifting his sights to a new industry — cannabis.

Partnering with an industry veteran, a team of social equity entrepreneurs and a Chicago-based multistate cannabis business operator, Gibbs said he hopes to open five recreational marijuana dispensaries in the state in the next few years.

His first in West Hartford — to be called Budr Cannabis — is expected to debut this summer and will be among the first social equity businesses to open since Connecticut’s recreational market debuted Jan. 10.

Budr Cannabis’ West Hartford dispensary will be located at this retail building at 1037 Boulevard.

The process hasn’t been without hurdles, though. Residents are appealing Gibbs’ approved dispensary in the town of Westbrook, and Budr has already had to shift plans for a location in downtown Hartford as some municipalities push back against recreational marijuana businesses.

Regardless, Gibbs said he’s moving forward with a sharper focus on his cannabis company. In March, he stepped down as CEO of Change Inc. and handed over the company’s top job to Marcus Steinle, formerly chief operating officer.

Gibbs said he’ll remain president of Change Inc.

“My goal is to kind of step back a little bit and let the company run and kind of shift my focus on cannabis,” Gibbs said. “I’m going to spend most of my time (as president of Change Inc.) on acquisitions and business development.”

Safer path

Gibbs’ footprints track across the state. He’s a Hartford native who grew up in East Hartford before attending college at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic.

He founded Change Inc. in Middletown in 2009 as a 21-year-old recent college graduate.

The company has grown to more than 300 employees, including through several acquisitions in recent years, said Gibbs, now 36 and living in Stamford.

Like advancements he witnessed in the home healthcare industry more than a decade ago, Gibbs said he wants to be at the forefront of the adult-use cannabis industry.

“It isn’t a new product, it’s a product that’s been around for a long time, but it’s now becoming legal,” Gibbs said. “When I first started my home healthcare company 15-16 years ago — I don’t want to say it was unheard of — but it was a new thing to not put individuals in nursing homes or assisted living facilities and instead keep them in their own home.”

Budr Cannabis received approvals from West Hartford in late 2022 to open its first dispensary at 1037 Boulevard. The company is leasing space and will use up to 4,000 square feet for the dispensary.

Budr Cannabis recently hired Berlin-based Fortunato Construction Group to build out the location. Gibbs said in mid-March that he expects to receive building permits to begin construction “any day now.”

Gibbs, admittedly, hasn’t always been a cannabis fan. He was actually against the state’s legalization efforts before learning more about the plant’s medicinal uses and relative safety compared to other drugs with addictive properties.

“When I go to the zoning meetings, and I hear what people are saying, I’m like, ‘yeah, it’s everything I was saying before I got into this,’” Gibbs said. “But then … you see the fentanyl issues that are going on across our state. This is a safer path for people.”

Industry partnerships

Without direct experience with the plant, Gibbs needed a partner to get his cannabis business off the ground, so he teamed up with Carl Tirella, 36, of New York.

Carl Tirella

After more than a decade of working in finance, Tirella shifted to the cannabis industry in 2018, joining New York-based multistate cannabis company Acreage Holdings as director of treasury.

He took over as Acreage’s Connecticut general manager in 2019, overseeing the company’s three dispensaries in the state.

“I worked in their corporate office in New York City for about 18 months and then realized that I actually wanted to be on the ground with the people and see how the power of the plant really affected people from the medical perspective,” Tirella said.

In 2022, Tirella started thinking about branching out on his own. He said he and Gibbs met through a mutual friend years ago, and once they started talking, it was clear they’d gel as business partners.

Gibbs has business connections in Connecticut; Tirella brings cannabis industry experience.

The two co-founded Budr Cannabis in 2022, forming an equity venture partnership with a team of social equity entrepreneurs and Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries (GTI), which owns West Haven cannabis cultivation facility Advanced Grow Labs and two Connecticut dispensaries.

An equity joint venture is a business that is at least 50% owned and controlled by an individual or individuals that meet social equity criteria, including having an average household income of less than 300% of the state median household income over the last three tax years, and living in an area disproportionately impacted by drug-related convictions.

Such entities can be created by existing medical marijuana producers and dispensaries, which is why Budr partnered with Green Thumb.

Gibbs isn’t a social equity applicant himself — his income is too high to qualify — so at least one of Budr Cannabis’ social equity partners will have a 50% stake in each dispensary the company opens. Gibbs, Tirella and GTI will make up the rest of the ownership.

Nancine Crump is the social equity partner for the West Hartford dispensary.

“I came in with the industry expertise to interact with our medical partner Green Thumb Industries and really hit the ground running in terms of helping with municipality approvals, state approvals and the right connections in place to start building the company,” Tirella said. “Having the opportunity to work with someone like Derrick who’s an entrepreneur at heart and build something from the ground up is really exciting for me.”

Exponential growth

The West Hartford dispensary is expected to open in June or July, with locations in Danbury and Westbrook to follow later this year.

Gibbs said he’s hoping to overcome legal hurdles in Westbrook, where the town gave him more than a dozen conditions to meet before approving the business, including tweaks to parking lot and traffic plans and hours of operation.

“We feel confident enough that it’s going to be upheld through the legal process and it’s all gonna work out, so that’s why we are still continuing with the normal course of business and meeting with the town,” Gibbs said. “Even though there’s a lawsuit and we do take a risk of it being denied, in this scenario, chances are very high it will be approved because it meets all the zoning requirements.”

The company is still honing in on locations for its other two planned retail stores; the goal is to open five dispensaries by the end of 2024. Gibbs said the company has hired a marketing firm to help build the brand and launch a new website.

“We plan to obviously grow exponentially in the next few months and hopefully really make an impact in each of the local communities we’re in,” Tirella said.

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