Gibraltar Industries, Nexus, RBI, and Processing Brands Unify as Prospiant
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Apeks Supercritical, Delta Separations, Nexus Greenhouse Systems, Rough Brothers, Inc. (RBI), Tetra, ThermoEnergy Solutions (TES) and a number of other well-known brands – all part of the greenhouse growing and processing group of Gibraltar Industries, Inc. – are now combining to form a single entity, Prospiant.
As a single, unified team, Prospiant will become the leading US-based provider of turnkey controlled environment agriculture (CEA) solutions for growing fruits and vegetables, and the only provider of “soil-to-oil” cannabis ecosystems for the cultivation, extraction, and refinement of cannabinoids.
To learn more, Analytical Cannabis caught up with Mark Dunson, group president of Prospiant, to talk about the brand’s history, its future goals, and how Prospiant is helping customers through its offering of new holistic solutions for the cannabis supply chain.
Jack Rudd (JR): Why are all of these brands coming together now to form Prospiant?
Mark Dunson (MD): To go back slightly, we’re a part of Gibraltar Industries, which is a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ stock exchange (ROCK). In the US in 2015, Gibraltar looked to adjust its strategy and take our experience in fabrication and manufacturing to align with some markets which had strong growth fundamentals — places where we could take that background and bring it to more value-added products.
At that point, cannabis was starting to take off in the US, and greenhouse growing was seen as a way to help producers control the crops better and get more of a consistent output. So, we entered with an acquisition called Rough Brothers at that time. And since 2015, we’ve acquired four more companies — five companies in total, [including] three greenhouse companies.
As we started getting into cannabis to take our greenhouse background and heritage into helping people in that market, we also saw an opportunity to help customers even further with the processing of the biomass once it was harvested to create more of a holistic solution. All these companies were leaders in their own particular parts of the market and we’ve brought them together to create more of a holistic solution where we can work with customers on a really broad-based approach.
Prospiant is really a revelation of that holistic approach now under a single brand. So, instead of trading to market with five different companies and more than five different brands, we are starting to bring the teams together for the benefit of our customers. [This way we can] start offering more holistic expertise and solutions to help them come to market faster and put their investment money to work faster, but also to align our teams as well. Instead of being “business-aligned,” it was how can we be “customer-aligned” and “expertise-aligned” so we can apply that to do whatever our customers need. We have 187 years of combined experience in growing. Processing is a newer industry, but that we have 10 to 20 years of combined experience in processing, and we can bring that all together now under one umbrella.
JR: So, starting from Gibraltar Industries and then making these cannabis industry-specific acquisitions, were all of these acquisitions extraction and processing brands?
MD: Gibraltar Industries was a steel company, in steel manufacturing and fabrication. So, the thought process was, how do we take this expertise in steel buying and manufacturing and look at industries where these are core competencies but where there’s more to it? And so, greenhouse [operation] was obviously an area where you could take metal fabrication and extend the value proposition into a broader base of activities and value for customers. The acquisitions helped us to bring all that growing expertise in-house to blend with the fabrication expertise.
One greenhouse company, Nexus Greenhouse Systems, had a very strong footprint in cannabis greenhouses so that was the first acquisition that we did which extended our greenhouse capability into a more specialized cannabis approach. Once we were involved in that, we [decided] processing seemed to be the next extension, then we acquired two processing companies. There are three main processing technologies in the marketplace: CO2, hydrocarbon, and ethanol. We have CO2 and ethanol as a part of our portfolio today, through Apeks Supercritical and Delta Separations, and then we’ve also been advancing some technology in the water-based extraction technologies.
JR: Do the brands that are coming together to form Prospiant still exist from a customer’s perspective?
MD: They actually will take a slightly different position. Prospiant will represent us as a company, and those brands will move to more of a product base. So, the CO2-based products will be aligned with the Apeks name, and the ethanol products, the water-based products, and some of our refining technologies which were under the Delta brand before, will be [aligned with the] Delta name. So, we’re going to take those company names and brands and reposition them to align with certain product areas.
JR: Will cannabis industry operators still have access to the expertise and technology that came from with the original brands?
MD: Yeah, for sure. We’re very clear that the same people they’ve dealt with before, and the same technologies are still there. If you talk about a particular technology, like ethanol or CO2, there's unique know-how around that. So those technology bases need to stay [in order] to further develop those technology bases, and they will be available to customers as they always have been.
Now, by having two technologies, we can actually talk with customers about the trade-offs between CO2 and ethanol. Because we’re not partial to either one we can help them make decisions across the technology spectrum. But we can also link that with the growing part of it more closely. When you talk about somebody who’s building a new operation, we have the ability to design, plan, build, that growing facility, the processing facility, and all the equipment that goes inside of it. So, we can really bring to people a very holistic approach to developing a project, where in the past they might have to go out and talk to a lot of different consultants. It can be very confusing for people entering the industry, or who want to invest, that have never been in the industry before.
JR: I know it is early days for Prospiant, but do you see your company’s role developing to help guide operators through start-up to production scale?
MD: Yes. If you look at our team, we have many people on our team who ran processing facilities, they were processors. They understand the trade-offs between different technologies. It’s not just the equipment, there’s a lot of art in terms of how you make it all work together to get the output that you want. It’s relatively easy to go down a list and pick out a lot of different things, but when you put those together into an integrated solution, that’s what’s really going to make or break the customer’s success, both from a startup standpoint and then from an ongoing operation standpoint.
JR: Are there any new products that Prospiant plans to launch now, or in the near future, as a result of the combination of these brands?
MD: The top thing I would mention is not necessarily a new product, but the fact that we’re bringing this together into a new offering which is allowing a holistic discussion with a customer around how to set up the operation. So that’s not necessarily a new extraction technology or something like that, but it is a new offering to bring that together.
Secondly, I would say that we have been, on the processing side, working more on some water-based extraction technologies. We recently launched in the last year – and it’s gaining some traction – the Vortex Trichrome Separator, VTS. And we have a larger scale waterborne extraction technology that we’ve been doing some trials with as well. We’ve actually been awarded patents on both of those technologies, and we’ve also been recently awarded patents on our CUP [Centrifuge Utility Platform] ethanol extraction technology, as well as our FFE, falling film evaporator technology for cannabis. We are being recognized for the unique technology that we’ve placed in the market, and the effort we continue to develop in terms of innovation.
JR: I’ve certainly heard a lot of excitement around water-based extraction technologies in recent years. Is this something that Prospiant is keen to add to its portfolio?
MD: We are selling today the VTS product; the other one we haven’t started selling yet, it’s still in a development phase. But I think for extraction technology, it’s not a “one size fits all.” It really depends on, ‘what are you trying to do? What’s the end product you’re trying to deliver?’ We’re really trying to be able to serve different players in the market.
A lot of people also get in the case where they’re storing a lot of biomass, which takes up a lot of space and potentially has shelf-life challenges. How are you able to process that effectively? [Can you] maybe store that material in a different format, like oil? Those are some of the things we’re looking into as well to help people at different points in the value chain.
JR: Given that you have so many different technologies under Prospiant, what’s the best way for people to see everything you have and how they fit together?
MD: The website, we’re continuing to build out from a Prospiant basis, but we have all the individual [name brand] websites still active as well. Once we get the trade shows going back again, we’ll be exhibiting as a unified group, so you’ll see all the technologies in one place. Thirdly, there is the opportunity to do site visits for people who are trying to decide [what to do]. At this point, we don’t have a demonstration center, but it is something we’ve thought about for the future in terms of how to showcase these products.
We also have what we call “teaching tech” and consulting, so our team is also available on a fee basis to help customers with lab planning, operational standard operating procedures, and other types of things. We will go on-site with customers for however many weeks required to help them evaluate their process and make help them make standard operating procedures. Our team has a lot of expertise, not only in our technologies but other technologies as well.