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Canurta founder and CEO Akeem Gardner wants to bring a hemp processing facility to southern Ontario

He is on a mission to help farmers, create jobs, and deliver products that strengthen the industrial hemp industry.

Canurta founder and CEO Akeem Gardner wants to bring a hemp processing facility to southern Ontario
Akeem Gardner, founder and CEO of Canurta, a biotechnology research company specializing in hemp. With more than $5 million raised in just over two years, the Brampton-born entrepreneur is looking to be a game changer in North America's industrial hemp industry. LINKEDIN PHOTO

When Akeem Gardner steps into a city committee meeting for permission to build a hemp processing plant, he knows it will be a tough sell.

The association between industrial hemp and recreational marijuana is something he knows he must explain to apprehensive delegates and community members, who, in some cases, are skeptical of hemp facilities.

But the Brampton-born entrepreneur, founder, and CEO of Canurta, a biotechnology research company specializing in hemp, understands the benefits of industrial hemp far outweigh the negatives he hears — the smell and the recreational stigma among them.

“Everything is all about education,” Gardner told Black Dollar Magazine. “When you bring new things to people, especially when they don't know you, it's not hard to understand when the initial reaction is not one of hesitation.

“My biggest thing is to always lead with education and try to take things, step by step, and explain to people first who I am, where I come from, and my approach — not only in doing business but also in creating community impact.”

In this case, the hemp processing plant, if passed, would be stationed on Kemp Road in Grimsby, Ont., close to where the Mississauga-based company is leasing farmland for hemp research and development in the area, according to Niagara This Week.

Canurta would have processed industrial hemp and other plants at the proposed facility to extract polyphenols — compound molecules that make up hemp-based health products, including hemp seed powder and hemp extract.

Seeds of Change

With University of Guelph researcher Tariq Akhtar and his team, who discovered how to extract and enrich polyphenols unique to hemp, the company launched in 2019. Then, in January 2022, Canurta added Dr. Ethan Russo, its senior medical advisor, board-certified neurologist, psychopharmacology researcher, and global medical cannabis expert; Gardner has a dedicated team of employees too.

“Our company is positioned on unique intellectual property developed out of the University of Guelph in partnership, which allows us to upcycle agricultural and industrial hemp waste (to extract molecules that make up our hemp seed powder and hemp extract products),” he said.

“The job today is (figuring out), 'how do we not only stimulate a supply chain of this biomass and be able to get enough of it to study?’ And then, once we get enough of it, ‘what can we do with it, and can we develop these into the next generation of safer therapeutics that can help support human and animal life?'”

He explains the benefits. Gardner said Canurta's hemp products have high anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-viral properties.

Hemp seeds and hemp protein powder are also rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which help maintain good cardiovascular health, according to WebMD. Less than 30 grams per day could help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, the medical information website reads.

Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to convince Grimsby's town planning department during a committee meeting on Dec. 20, 2022. A petition opposing Canurta's proposal had 52 signatures from delegates and community members before the meeting even started.

Pictured here is a line of activated seed powders offered by Canurta, which it claims is superior to conventional seed ingredients on the market. Available in chia, alfalfa, quinoa and hemp, it contains omegas 3 and 6, fibre, magnesium, iron and zinc. JORDAN MAXWELL SCREENSHOT

Dismissed but not defeated: Gardner pushes on

In the end, the application was rejected because the variance did not meet the intent of the zoning bylaw and official plan — an outcome he's experienced before.

There would be no growing hemp, processing hemp leaves, or growing or processing cannabis or cannabis-related products — the planning department ultimately decided the development was not desirable for the subject land and was not minor in nature, according to Niagara This Week.

Still, Gardner is unfazed; instead, like a true entrepreneur, he welcomes the opportunity to step into meetings that, at some points, can get heated. He says some delegates and community stakeholders in different towns are skeptical of and often against the idea of having industrial hemp in their backyard.

Nevertheless, he knows that his work with Canurta will be critical over the next 20 years. And he isn't discouraged. He knows that the racial barriers that he'll have to overcome as he grows will reduce roadblocks for future generations.

“It's not with everyone (including those in Grimsby), but there is usually prejudice or a stereotype that being a Black man in this industry means that what I'm trying to do is something that might be black market associated or something off the books," he said. "There have been a number of instances where it has affected my business, slowed me down, or made me upset (when I was getting started). But at the end of the day, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

“I have learned to go into rooms and environments expecting this. And usually, this could turn into an advantage because once people get to know me and what (our company is) doing, we can put their worries to bed. As long as I continue to put my best foot forward and operate with integrity, be authentic, be accountable, all positive things, then (Canurta) is going to be successful.”

Akeem Gardner, right, with John Chamberlain, left, on his hemp farm in Simcoe County in Ontario. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Trip down 'Hemp Road' paved for the future

Gardner wants to farm and process hemp to create jobs and opportunities for Ontario farmers. He sees industrial hemp as a carbon sequester and soil rejuvenator, and his business aims to be as close to net zero as possible.

He also sees the Niagara region and parts of the Hamilton–Wentworth region as ideal places to connect with agri-tech and agri-biopharma businesses as well as new farmers and researchers from neighbouring towns and universities.

“Being in areas with surrounding farmland is going to be beneficial for us so that we can source our feedstock,” Gardner said. “Grimsby is ideal for us and we have existing partnerships there. It’s close to universities in Hamilton (McMaster) and St. Catharines (Brock) with pools of talent where we can hire from and do collaborative research projects to continue to grow. It's also close to the border, (which is good because of access and shipping to the U.S.)”

The former lawyer-turn-hemp maven has raised more than $5 million in the last two years, which has gone toward research and development, marketing, and education. Gardner said the company has also been able to leverage government grants that have been “extremely helpful.”

The consumer-packaged goods, pharma, and research and development industries are important growth markets for Canurta, and this year is shaping up to be a stellar year for Gardner and his team.

“I would like to have our first production facility built,” he said. “Hopefully, we can make friends with the neighbours in Grimsby and continue talks there. Alongside that, we have a couple of pre-clinical trials that we're in right now (for which) we would like to see good results to allow us to move forward in our development. We’re going to need to raise a major round of financing this year so, come February or March, we are going to hit the road running.”

From May 15-17, Gardner will attend the upcoming CannMed '23 Innovation & Investment Summit through CannMed Events, a division of held by Medicinal Genomics, a life sciences company that tests and researches cannabis for health and lifestyle purposes.