Industry: Cannabis & Hemp
Products: Cannabis testing devices
CEO Peichen Chang's company manufactures compact devices that allow customers to take cannabis testing into their own hands.
"We started out because a friend of ours needed help dosing her edibles," says Chang. "She was using edibles to treat her Parkinson's [disease]." One week, her homemade cannabis edibles might be too weak, the next too strong. She had no reliable way of knowing which it would be, until she'd ingested them.
To help their friend out, Chang and his collaborators -- engineers who'd previously all worked together at Hewlett-Packard -- devised a handheld UV spectrometer that can detect levels of THC and CBD within a carrier medium, such as butter, olive oil, coconut oil, or alcohol. The device utilizes ultraviolet light to determine the amount of cannabinoids that have been absorbed within those substances. There's also an add-on extension kit, as well, that allows for the testing of cannabis flower or concentrates. The tCheck links up to an Android or iPhone to provide the readouts.
Once the tCheck crew had its prototype, it needed to find out if there was a market for it. Chang says he "literally stood on street corners in front of dispensaries," asking "hundreds" of people if the tCheck was something that they'd ultimately pay money for. "The response was tremendous," says Chang. "'Oh my gosh, I absolutely need this thing, because every time I make edibles I don't know how strong they are.'"
Customers include both amateur and professional edible makers and growers. While the results of an in-house tCheck test doesn't meet state-required testing requirements, edible companies can gauge the potency and homogenization of their formulas before the products are professionally tested for compliance at a lab and sold at a dispensary. Chang says he's gotten positive feedback from lab owners who don't consider tCheck a competitor, but rather a method that helps their customers ultimately pass lab testing.
Furthermore, Chang says it's cost-prohibitive for home edible makers to constantly test their products at a commercial lab -- that is, if the edible maker's state even allows them to do that. As an example, most testing labs in Colorado only allow growers and edible makers who possess a state medical or recreational license to acquire lab testing, not private individuals.
It follows that Chang's company uses two testing labs itself to test cannabis samples; the results help tCheck calibrate its devices for accuracy. At its base near Sacramento, the devices are assembled with "plastic injection material molding from Minnesota, raw materials from Germany, and printed circuit boards from Taiwan."
So far, Chang says 6,000 units of the tCheck have been sold. He calls it the least expensive testing unit on the market, selling for around $280 on its own, or $460 with an add-on extension that allows for the testing of flowers and concentrates. Orders have come from all 50 states, and the company also has relationships with distributors in South Africa, Canada, and Australia.
Chang grew up on the Japanese island of Okinawa at a U.S. Air Force base, where his father, a Taiwanese national, was employed. He describes a conservative upbringing within a conservative country: "Japan in general is very, very strict against cannabis."
Learning about the medicinal benefits of cannabis five years ago from his friend -- a professional executive, not a "pothead," Chang says -- was eye-opening. "Cannabis was able to control her [Parkinson's] symptoms a whole lot better than traditional pharmaceuticals -- and that really changed my mind about that," he explains.
Chang cites rave reviews for the company's devices, such as "You changed my life" and "You made my life better."
"Those are the most heartwarming things to [hear people] say," he says.
Challenges: Chang asks, "How do we scale our manufacturing operation? How do we scale our marketing, sales? All that kind of thing. How do we scale our company, in general?"
Opportunities: Not only is the company working on new features for the tCheck, it's developing a device to test for pesticides.
But Chang sees opportunities as a result of the changing status of cannabis: "The fact that cannabis is becoming decriminalized -- not just through the United States, but all over the world -- and it's becoming destigmatized is a huge opportunity for us, because it allows us to have open conversations on cannabis."
Needs: Chang says tCheck needs "a source of pure THC. Today our biggest challenge is finding standards by which we calibrate our device."