When it comes to the cannabis business, there aren’t many places that are more attractive than Las Vegas.
At least, that’s what best friends and business partners Lindsay Ballengee and Marta Spegman-Lopez Venture figured when they moved here from California last year to get their startup off the ground.
The pair, who went to the same school in New York City but later became good friends while working in the cannabis industry in Northern California, plan to soon launch SafeArbor, a company that will specialize in secure contactless cannabis transactions.
SafeArbor’s locker product—which will be known as “grab-and-go” lockers—will allow cannabis customers to pay for and pick up a dispensary order without ever interacting with a person.
It’s basically an Amazon-type locker—like what might be seen outside a convenience store—but specifically for the cannabis industry,
Other than recreational cannabis being legal here, Ballengee said there were many other factors that helped draw the pair to Southern Nevada.
One is its partnership with American Locker, a manufacturer based in North Las Vegas.
“Las Vegas has the right economic climate, and it’s a much more cultural city than I think we think we knew before we moved here,” Ballengee said. “We’re really excited to be here. The support system is here for us.”
The idea for SafeArbor would seem to address a market need. That’s what Ballengee and Spegman-Lopez Venture said they found after visiting with many cannabis industry workers and officials in recent years.
It’s true, the pair will be selling lockers, but they’ll also be selling convenience.
“You won’t have to wait in line; you can be on your couch, place your order, then go to the dispensary to pick it up,” Bellengee said. “You’re not waiting in a line with people maybe coughing on you, you go up to the machine, put in some inputs, get a QR code on your phone and the locker pops open.”
Spegman-Lopez Venture said she got a good feeling about the prospects for SafeArbor when she saw a long line of cars waiting to access to pre-orders at a Las Vegas Valley cannabis dispensary last year.
“It was right after the first stimulus checks came in,” Spegman-Lopez Venture said. “There was a four-hour line of cars at an off-strip dispensary. That was eye-opening for us. That was pent-up market validation. There’s a market for people who don’t have eight hours to wait at home for a delivery and who don’t need the budtender experience.”
The pair said they’re in talks with some Southern Nevada dispensaries about possible partnerships.
They envision a different type of locker they plan to manufacture that would be used to transport cannabis products. They’ve also explored the idea of branching out to provide lockers for safe-keeping of valuables at Las Vegas resorts.
“Our machines protect and transfer product that’s already assigned to somebody, so we can ensure the product’s chain of custody is secure,” Spegman-Lopez Venture said. “Whether it’s a wholesale purchase, or a customer-facing purchase, that customer’s identity will be validated by our software system, which we built and coded for, when they scan their identification.”
In May, SafeArbor was chosen as the winner of a Shark Tank-like competition put on by an organization called AngelNV, which is made up of local angel investors.
The competition’s top prize was a more than $200,000 investment into SafeArbor.
That money has come in handy because the framework for a promising financing package fell apart early last year because of the economic instability caused by the pandemic, Spegman-Lopez Venture said.
“That was devastating for us,” she said. “It’s crazy to be out there looking for investors, especially in the cannabis space. Some venture capitalists shy away from it.”
Last year, the pair pitched their idea during an event in the Las Vegas Valley and received some pointed critiques afterward.
It turns out that some local angel investors thought the cannabis locker idea had legs. Soon, SafeArbor’s founders were involved in the investor program and competition, which included a boot camp that lasted several months.
“We were given some great insight in how to build our idea out,” Ballengee said. “We competed against some amazing companies.”
As women, the pair said they sometimes have noticed some biases in their quest to start SafeArbor. They haven’t always been taken seriously by venture capitalists.
They say, however, that they haven’t been deterred and that they’ve even noticed progress in recent years.
“In the last year or two, I think we’ve seen progress there,” Spegman-Lopez Venture said. “The funny thing we’ve noticed is that no matter who we’re talking to—new investors, partners, whoever—they refer to us as ‘the girls.’ We’re not offended by it.”
Jeff Saling, who helps run the AngelNV organization, said SafeArbor offered investors a “way to get involved early in a new and growing industry.”
He called the lockers an “elegant” solution to a problem that exists in the cannabis marketplace.
“Marta and Lindsay are creative, driven founders and experts in cannabis regulations, logistics, and safety issues,” Saling said. “We’re super excited to be partnered with them and happy they’ve chosen Las Vegas as their corporate home.”