Joel Sherlock, Cannabis Industry Leader in Extraction Tech, Dishes on Making It In the Industry

If you've ever tried a cannabis concentrate, be it in the form of something like a vaporizable oil or an edible, it's likely that concentrate was produced via carbon dioxide extraction technology. CO2 extraction is among the most popular methods to isolate the compounds in cannabis, offering a safer alternative, in a naturally occurring compound, to solvents like butane or propane. To learn more about the large scale CO2 extraction equipment technology, to create pure, clean, and quality cannabis oil, we interviewed Joel Sherlock, chairman and co-founder of Vitalis Extraction Technology. Get the scoop on why he got into cannabis, let alone focus on extraction equipment, and how Vitalis has come to be a leader in the field. 

What is Vitalis Extraction Technology and how did you get started within the cannabis industry?

Vitalis is a manufacturing and technology company that solves the top issues related to scaling cannabis extraction. We were founded in 2016 in British Columbia and have scaled rapidly ourselves. Our industrial scale supercritical CO2 systems are now deployed on three continents. Vitalis was born from a need; I was on the finance side of many cannabis ventures and there was a consistent pain point with the extraction equipment they were using. Typically, these ventures were using extraction machines designed for something other than cannabis, or a small-scale piece of equipment designed for lab use that was instead being used like a commercial production machine and expected to run 24/7. This led to some consistent equipment challenges, malfunctions, downtime, et cetera. Match that with the lack of support for the unique challenges that the plant creates — it was a top pain point for us.

Why did you focus on extraction?

It was actually a very natural progression. I came out of the real estate finance world and started as a landlord to a few cannabis producers. From there we began financing companies in the space, where much of the capital was being spent on equipment. Our investment thesis was focused on brands, distribution, and extraction as I was no cultivation expert and expected that production would become commoditized very quickly. After all, if you look at so many other industries this has been the case.

However, there was a consistent bottleneck on the extraction machines, rampant downtime and little to no support from the vendors. Initially we went out looking for a partner and some equipment customization, with little to no reception from the manufacturers, [so] we went back to the drawing board. I approached some brilliant engineers from a different industry: oil and gas. Engineers from the oil and gas industry are very familiar with the rigorous needs of the customer, the high costs of downtime and the unique challenges of high pressures and extreme temperatures. Initially when we discussed our needs, sizes and operating parameters with James Seabrook (CTO and co-founder of Vitalis), with a deadpan reply that only an engineer could pull off, he replied with “...that’s cute, no problem.”

So, can you provide me with an overview of what Vitalis offers?

Vitalis is the leading manufacturer of industrial scale CO2 and ethanol extraction equipment. We are specialists in design, build and servicing of the top extraction machines globally, specifically for hemp and cannabis. Our team also works with our customers on building layouts, facility designs and ancillary equipment needs.

Can you briefly explain the supercritical CO2 extraction process and why this is so important?

CO2 is a highly tunable solvent, meaning [that] with changes to pressures and temperatures, we can vary the extraction process and outputs. This gives cannabis companies the ultimate control to create products for both now and in the future.

I understand your growth has been rapid, can you explain how you have facilitated this, whilst retaining the standard of your products?

It starts as we did, by listening to the customer. By better understanding the end user’s problem, you can better engineer the solution. Match this with the fact that we are an equipment manufacturer, and not an assembler or reseller. This has enabled us to be in control and create the components required, scaling up our welding teams, engineering, service and quality compliance teams as we grow. Also we made the decision early on to always sell direct and support direct. This means that we don’t sell through distributors and we will always have in-country support for the machines from a Vitalis-trained technician. We felt this would be the best way to support our partners [clients] in this quickly evolving market.

 Do you have any worries about the future ahead within the cannabis industry?

I am very excited for the future. I do think that we are moving into a time where brilliant execution and consistency are critical. Just having a license, or being able to make some products is simply not enough. Scale, consistency and efficiency are going to separate the winners from the losers.

What excites you about the future of the cannabis industry?

I’m excited about the potential in new markets, and new products. We are only beginning to scratch the surface of the medicinal applications. Overall, I feel this is the most exciting opportunity of our lifetime.

What’s next for Vitalis?

As our clients expand into new markets so must we — after all, our partners’ success is ultimately our success. We will continue to deliver the best service in the industry, coupled with continued innovation to solve the bottlenecks of this growing industry.

What keeps you motivated?

I am motivated daily by our team and partners, people who put their faith and trust in us, to become part of our Vitalis family. I think this is matched with the sheer opportunity this market is providing. I learn something new everyday and that keeps me fired up!

And finally do you consume cannabis and if so what’s your favorite way to consume?

I must admit I'm not a frequent user, but when I do consume, my go-to is a whole plant oil vape, sub-critically extracted with CO2.

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