This week, Tim Vrieling and David Wolf, founders of Greenbox Builders, discuss how their pre-engineered, pre-designed and pre-specified facilities can get cannabis operators up and running faster by cutting out 85% of the design and development time.
In June, Vrieling and Wolf founded Greenbox to solve a common problem in the cannabis industry: facility construction. The pair had experience building in technical environments, working on everything from medical device and pharmaceutical labs to test kitchens and science buildings at universities.
Recently, Vrieling experienced an uptick in interest from cannabis businesses at Integrate Lab Builders Inc., an architectural design firm that he has run for the better part of five years in Southern California. He found that the design and build process in the cannabis industry was taking much longer than other markets for myriad reasons.
For example, municipalities were making it more difficult to get plans approved for conditional use permits or receive building permits. The requirements are more challenging, so Vrieling and Wolf came up with an idea to pre-package structures with a complete set of plans that are already engineered — with drawings completed and typical code issues addressed. On average, Vrieling says that it could take nine months from when a cannabis operator starts with a municipality to when construction could begin. With his new process, he says clients could be in front of the planning commission within 45 days.
Greenbox builds pre-engineered, pre-designed and pre-specified Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) facilities made of insulated concrete form (ICF) structures. The company’s initial offering includes 3,360-square-foot and 4,500-square-foot analytical and extraction labs. According to Wolf, the structures are formed much like building a facility out of Lego bricks. Eventually, the company hopes to offer cultivation facilities and edibles kitchens as well.
According to Vrieling, the value of the system lies in taking months, or even years, off the timeline to get facilities up and operational. Startup cannabis companies often fail to get off the ground because of time lost during construction that quickly eats into startup capital. Vrieling said the downtime is usually more costly than the entire facility, and the lost opportunities and business can be devastating.
New customers have previously come to the company in the middle of the process looking for help retrofitting an old facility. Although they take on that work, Vrieling said the value is building a new facility from the ground up, so clients can avoid the many pitfalls between cities and retrofit projects.
While municipalities can cause hiccups during the process, the demands for the structure are similar to those in other industries: control over cross-contamination, adulteration, and odor controls, among others.
The builders stressed the importance of keeping it simple. Timeliness is critical, so they cut out as much of the design process as possible. The buildings are about 85% complete before the project begins, and then each is tweaked to suit individual municipalities and climates.
Although the company is new, Wolf and Vrieling have one new structure under contract in Oklahoma and are currently negotiating with two other cannabis companies in the U.S. The company started with analytics testing and extraction facilities because they found a significant disconnect between the number of growing and processing facilities in the U.S. compared to the number of testing facilities.
The company is green in more than just the name, but the staff of savvy architectural veterans hope to set it up for success in the fast-paced cannabis industry.