Since 2001, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce has recognized local companies launching innovative products, practices or processes with its annual Spirit of Innovation award. The award's announcement during the city's annual Startup Week moved online this year, highlighting three groundbreaking businesses that have found creative ways to thrive during a challenging time. Here is this year's winner:
During a coronavirus pandemic-stricken year, CBD producer Landrace Bioscience has seen demand for its product rise, and the company has landed a Spirit of Innovation award from the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
"Everyone is under heightened stress," says James Dawson, the Chattanooga-based company's vice president of sales and marketing. "It's an industry dedicated to helping people alleviate stress, calm down and relax."
Landrace, which has a 40,000-square-foot manufacturing facility off Amnicola Highway, was founded in June 2018 and employs 14 people, Dawson says. The company emerged shortly before Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which allowed for the growing, processing and sale of industrial hemp.
Founded by Ryan Piersant and John Hetzler, Landrace holds a patent for a cannabinoid and plant extract delivery system, says Dawson, who joined Landrace in early 2019.
"Oil is not well absorbed by the body," he says. "Our technology makes it permeable and easier absorbed in the body."
CBD is a cannabinoid within the hemp plant believed to have calming and relaxing effects on users, as well as potential medical benefits. CBD is not a psycho-active cannabinoid, such as its counterpart, THC, and has no mind-altering properties, but is instead used primarily to treat pain and relieve stress.
Dawson says Landrace sells to brands that market products at the retail level. Business has grown during the pandemic, and the production team has expanded to meet demand, Dawson says. Revenue for 2020 will be "substantially over" the prior year, he says, though he declined to give figures for the privately held company.
According to Dawson, the company has taken steps to protect employees during the pandemic, and he cited Chattanooga Manufacturers Association and Chamber of Commerce efforts to help businesses do so.
Dawson, who was born in Nashville, came to Chattanooga to attend Covenant College and decided to stay, having lived in the Scenic City for a dozen years.
"My favorite thing to do is to help a company launch and grow," he says. "I do that through marketing and sales."
Looking ahead, Dawson says Landrace is primarily focused on supporting the Tennessee manufacturing supply chain as a processor.
"We're growing brands licensing our technology," he says. "We've got a number of brands coming on line using our patented technology. That's an area we see a lot of potential to help a lot of different brands."
He says the company is focused this year and in 2021 on working with universities to have studies performed about what are true claims made around CBD products.
"Working toward studies to make proven claims is something we want do as a company and an industry," Dawson says.
Dawson says the climate for growth in the industry is tied to the regulatory landscape. One area of growth is in the topical and cosmetic market, he says.
Also, Dawson says the hemp industry will lay a foundation for the production of medical or recreational cannabis from an economic standpoint.
In 2019, the number of hemp farmers in Tennessee grew from a couple hundred in 2018 to 3,800 producers licensed to grow as much as 51,000 acres of hemp statewide, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
By the end of September 2020, however, the number was down to 1,872 producers licensed to grow as much as 16,000 acres of hemp statewide. That still makes Tennessee the state with the most growers in the country, according to the department.