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BudsFeed – How It Started: Cannabis Edibles with Kim Sanchez Rael, CEO & Co-Founder of Azuca

As part of our “How It Started” interview series, we had the pleasure of chatting with Kim Sanchez Rael, CEO & Co-Founder of Azuca. The company’s chef-created, AZUCA TiME INFUSION process transforms high-maintenance cannabinoids into fast-acting, stable, and delicious ingredients for edibles manufacturers looking to meet consumer demand for socially consumable ingestibles with a euphoric Delta-9-THC effect.

Thanks for joining us! What was it about cannabis that first piqued your interest, and when did that happen? 

My background is in technology and venture capital. After over two decades of a successful career in those fields, I decided to pivot into the wellness sector for a number of reasons. I was unsure of my next move and unexpectedly – by a good twist of fate – was asked by an old friend to be in a focus group to sample a cannabis product developed by Ron Silver, Azuca’s Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer. 

I was skeptical (and truthfully fearful) at first because I was not a cannabis consumer, but I trusted my friend and agreed to sample the products. In a nutshell, they were fantastic. I knew immediately that Ron’s process, which would eventually evolve into Azuca TiME INFUSION™ enabling fast-acting cannabis edibles and culinary-forward products, had potential to disrupt the marketplace and have a strong impact. As I did my due diligence on the industry, it was clear that it was time to reinvent the future of cannabis edibles and solve the “edibles problem” of long latency times, poor quality and predictability, as well as to demystify the cannabis experience for new adopters.

How did Azuca come to life? What is its origin story?

Ron and I started working together in 2017 and formally launched Azuca in 2018. Prior to this, Ron, who is also Chef/Owner of Bubby’s – a popular NYC mainstay for over three decades with 6 locations in Japan – spent years leveraging his love of both food and cannabis to solve the challenges of cannabis edibles. Ron realized the biggest issue facing the industry was the lack of controllable, fast-acting and reliable edibles. As a chef and culinary innovator, changing that seemed like a good challenge to undertake, and he spent the next few years developing what is now our TiME INFUSIONprocess. Our solution has been revolutionary, filling a void in the marketplace, and we continue to transform the category with our groundbreaking delivery systems.

What is it about the company that makes it stand out? 

At Azuca, we provide scalable advanced formulations for all forms of ingestible cannabis. We transform high-maintenance cannabinoids into chef-ready ingredients for edible and beverage manufacturers and brands, creating a product that is both fast-acting and delicious. The advantages are twofold for the consumer and manufacturer: 
First, for consumers, Azuca TiME INFUSION allows great tasting edibles to act fast. There is no guessing game as first effects are felt in 5-15 minutes. The process encapsulates cannabis oil molecules, transforming them into hydrophilic (water-friendly) cannabinoids that can be absorbed in the soft tissues of the mouth, esophagus and digestive system. By preempting the first pass metabolism, Azuca TiME INFUSION allows for greater Delta-9-THC absorption – providing a more euphoric high – typically associated with inhalation, instead of a heavy, couch-lock high from traditional edibles. There is also no bitter, medicinal, grassy/hemp after-taste. These effects are attractive to both existing cannabis consumers looking for an alternative to smoking, as well as new cannabis consumers who were previously afraid of bad edibles experiences.
Second, for manufacturers, our process is simple, stable and completely scalable for companies of any size. The solution helps companies save money – it is easy to use, easy to store, and easy to implement, so our partners can easily bring best-in-class solutions to their customers. Azuca can be incorporated into existing manufacturing processes, doesn’t require moving product or equipment across state lines and helps reduce active ingredient waste up to 65% (more here). 
What does your typical day look like and what do you enjoy most about your work? 
Every day is a bit different and exciting. We recently moved our team’s lab and manufacturing headquarters to my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s been great to see our team collaborate and work together as they continue to innovate, test out new formulations and present new offerings to our brand partners. We have a lot of breakthrough applications and a new independent preclinical PK study in the works. I anticipate even more travel to conferences, events, and partners around the country – and the world – in 2023.

I enjoy, and am proud, that we are bringing products to market that are equally attractive to my parents’ generation as they are to my adult children’s generation. It’s amazing that we can reach such diverse audiences with our process. It’s also exhilarating to work in an ecosystem defined by unprecedented uncertainty, chaos and regulatory constraints. The industry pushes us to our limits! At the end of the day, we’re really helping people – customers, partners and our respective communities.  

What has been the highlight of your cannabis career to date? 

Hands down, the highlight of my cannabis career to date has been hearing from partners and customers that Azuca has made their lives better. One of our core values is Helpfulness, and we aspire every day to help deliver the benefits of cannabis to all. I also get to work every day with some of the smartest, kindest, funniest, most committed people on the planet, both on our internal team and our amazing brand partners. It’s all about the people, and it doesn’t get any better than this!  
Can you give us one cannabis trend that excites you? 
We are very excited about the emerging social consumption movement, and in particular, about the role of sessionable, predictable beverages for the social consumption experience. As licensed social consumption venues come online from a regulatory perspective, beverage and edible manufacturers need to deliver a predictable, doseable and social experience – that tastes great and suits adult flavor preferences. Azuca TiME INFUSION is a great option for entrepreneurs entering the social consumption movement! . 

Is there a product or service you hope someone creates to serve the cannabis community? 

I think the biggest problem is still the challenge that cannabis companies face for basic business infrastructure: more cost effective banking, insurance, financial services and general business services is still a need in the industry. 
What is the biggest change you want to see in the sector? 

While we are making great strides in the industry, the unprecedented volatility and inconsistency in the regulatory environment continues to be a huge challenge in need of reform. We spend an inordinate amount of time, energy and focus on understanding and complying with the multiple, complex regulatory frameworks that we operate in. We also spend a lot of money on lawyers to ensure we are in compliance. Ultimately, it’s challenging to be a startup company in a volatile startup industry. There is no rulebook or set of norms that you can refer to. There is still a dearth of quality research on cannabis because of federal illegality. I am, however, confident as time goes on we’ll be able to see change and overcome these roadblocks. That said, if  I had a magic wand and could do one thing – I would get rid of 280E. It is crippling the industry.

Any advice you would give to someone looking to enter the cannabis industry? 

I actually have 4 P’s that I like to advise folks entering the industry: 

People: Surround yourself with a strong team. It is critical to get the right team in place, and not be hesitant to make changes quickly.  

Product: Figure out what sets you apart and lean on it. Companies and brands that define markets differentiate themselves. Consumers, partners and investors need to understand your product and brand, and how you deliver value to everyone your product touches. Be clear and consistent with your message, your concept, and your visual identity across all platforms, including social media, digital, packaging, sales collateral, trade presence and media. Your brand must be front and center in every communication and application.
Pace: Stay up to date. This one seems obvious but I think something that a lot of startup founders and entrepreneurs can struggle with is getting swept up in the details of your own company – so much so that you lose focus on industry progress, competition and new applications. Time is a luxury for entrepreneurs and everything is a high priority task, so ‘staying in the know’ often, and mistakenly, gets put on the backburner. Even if it’s just subscribing to one industry newsletter or reading news headlines at the start or end of your day, an ear to industry happenings goes a long way. This is especially important in such a new and burgeoning industry like cannabis where the rules and regulatory framework, and just about everything else, are changing daily. 
Pivot: Evolve your strategy and business model in real time. In cannabis, we are pioneers in the most volatile industry of our lifetime. Everything has the potential to change every day. Successful entrepreneurs in this space will have to embrace and absorb new information daily and pivot their business model and strategy accordingly.  
What’s next for you? What should we be on the lookout for? 

We are going to continue innovating and revolutionizing the ingestibles marketplace. In 2023, Azuca will launch several new generations of TiME INFUSION™. Our latest innovations reduce manufacturing cost, and increase formulation flexibility allowing up to 30x higher cannabinoid infusion capacity than our original formula (more on our current process here). We are also launching Azuca’s next generation beverage Activator(™) in Q1 which makes cannabis beverages delicious, cost-effective and scalable for manufacturers.  
And, stay tuned, in the first quarter we will also launch our crown jewel, a true, whole plant, full entourage, strain specific fast-acting and great tasting edible. This latest innovation eliminates the need for extraction and offers significant advantages to manufacturers and consumers alike. Delivering complete strain edibles, with controllability that preserve terpene profiles, will open up edibles to an infinite combination of cannabis.

Click here to read the Q&A on BudsFeed:–co-founder-of-1678294171650×839835794239651800

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