The Standard Bearer: Samantha Miller
* This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now online or at a store near you.
As the president, founder and chief scientist of one of the first cannabis analytics laboratories in California, Samantha Miller says she gets a little excited when new competitors enter the market.
“Whenever I hear about waves of new cannabis labs opening, I say, ‘That’s great. A least there will be a bunch of cheap equipment in a year,’” Miller says.
Within the past year, her company, Pure Analytics in Santa Rosa, spent $350,000 on lab instruments to finished upgrading its 4,000-square-foot facility in preparation for the Golden State’s upcoming adult-use launch in 2018.
The emerging recreational market also spurred Miller to expand her lab team. Despite what the odds and Google engineer memos suggest, she ended up with an all-women team composed of experts with master’s degrees in information technology, microbiology, analytical chemistry, biochemistry and forensic toxicology. Miller says the missing Y-chromosomes from the lab team is purely happenstance, but she now happily refers to the employees as her “pack of unicorns.”
“I recently read that only 6.7% of girls graduate with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees and only 0.7% of girls plan on pursuing a computer science degree,” Miller says. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I really have built an amazing team.’”
Miller says raising capital for Pure Analytics was somewhat of a social experiment to see whether a business could be built on nothing more than hard work and knowledge, without sacrificing its ethics.
“The answer is yes,” Miller says. “It just takes a little longer than if you take the venture capital to get to certain milestones.”
Pure Analytics is one of the few organically grown testing labs in California, established entirely without the aid of venture capital.
Still, it is far from where she started. Miller’s involvement in the cannabis industry began around 2007, when a high school friend reached out for some assistance on buying an analytical instrument for her dispensary.
“If you’re not going to hire a scientist, you’re going to have a problem,” Miller recalls telling her friend. “You can buy this equipment, but there is more to it than that.”
To which her friend replied, “Why don’t you do it?”
At the time, Miller had a corner office, six-figure salary and velvet-roped path to corporate heaven. She wasn’t looking to leave her position, but the entrepreneurial seed had been planted.
After initially dismissing the notion of joining the cannabis industry, she found herself sketching out a logo mockup, then estimating what her startup costs and branding options would be. Miller realized by having experience in federally regulated laboratories and managing ISO 9000 systems that she had “a pretty good background for operating this kind of business.”
“I looked at it and I said, ‘Shoot, I could do this,’” Miller says. “I’ve always had a significant appetite for risks — calculated risks — and apparently that’s what I like, a little discomfort.”
She founded Pure Analytics in 2008 and spent her evenings performing lab tests for local dispensaries, while filing reports at midnight for her corporate position at Idex, a manufacturer of analytic instruments.
Her friend, the dispensary owner, traded her a rent-free office space in exchange for free testing to help her get the company running. During the week, her husband would help out by collecting samples, before picking Miller up from her day job. In 2010, she transitioned to Pure Analytics full time.
But the cannabis industry was an entirely different world back in 2008, even in California, which enacted the nation’s first legislation to legalize medical marijuana. Initially, Miller had a hard time getting people to grasp the basic concept of testing cannabis. Growers and dispensary owners would argue that had “killer weed” but didn’t understand how contaminated product could actually kill someone.
Over time and as pesticide scandals crept into the public consciousness, Miller found her services required less and less explanation.
“It was such a different mentality than what we have today,” she says. “People are finding out that the work isn’t trivial and it takes years of expertise to do it. We now take in thousands and thousands of samples every year. My competitors would love to know how many.”
Source: Marijuana Venture