A lawyer and a chemist get on a plane. This isn’t the start of a corny joke, but of a successful startup.
University of Connecticut chemistry professor Greg Sotzing met attorney Peter Belsito on an airplane coming back to Connecticut from Atlanta. They soon realized they had a common interest: cannabis. During their flight, they discussed Sotzing’s innovative research related to cannabis and its business potential.
With the help of several UConn programs focused on innovation and entrepreneurship, Sotzing, Belsito, and their partners launched 3BC, a startup using pharma-grade processes to isolate THC-free batches of cannabis compounds.
The Science of Turning Plant to Profit
Cannabis contains more than 100 individual compounds known as cannabinoids, including the increasingly popular cannabidiol, or CBD. CBD is different than tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that gives users a “high” feeling.
Sotzing and the 3BC team, which also includes Belsito; Brian Thompson, who received his Ph.D. in cell biology from UConn’s School of Medicine; and Rosanne (Vlandis) Leake ’82 (CLAS), a UConn alumna and Storrs native, are focusing on a lesser-known compound: CBN, or cannabinol.
While there is limited clinical research on CBN at present, it has potential applications to aid sleep, regrow bone, stimulate appetite, and even prevent sepsis through its antimicrobial properties.
The magic in their product comes from Sotzing’s innovative, patented method for producing a pure, THC-free, non-GMO CBN isolate. Naturally, the hemp plant is only .5% CBN. By contrast, hemp is 10% CBD. With CBN existing at such small amounts in the plant, extracting from the plant is not commercially viable. Sotzing’s method chemically converts hemp extracts to boost CBN yields. This method provides not only pure CBN, but as CBN increases in popularity, the ability to scale to meet market demand.
“I took this into a whole different field of the chemistry-based innovations that I had developed,” Sotzing says.
3BC now sells their product to companies who use it in a host of cannabis-related goods like nutraceuticals, tinctures, and topicals.
The main advantage of 3BCs product over its competitors is its purity, Sotzing says. Customers never have to worry about THC content or other contaminants.
“When they add it in to their products, formulators know what they’re getting,” he says.
Because of Sotzing’s approach, 3BC can create a pure white CBN crystalline powder, derived from hemp. Compared to other oily or thick forms of CBN, 3BC’s pure CBN isolate is easy to handle and measure, an important feature to formulators.
While this is their first product, 3BC has plans to expand their offerings based on Sotzing’s other research innovations. He is working on solving other problems in the hemp industry, like shelf stability and bioavailability.
Making a Mark in the Market
Just like one of their customers’ products, the 3BC team needed the right ingredients to launch and grow their business.
One of our biggest accomplishments is being accepted into TIP. It enabled us to accelerate everything. — Brian Thompson
In addition to their team, they have taken advantage of several UConn programs that support entrepreneurial faculty to commercialize their research, launch businesses, and create jobs.
“UConn is on the cutting edge of hemp research and innovation,” says Radenka Maric, vice president for research, innovation and entrepreneurship at UConn and UConn Health. “We are committed to providing support for faculty and student inventors to unlock the commercial potential of the work they’re doing in the lab.”
The company received early and ongoing support from UConn’s Technology Commercialization Services, a group that helps faculty inventors patent and market their innovations to potential licensees.
In December 2019, 3BC had advanced enough to join the UConn Technology Incubation Program (TIP) as a self-funded startup.
In addition to providing lab and office space, TIP helps startups succeed by pairing them with world-class research and business resources available at top research institution like UConn.
“One of our biggest accomplishments is being accepted into TIP,” says Thompson, chief executive officer of 3BC. “It enabled us to accelerate everything.”
3BC also worked with the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and its Verge Consulting Program which advised them on market research and pricing. The program also introduced them to their newest team member, Jasdeep Singh, who will be graduating with an MBA from UConn’s School of Business this June.
To confirm the makeup of their products were as pure as they believed, 3BC worked with a laboratory at the UConn Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering. This top-of-the-line testing facility provides them with the required Certificate of Analysis which states their product is legal to sell.
Sotzing says this collaboration is extremely beneficial to the company as the researchers there are willing to help them solve problems rather than simply providing the certificate.
“Here on campus they give you more than just a piece of paper,” Sotzing says. “They actually work with us to help us understand really specific qualities of our product.”
3BC started generating revenue in September 2020, and they say they are excited to be part of a rapidly expanding industry with untapped potential in terms of the science of hemp and its potential health and economic impact.
“Hemp will be a significant business in the state, and it will drive the economy,” Sotzing says. “Our motto is ‘unlocking the promise of hemp,’ so we hope to be a big part of that.”