My favorite city is: Amsterdam My pet peeve is: Dishonesty. I appreciate brutal, ugly, clear, sharp honesty.
Leading the way in legal cannabis, equity, and diversity
A PASSION FOR INVENTION. Renee Gagnon is a natural-born innovator. Born in Calgary and raised on British Columbia's West Coast, her early introduction to computers as a child in the 1980s set her on a path that has resulted in a singular, boundary-pushing entrepreneurial career that currently amounts to some 14 startups.
"I've always been motivated by inventing," she says. "When computers arrived, suddenly I could create products sitting at a keyboard. And when the internet came along, it was the rise of the nerds, and I was a nerd. I learned that you could sell stuff without having stores everywhere, and you could be in one place and bring the world to you."
In 2013, after several successful startups during the dot-com bubble, Renee honed in on the medical cannabis industry. Canada had legalized medical marijuana in 2001, but it wasn't until now that government regulations had changed to allow for commercial growers – an announcement Renee had been waiting on for years. Shortly after, she became one of the country's first licensed researchers.
"Cannabis has allowed me to explore what hyper-regulation looks like. You have a format and structure you can't influence, so you must be exceedingly creative in figuring out how to comply with arbitrary rules and achieve your business goals. That was fascinating to me."
In 2014, Renee launched Thunderbird Biomedical Inc. (now Emerald Health). Within a year, it became the top medical cannabis producer in Canada and the fourth publicly traded cannabis company worldwide.
For Renee, it was a period of rapid professional and personal growth. Until this point, Renee had been presenting as male, but now, aged 48, she had come to recognize her true gender as a woman. After being outed to her friends and family by her ex-wife, Renee came out publicly on Facebook. The moment, she recalls, "triggered blowback from the board of directors" and forced her to step down as CEO.
"This was six months before Caitlyn Jenner came out when the concept of a trans CEO didn't seem feasible. The board felt I wasn't masculine enough to inspire investors; they told me they wanted a 'firm handshake and square-jawed CEO they can look in the eye,' which was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard."
Rather than retreat into the shadows, Renee continued to break new ground in the cannabis industry. She was among the first to acquire a processing license ("which turns cannabis into other things") and launched HollyWeed North Cannabis Inc.® (now Lucy Scientific Discovery Inc. Symbol: LSDi - pending). After becoming one of the world's largest pharmaceutical psychedelics producers, Renee exited in 2021. "Why? I've always made the ethical choice for what was good for the company and did not take self-interest. But it also allowed me to reinvent myself yet again."
VIEW FROM A DIFFERENT ANGLE. Renee says the experience of coming out as trans has given her a unique perspective that has enabled her to create and retain a diverse workforce. She recalls a life-changing moment in 2016 when she was invited to speak at a leadership summit by Women Grow, a group of influential women in the cannabis industry. "I'd found my tribe and came to appreciate that both genders are laboring under a lot of bullshit they've been taught since they were children. I proved there was nothing to stop these women from succeeding."
With a needle-like focus on the future, Renee now intends to explore energy security and modernization, "developing below-ground infrastructure and resiliency to energize unpopulated areas, decrease urban sprawl, and create opportunity." Ever-motivated by a "pathological need to be right," she's also guided by a desire to positively impact the planet.