Wendell Orphe, Founder & CEO – PhenoXpress
What does PhenoXpress do?
Wendell: PhenoXpress provides genetic testing for cannabis cultivators across the US, in legalized markets. We provide sex testing and pathogen testing.
Q: Why is it important?
It’s important for the cultivators to find out information very early on. For example, when you germinate seeds you have a 50% chance for it to be either female or male, and you would have to wait about 8 weeks for the plant to show their sex. You can either do that or you could send us a sample 7 to 10 days after germination. We could do the sex testing for you and find out in a couple of days as opposed to waiting 8 weeks.
What is the economic impact for a grower?
The economic impact for a grower is you save time, money, space, and resources. A lot of these cultivation facilities are growinginside, using a lot of electricity, water, and labor. Growers have to maximize the canopy space with the female plants. Testing makes for a much more efficient process as opposed to just wasting money and time on plants that you don’t need.
Q: What is PhenoXpress working on with pathogens?
We help detect certain pathogens for cultivators. Some of these pathogens are viruses, viroids, mold and mildew, fusarium, and vitritis. We also detect pests including some types of mites.
These pathogens could be devastating to a crop. They could cause widespread infection to other plants as well, and what really stinks is you don’t notice until you start seeing the symptoms on the plant. That could be weeks later or even during the flowering stage. With our genetic testing to check for plant pathogens, you could find out early – before the visible signs.
Q: What made you want to do cannabis testing?
I wanted to get into sequencing cannabis back in 2015. I saw the opportunity when Colorado became the first state to legalize and I thought to myself, “It’ll be cool to bring in the science side.” Particularly, I was interested in finding out the strain names. I wanted to develop a huge database where cultivators could sequence the plants that they are buying from seed suppliers and seed vendors could validate what they’re growing or what they’re going to sell.
That was my goal initially. I reached out to a mentor here at North Shore InnoVentures, Martha Farmer, and she thought it was a great idea but she recommended I work for someone else who was already doing that kind of work. And I did. I got a job as their R&D Scientist and I worked there until 2017 when I left to start my own business.
Q: What made you want to start your own business?
Very simple. I was tired of being laid off. I didn’t want to go through that again. I wanted to control my own destiny.
I was always intrigued with business; I just didn’t know what need I could fulfill for a customer. I wanted to do something that I’m not too dependent on others for, things that I’ve acquired the skills and experience to do myself and create a business around it.
Q: How do you like being your own boss?
It’s great, but also it gets lonely. You’re doing everything on your own. Everything is contingent on you executing and providing to the customer. When things go great, I’m happy but when things go bad, I just have to deal with it. You have no one to complain to and if you have any problems that come up, you just have to learn how prioritize and find solutions.
Q: What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned about running your company?
One of the main things I’ve learned this past year was more on the business development side.
How do I go from being self-employed, to a business, to a company? What does it take to get to cross that bridge? Just learning about revenue, forecasting, and how much money the business is making has been very helpful. Having the support of mentors here at North Shore InnoVentures has been very helpful with that too.
Q: What is your favorite movie?
Pursuit of Happiness. I just love that story.
Q: Who would play you in the story of your life?
Q: Do like hamburgers or hot dogs better?
Q: Ketchup or mustard?
Q: Do you prefer the mountains or the beach?
I would have to say mountains. The beach is always the same. The mountains are so mysterious and majestic at the same time. One of my favorite documentaries I’ve watched was The Alpinist. I highly recommend it. It’s about being a solo climber, using very little tools get to the summit.
Being an alpinist is similar to being an entrepreneur because you are climbing mountains that no one has ever climbed before, essentially being pioneers. They’re the first ones to create that path, and everybody else follows.