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Austin Stevenson, Chief Innovation Officer Vertosa Digs Into Five Questions

Austin Stevenson, Chief Innovation Officer Vertosa Digs Into Five Questions

I’m a nerd at heart; perhaps that is part of the charm. Good luck turning that nerdish into something that earns a living, unless you are, of course, a man as accomplished as Austin Stevenson. Although he is perceived by the outer world as a brilliant, scientific thinker, I see much of myself in his cadence. Why? His appreciation of both science and cannabis. 

You have to be pretty smart to use cannabis as an intellectual capacitator. 

Upon meeting Austin, I saw my younger self, as I’m not just born. I worked with cannabis in a very basic way when writing Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails, and Tonics. What Austin does is space-age compared to my stove-top bumbling.  

  I still see myself as a nerd, just to be perfectly clear. 

Austin appears to think in possibilities. To possess the knowledge that he holds and utilizes this empirical intellectualism with cannabis emulsions? His craft is other-level stuff. My bartending mentor, Chris James, would go crazy over the possibilities for the terpenes alone, as full-on, THC emulsion cannabis beverages are not permitted in New Jersey. But I digress. The flavors and aromatics that Vertosa has brought to the table make for a heady brew indeed! 

And now, with Austin Stevenson, answering five questions that I’ll bet he didn’t think anyone would ever ask. 



Warren Bobrow: Please tell me about yourselves? Why Cannabis? What brought you to the plant?

Austin Stevenson: I am Chief Innovation Officer at Vertosa, a science-first cannabis company that creates the most effective and reliable active ingredients for infused products. I’m in charge of all commercial activities, including technical sales, tactical marketing, and new business development, including partnership facilitation with leading brands across industries. I’m passionate about creating a pathway to financial success and opportunity for women and BIPOC entrepreneurs. I provide a technology platform for entrepreneurs that inspires innovation and enables powerful business concepts. I’ve been advising start-ups and helping to build businesses in the finance, technology, and CPG industries. I hold public office as Commissioner on the City of Oakland’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission. I’m a Treasurer of the Cannabis Beverage Association as well as an Advisor and Mentor for the Eaze Momentum Accelerator.

WB: Indoor or outdoor grown? Why? Organics? Biodynamics? Favorite strain? 

AS: Historically, there’s a common debate in the industry about indoor versus outdoor — but there is value in both. To design new cannabis experiences, we start with cannabis plant extracts, which make the product unique.

 If I am trying to design a new cannabis experience, I want to dial in on a specific cannabinoid and terpene ratio. In this case, I want the extracts from a very controlled and consistent source, and that begins with indoor plants. But if I’m looking to design a product that’s treated more like a wine, where you have unique vintages and seasonality, I would choose a strain from outdoor plants. Outdoor products grow a richer terpene profile that’s directly correlated to the unique terroir where the strain was cultivated, similarly to wines, and these impact flavor. 

 I am a terpene enthusiast and do believe there is unique value and experience derived from terpenes and cannabinoids. Both indoor and outdoor plants have their place in planning products for the future.

 My favorite stains are heavy sativas and uplifting varietals. I always go back to a classic strain, Jack Herer. It’s piney with good levels of various cannabinoids, best known for stimulating creativity and causing energetic types of highs. Many writers and artists have created some of their best work or best-selling novels after consuming the Jack Herer strain.

 Favorite strain: perhaps something that also makes for a great emulsion? Do any strains have “better” properties for emulsification?

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 Vertosa is agnostic to the inputs, so we just start with extracts regardless of whether it is a distillate, live resin, or live rosin. We can use any high-lipid-based extracts to create an emulsion. The most important thing is stability — ensuring that the specific extract has a purity level of the most dominant cannabinoid. For example, THC extracts must contain 65% or more THC, CBN extracts must have 64% or more CBN. Long story short, it’s less about the strain and more about the purity of the extraction technique. We work with the best extractors that meet those minimums.

WB: What are your six and twelve-month goals? 

AS: Our ultimate goal — six months, one year, five years — is to build a beverage category in the cannabis industry. We have a responsibility to expand the product offering outside of California, so our goal over the next year is to truly serve as a platform that helps brands launch in new markets. Expansion is our core focus, so the brands we started with can expand themselves and build categories of this next generation of cannabis products. We serve as a platform for local entrepreneurs to launch their products, so broadening and widening product categories is central to our mission.

 Other than expansion, we’re also looking at the innovation side to design new experiences with cannabinoids. We are working on a host of new formulations specifically designed for mood states. With the help of our scientific advisory board, we are analyzing different ratios of cannabinoids and terpenes. To design better sleep products, for example, we are doing research on CBN, CBD, linalool, and other functional ingredients like magnesium. 

 WB: Favorite food when consuming cannabis? Favorite food memory from childhood? 

AS: When I want to have a maximum peak sensory experience with cannabis, I love to eat sushi. Cannabinoids are fat-soluble, and sushi is rich in Omega 3- and 6-fatty acids. Starting on an empty stomach then consuming a meal or snack that’s heavy in fats can take you to a new level. That’s why chocolates work so well because they optimize that cannabinoid absorption. When I have munchies, I turn to trail mix or popcorn — or trail mix mixed with popcorn. The salty-sweet combination is the best.

WB: What is your passion? 

My passion lies in creating a platform that enables entrepreneurs of any background to launch innovative products. We know a lot of CPG brands are centered around successful marketing, but in cannabis, it comes down to product formulation. We designed a true ingredients company that manufactures fast-acting products to make them easier to use and incorporate into products flexibly.