If you’ve ever sat on your couch one night while buzzed and wondered why a young woman couldn’t just one day decide to start two companies in four years that would use cutting edge technology to transform the cannabis business from end-to-end–well, you don’t have to be high anymore to see that reality.
It’s 2018, and the smoke is clearing out of the way for Jessica VerSteeg. The 30-year-old Dutch-Puerto Rican model and former Miss Iowa beauty queen (as well as one-time Amazing Race contestant) also happens to be the CEO of Paragon, a first-in-class blockchain platform built for the cannabis industry.
Paragon offers everything from a cryptocurrency (ParagonCoin, traded as PRG) to a blockchain solution (ParagonChain) designed to expedite and digitize the marijuana supply chain. For a burgeoning industry that is still fighting for legalization while drowning in an analog cash-based economy, Paragon promises information security for consumers and safe, quick transactions for sellers. Now, VerSteeg’s latest venture is Paragon Space, Los Angeles’ first cannabis co-working space set to open on September 1.
Feel a bit like worlds colliding? VerSteeg chuckles wryly when asked to connect the dots between what seems like two disparate chapters of her life: the lingerie model and the crypto businesswoman. “This is always the question that everyone asks.”
And there is a compelling answer. VerSteeg dropped out of college and worked as a professional lingerie and fashion model for ten years before a life-shattering event caused her to do a complete 180 into cannabis entrepreneurship.
From Tragedy to Technology
In 2013, VerSteeg was dating Tyler Sash, a breakout NFL player struggling to deal with pain from his football injuries. When he was let go by the New York Giants from suffering too many concussions, he no longer had access to his normal dose of painkillers, she said, and turned to pills to cope.
“While we were together, he would ask, ‘Jess, can I smoke weed for my pain?’” Versteeg said. “I didn’t understand marijuana at that time, and I said no, it’s not legal here, I trust the NFL doctors, they know what they’re doing. Little did I know, they didn’t know what they were doing.”
VerSteeg thought it was dementia when her boyfriend “became a different person” and started to “do crazy things.” She begged the NFL to help, but they didn’t do anything. He became addicted to opiods and she had to end the relationship.
A year later, he died of an overdose.
Devastated, VerSteeg said she spiraled into a suicidal depression, consumed by guilt that she hadn’t listened to her partner more seriously about the uses of medical marijuana. She credited her mother for noticing the dark place she was in and helping her turn her pain into an outlet for entrepreneurship and technology.
“Because of everything I went through, I needed something strong to hold onto,” VerSteeg said. “My passion became changing the way other people saw cannabis so that this would didn’t have to happen to anybody else. Nobody else would have to lose their partner to an opiod addiction.”
A New Joint Venture
In 2014, VerSteeg founded her first start-up, AuBox, a luxury marijuana subscription service that delivered products like weed-infused cake pops, CBD bath bombs, and supplements discreetly to customers’ doorsteps. The blockchain technology she developed alongside AuBox, which she dubbed AuChain, then transitioned into an idea for Paragon, a cryptocurrency and blockchain offering designed specifically for the cannabis world.
It was a perfect business opportunity just waiting to take off. The cannabis industry is expected to grow 35% a year to amass to $35 billion in retail sales by 2022, according to Matt Karnes, Founding and Managing Partner at GreenWave Advisors, a leading cannabis industry research firm. That figure is based on the assumption that every state will legalize marijuana either medically or fully in the next five years.
“I don’t think that’s unrealistic, given that we’re already at 30, and there’s several states that have bills on the table to legalize,” Karnes said. “Once this next wave of states occurs, it’s just going to accelerate the timeline for other states.”
To Read The Rest Of This Article By Jenna Wang on Forbes
Published: July 31, 2018
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News