The Business Year

Gustavo Escobar

COLOMBIA - Agriculture

Medical Revolution

CIO & Co-Founder, Clever Leaves


Gustavo Escobar is CIO at Clever Leaves. Prior to Clever Leaves, he was Founding Partner at Mojo Ventures, a unique early-stage company builder focusing on working with start-ups and small companies to achieve unprecedented growth and profitability. He has a degree in engineering from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana.

"The truth is that competition drives us to be better every day."

How did Clever Leaves’ operations evolve in 2018, and what have been its main accomplishments?

Clever Leaves was formally created in 2016 by a committed team that wanted to create a whole industry for Colombia, and from Colombia to the world based on low-cost, high-quality products. This dream came through the development of careful and detailed strategic planning on various fronts. By the end of 2018, Clever Leaves had five cultivated hectares and a world-class GMP extraction facility. This capacity will increase dramatically in the coming years in order to achieve the goal of 100 cultivated hectares by the end of 2023. This story, however, continues to be written by the Clever Leaves team, our strategic partners in Colombia and abroad, and every patient and doctor that believes medical cannabis is a viable solution to a foremost global problem. In 2018, there were many accomplishments. Regulations are moving rapidly, and there are open opportunities for Colombian firms like Clever Leaves to export. We already have operations and infrastructure in place and have commercial opportunities in international markets. We are becoming one of the largest players in Colombia, much faster than we expected. The industry is seeing more competitors, which is important for quality to be a priority, and many international companies are coming in to compete in the market. The truth is that competition drives us to be better every day. That brings in more aggressive activity, though we have been working with many of the companies to build up the industry to what we all want it to be.

What does it mean to be a Colombian company in a market with a great deal of international attention and participation?

It means that we have big challenges and great opportunities. That’s why in April 2018, Clever Leaves became the first Colombian company to be fully licensed in medical cannabis cultivation and transformation, as well as receiving production quotas for both harvest and fabrication. With this, the company materializes what has been its burning purpose and desire: to bring top-grade medicinal solutions to millions of patients. Our purpose is clear: We strive to offer consumers and clients high value-added products derived from cannabis plants, helping patients in Colombia and around the world enhance their wellbeing. We actively promote shared benefits for all stakeholders along the value chain by abiding by fair business models founded on trust that are strictly within the boundaries of the law. This is a country where one needs to know how to move; regulations are complex. Many believe they can just come here and plant a seed; however, it is not that easy. There might be many investments and projects by companies that have started abroad; however, they have to come here and understand how things work here and how complex the regulatory framework is. They have to partner with the right people and partners to get up to speed and become competitive. They need to have the knowledge to work in the various environments in Colombia that can be extremely difficult.

What foreign markets have the greatest opportunity for growth?

We have to take into account two main aspects. The first is focusing on psychoactive and non-psychoactive restrictions, while going abroad depends a great deal on the type of product one is producing. We are focusing on combining both. We have thus far been successful in finding the fastest way to access international markets. However, focusing on medical products takes longer: one has to conduct clinical studies and complete more work than just passing regulations. Combining these two aspects, a company can find a way to get access export markets in the fastest time. We have a full combination of doing different things in different timeframes, and by 2019 we should get into some markets. A strong differentiator is having high-quality products, which is what the international market seeks and is something not many companies are capable of offering. GMP-certified products are a significant differentiator. Europe is one of the fastest markets one can enter in terms of the above two aspects and represents a huge initial opportunity for Colombian companies. Canada is another opportunity, and Latin America is the third.



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