Alumnus capitalizes on Canada’s cannabis industry


Western Engineering News | June 4, 2019

In October 2018, the use of cannabis for recreational purposes became legal in Canada. While the industry focus has been on large-scale cultivation of the plant, emerging trends for products such as edibles, vaporizers and beverages revolve around cannabis oil extraction.

Western Engineering alumnus Mario Naric, BESc’14, has taken full advantage of this emerging industry and, with a chemical engineering background and a mind for business, has founded Motif Labs, a full-service cannabis and hemp extraction company.

We caught up with Naric to learn more about Motif Labs and to discover how his student experience provided the foundation to take on the world of entrepreneurship.

What sparked the decision to create Motif Labs?

Roughly three years ago, a friend of mine forwarded a presentation outlining an investment opportunity in an up-and-coming cannabis company. This presentation sent me down a very deep rabbit hole of research into the emerging, commercial cannabis industry in Canada and I found it extremely fascinating. I then used all of my vacation to travel to the states where cannabis was legal at that time (Colorado, Oregon, Washington) and quickly realized that our understanding of cannabis and its use/forms was extremely limited. In Canada, everyone was focusing on large-scale cultivation of cannabis flower; meanwhile, these States were flourishing with much more complex and exciting products (beverages, vaporizers, mints, edibles etc.). At the heart of all these new and exciting products was the extraction and refining process that Motif Labs is perfecting. It quickly dawned on me that Canada would follow in the same footsteps and would need specialized business that focused on this step of the value chain.

Discuss your current role as Founder and COO at Motif Labs.

As the Founder and COO of Motif Labs, I have the privilege of wearing many, many hats. My role spans very technical aspects (i.e., process design for the extraction and refining of cannabis oils), entrepreneurial aspects (strategy, business development, fundraising), Human Resources (training plans, hiring etc.) and project management (I am the point of contact for the construction of our $2-million facility). Ultimately, as a founder, it is my responsibility to ensure the success of my business, and that means being in a constant state of learning and flexibility. It is very exciting and very fulfilling!

What services does Motif Labs provide?

Motif Labs is a full-service cannabis and hemp extraction company, offering toll processing and white labelling services to licensed cannabis and hemp cultivators. Essentially, cultivators send us their biomass, and we convert that biomass into very highly refined oils, concentrates and white label products (such as vaporizers, tinctures or capsules). We pride ourselves on our ability to provide our clients with the ultimate efficiency, consistency and quality so that they can focus on cultivation/retail/branding and allow us to focus on the rest.

How did your partnership with Ian Haase come about? 

After conducting my own due diligence on the opportunity and piecing together a high-level business model, business plan and execution strategy, I decided to pitch my idea to the Western Accelerator Program in 2017. Ian Haase happened to be one of the judges on the panel. We immediately hit it off, and he began assisting me as a heavily involved mentor. After a few months of collaborating and working together, it became clear that we were a great team and we needed each other for this idea to become a reality. Ian took a chance on me and jumped in full-time as my co-founder.

How has Motif Labs grown since its inception in early 2017?

The journey from early 2017 until now has been exciting, challenging and rewarding, to say the least. Over the past 1.5-2 years, Motif has progressed from an interesting idea into a rapidly growing business. In that time, we have submitted an 800-page detailed application to health Canada; we have secured almost $6M in financing; we have hired three additional employees and are looking to quickly grow the team; we have commenced construction on our 12,000 SF bespoke facility; and we are on a clear path to production and revenue by late 2019, early 2020.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

My day-to-day responsibilities are ever-evolving and changing as Motif enters new phases of the business. Fundamentally, as the engineer on the team, it is my duty to ensure that the extraction process works flawlessly and efficiently. This ultimately means that I spend a lot of my time assessing and selecting equipment to facilitate the +10-step process, designing the layout of our facility and working closely with our many contractors to ensure all of the operation pieces fall into place. On top of this, I work on fundraising, business development, pricing strategy, client acquisition, hiring, social media/marketing, licensing, generating operating procedures etc. 

Tell us about your overall Western Engineering student experience.

My time at Western Engineering was an incredible foundation for all professional and entrepreneurial endeavours following graduation. One of the more unique experiences I had was through the WE Go Global program that provided me the opportunity to participate in a three-month co-op program in Tianjin, China. This experience not only taught me invaluable research and development skills, but also showed me that stepping outside of my comfort zone can lead to tremendous professional and personal development.

Interestingly enough, the two courses that had the greatest impact on my interests were: Business for Engineers and Biopsychology (one of my 3rd-year electives). Engineering courses provided me with an invaluable ability to think through large, difficult problems in an effective and sequential way; however, the two aforementioned courses taught me how to apply those skills in a more entrepreneurial way. 

How did completing your degree with Western Engineering help prepare you for your career?

I owe all of my accomplishments to the Western Engineering program. The engineering program itself provided a foundation of knowledge and a way of thinking that has carried me through all of my roles (management consulting, oil and gas and entrepreneurship). The robust internship program was invaluable, as it allowed me to work for 16 months before graduation and get a true understanding of what it means to be in the "real world." The internship, co-op in China, diverse courses and many resources on campus are the reasons I was able to secure highly competitive and challenging positions post-graduation. These positions were the only reasons I am now able to navigate the extremely ambiguous, difficult and dynamic world of entrepreneurship. Western provides all the resources you need for success. If you're willing to work hard and utilize these resources, there is absolutely no reason why you can't accomplish your goals. 

What are your career goals moving forward?

Right now, I am 110% focused on the success of Motif Labs. I am so grateful for the unique opportunity I have to be on the ground floor of what will undoubtedly be one of the largest industries in the world. The learnings, connections and experiences I have access to right now are unparalleled, and I plan on maximizing this experience. It is very clear to me that I am meant to be an entrepreneur and follow a path less frequently taken. My future plans will all revolve around that premise. I hope to see Motif Labs succeed, and I hope to leverage the knowledge gained through this experience into many more exciting projects in the future.