Exactly one year ago, my wife, Andrea and I decided to come to Uruguay. We came with a couple of backpacks and an open mind. What transpired over the past year has been nothing short of amazing and I'd love to share the tale with you, if you'll take the time :)
We had to leave the US - our working visa was ending and we had to get out or risk being banned entry again in the US. We had been living in California for 3 years on and off where I had an amazing opportunity to head up operations for Flow Kana, a cannabis company as well having the opportunity to live and work on a cannabis farm, Alpenglow Farms in Humboldt County, Northern California.
We both had dreamed of starting a company together and we had now found the industry which we were passionate about and which had tons of potential. Additionally, we now had the expertise and confidence to make it happen. However, starting a company in the US, not being citizens is complicated. We could potentially get a visa as entrepreneurs but we needed at least $150,000 of funding and a solid idea, of which we had neither.
Thankfully, we had options of places to go - we have a home in Israel, where we both met and lived for over 10 years with an incredible community. We also have a home in Australia, where my family live and would love nothing more than for us to come live there. In the end we decided to make our way to Latin America.
I had always wanted to spend time in Uruguay, learn where my wife is from, get to know her family and of course, learn Spanish. We also had the added bonus of Uruguay being the first country in the world to legalize cannabis on a national level. We didn't have much to lose - if things didn't work out, at least we could spend a few months in the summer in Uruguay, one of the most chilled out countries in the world!
We spent the first few months meeting with as many people as possible - cannabis entrepreneurs, government officials, doctors, scientists and investors, trying to understand the status of the medical cannabis industry in Uruguay. Of course, these meetings were all conducted in Spanish, which I did not speak nor understand at the time. The bus drives back from the meetings were usually spent with Andrea giving me a summary of the meeting.
From these conversations and research, it seemed Uruguay's recreational market was largely in place but there was little business opportunity there. The medical market technically existed and Uruguay was one of the few countries in the wold that could produce and export medical cannabis but the industry seemed to be stuck and still needed a lot of work.
We spent many sleepless nights, weighing up the pros and cons of staying and thinking about where we would go if not Uruguay and what we would do. We really did not want to go back to the 9 - 5 world of office employment. We had an opportunity here to be pioneers of a new industry, to help build the industry from bottom up. We needed to take a leap of faith and make a decision. A couple of weeks later, we had registered a company in Uruguay and Andrea was pregnant. There was no looking back now.
The next few months were spent wrestling with Uruguayan bureaucracy, figuring out what licenses to apply for and how, pitching family and friends to invest in us, building our team and refining our vision and strategy. At the same time, I was still trying to learn Spanish and Andrea was leading from the front, often attending meetings feeling nauseas from the pregnancy and a growing belly.
We were fortunate to be able to live with Andrea's mother in her childhood home. This saved us a lot as rent is expensive and we had no income at the time. Having a home for me was also essential as I was also suffering from arthritic and psoriasis symptoms. The cannabis oil we made was helping but not enough. The constant pain took a huge emotional toll as did the feelings of helplessness being in a foreign place and not understanding the language. These were trying times but we battled on.
Now, one year later, our lives our very different. We're new parents - Andrea gave birth to a healthy and beautiful little boy, Leo. We're not sleeping much but practicing a lot of patience and communication skills, while sharing the responsibilities of cofounders and new parents. I am feeling much better. I managed to get my pharmaceutical medication, which was a whole project in itself and I understand and speak a lot more Spanish.
YVY is doing great. We're hoping to close a considerable equity round in the next few weeks with a strategic investor who will also provide distribution for us. We are about to commence our first pilot cultivation and we have a fantastic team and partners. On the industry side, we have helped create a chamber of medical cannabis companies in Uruguay as well as organized educational events with leading universities.
We're still very much at the beginning of our journey. We have a lot of work to do and no doubt many challenges still lie ahead. But we're loving the fact that we're doing it together, in our own way. Keep a look out for more blogs as we make our way down the rabbit hole :)