During the COVID-19 pandemic, Calgarian Rob Swiderski had what he termed “a spiritual awakening.”
After growing up in northeast Calgary and spending more than two decades in Calgary’s restaurant and hospitality industry with such heavyweights as Penny Lane Entertainment, Swiderski began thinking about the legacy he would leave to his three young sons.
He helped start up another health and wellness company focused on berries and vegetables, before leaving that outfit as the core values changed.
“The restaurant industry, I have a lot of great successes there,” Swiderski said.
“But it was time for me to jump into something that was going to be a little more impactful.”
He knew he wanted to stick in the health and wellness industry and be a good steward of the planet.
So, he got into mushrooms. MycoRize Ltd. is an Alberta-based vertically-integrated mushroom and mycelium technology agri-business.
He’d done a deep dive into the health and mental wellness benefits of mushrooms and the effect of psilocybin, the active element in psychedelic mushrooms.
“It was following a lot of the same curve that cannabis had. Although cannabis was kind of recreational first, and oh, by the way, there’s a bunch of medical benefits,” Swiderski said.
To compare the two isn’t fair, he said. We just don’t understand enough about the medical benefits of psilocybin yet. It’s a growing area for pharma.
“It’s just massive,” said Swiderski.
“You think about how many people are on pharmaceutical drugs for depression and addiction and all these things, when we have something right in front of us that’s a natural product to help heal people.”
‘like the wild west out there’
Right now, psilocybin mushrooms aren’t approved for widespread use like cannabis.
So, while Swiderski waits for legalization, he’s ramping up the gourmet and medicinal mushroom side of things. They’re working on a 5,000 square foot grow operation where they’ll cultivate the fungi.
Swiderski said they’ve seen the mushroom supply chain capped due to COVID-19. Mushroom powders for medicinal purposes often comes from China.
“There’s not a lot of confidence in the quality that are coming out of out of those places,” he said.
“We will be able to create a little bit more confidence around the quality that you can get, and we’ll be able to make sure that that supply chain is never compromised.”
Of course, the future is in the psilocybin, Swiderski said. Some companies are operating on the margins right now though.
“If you look at it, there are six or seven companies currently operating with cease and desist orders against them that are actually sending out microdoses. You can go to their website and order,” he said.
“And because legalization is right around the corner, it’s like the wild west of how cannabis was how many years ago.”
Swiderski said no one’s really doing anything about it because, like cannabis, legalization is coming. Psycho-assisted therapies are being approved, with few licensed producers operating.
The phased approach leading to the legacy product
Swiderski said they’ll build the revenue with the gourmet and medicinal products first. Then, as legalization rolls out, they’ll migrate to that area.
He said they’re applying for a license to produce the medical grade and work with researchers to use it for testing. They will basically cultivate and produce.
You’d think once they have that operating that it would be the peak of business operations. But Swiderski said the legacy ties back to the roots. The mushroom roots, that is.
Mycelium is the root base of the mushroom plant. Swiderski said there are companies using feedstock like hemp, old wood or straw and infusing it with mycelium. It acts as a bio-resin when the particles are pressed together, like OSB or fibreboard, he said.
This process removes the use of formaldehyde during pressing.
“Now you’re taking the toxins out of that process. We’re being a little more sustainable and leaving our forests alone,” he said.
Building a smarter team
Swiderski has business acumen from his years helping operate locations for Penny Lane. He’s been involved in the start up and development of products from scratch.
What he’s getting from the Alberta Yield program is the connection to different people with skillsets and knowledge he just doesn’t have.
“I’ve always been about building teams around me that are smarter, that are better than me.” Swideski said.
“I’ve always taken the approach that I can always learn something.”
He said the experience helped him focus the business on target markets and they presented challenges he hadn’t yet foreseen.
“It’s people that are there to challenge you and make you better,” Swiderski said.
In the next year, Swiderski wants the gourmet and medicinal mushroom operation off the ground. By year two or three, into the psilocybin mushrooms. By year five, they want the tech side of things (mycelium) rolled out.