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Pioneering the use of medicinal cannabis

From starting a supplement business at the age of 17 to running a multinational pharmaceutical company, Ivan Mestrangelo is a serial entrepreneur with an impressive history of starting, building and selling companies. But his current venture in medicinal cannabis, MediCrops, is a long-term project. Ivan tells us how he got started in alternative medicine and what he’s learnt along the way.

Tell us about your entrepreneurship journey before MediCrops.

My first adventures as an entrepreneur began at the early age of 17, when I founded my first real business importing and selling raw materials for the supplement industry from China. It started off with just me, but by the end I had ten employees. Since then, I’ve founded over ten businesses, including a construction business and a few restaurants.

There’d be days when I’d start in construction at seven in the morning. I’d finish at five, take a shower and spend my evenings working in the restaurant. It was challenging, but if you find something you’re passionate about, it will work in some way. In entrepreneurship, you have to love what you do because you face so many challenges along the way.

What first sparked your interest in medicinal cannabis?

It wasn’t until 2018, when I was recovering from foot surgery, that I became interested in medicinal cannabis. I found the healing process difficult and was looking for alternatives when I found this whole community. It blew my mind: they’d stopped using any opioids and they weren’t depending on any medicines.

I didn’t get a chance to try it then, but I was already intrigued. I wanted to know where these products came from because I knew you couldn’t produce them in Switzerland. I found out that you could get a licence in North Macedonia, so I visited the country and, at the end of 2018, started my first facility for medicinal cannabis there. That was the start of MediCrops.

What does MediCrops do?

At MediCrops, we aim to produce medicinal cannabis products from seed to sale. We work on our own seeds and are currently undergoing research and development to stabilise their genetics. Then we cultivate the plants and process the flowers into extracts, tinctures and concentrates. Our main challenge is turning a natural product into something stable and reproducible on a large scale. To do this, we are bringing agronomists and pharmaceutical experts together. Once we have a stable product, we will start production and then move onto sales.

In entrepreneurship, you have to love what you do because you face so many challenges along the way.

What’s your vision for MediCrops?

As mentioned, my vision for MediCrops is to produce medicinal cannabis from seed to sale, but we also want to diversify our activity. Ultimately, we would like to create a platform that connects doctors with patients as well as developing training for doctors so they’re more aware about the products and their benefits.

But we aren’t planning to do everything by ourselves. After growing our share of the medicinal cannabis market from 5% to 10% over the next three to four years, we plan to acquire smaller companies, such as one that specialises in production.

You’ve recently closed your third round of financing at MediCrops. How difficult has it been to find investors in this field?

When MediCrops first started in 2018, we used money I had raised from selling my previous businesses. But the project grew so quickly that, by the end of 2020, I was looking for investors. It was really difficult at first as many people felt it was too risky: cannabis is still considered alternative medicine and it’s not yet widely prescribed by doctors, even though in Switzerland they no longer need special authorisation to do so. But in recent years, we’ve started to see a shift, and big pharma companies have begun showing an interest in medicinal cannabis, buying smaller companies and investing in R&D. For MediCrops, it wasn’t until 2021, when we were featured by some of the big Swiss media companies, that things really took off. In the end, we raised almost CHF 20 million from private investors.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt in your career?

I’ve been starting and building companies for over 12 years, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes in that time. I still make mistakes now, of course, but the important thing is to learn from them. One of the main lessons I’ve learnt is finding the right people. Over the years, I’ve employed over 130 people. It hasn’t always worked out, but when you’ve hired so many people, you start to get a bit of an instinct. In my previous companies, I recruited people really quickly. Now, I’ve learnt to take my time. It’s time-consuming, but it’s well worth it.

With MediCrops, I’ve also learnt that patience is key. The medicinal cannabis and pharmaceutical worlds are highly regulated, so everything takes time. This was difficult for me to accept at first because supplements, for example, aren’t regulated so you can develop a product and bring it to market pretty quickly. For pharmaceutical businesses, you have to plan about three years in advance just to get to production.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

  1. Don’t spend too much time thinking about the future. Start, make mistakes, then adapt. Don’t waste a lot of time making plans, just give your best every day.
  2. Find people who have the same goals as you do. Building an environment made up of talented people is key to company culture. Sometimes, this means hiring people who you wouldn’t be friends with outside of work and letting go of people you’re close to.
  3. Don’t make the same mistake twice. When you’ve learnt what you can from a mistake, adapt your workflow to avoid repeating it.
  4. Find a balance. This is the most important one, and it’s not something I’ve always managed to do. Don’t put everything into your work. Find a hobby, and book time for yourself into your business calendar. Now, I make sure I have time in my daily schedule to train for an IRONMAN I want to complete next year. This really helps me maintain my work–life balance.
Ivan Mestrangelo
CEO of MediCrops Biomedical Technologies AG
Ivan Mestrangelo founded his first business at the age of 17. From that first venture, which imported raw materials from China and sold them on to the supplement industry, he went on to found over ten more businesses in sectors as diverse as construction and hospitality. He is a skilled entrepreneur with extensive experience of scaling businesses from the initial vision to the successful operational phase. He is now founder and CEO of MediCrops, a pharmaceutical company that aims to produce medicinal cannabis products from seed to sale. Despite his significant professional commitments, he also strives to maintain a healthy work–life balance and is currently working towards an IRONMAN.
MediCrops Biomedical Technologies
MediCrops Holding AG is an internationally operating pharmaceutical company headquartered in Pfäffikon (SZ) with his sister company MediCrops Biomedical Technologies AG, a Production and Manufacturing Site located in Yverdon-les-Bains (VD), Switzerland. They are specializing in the R&D, Production of standardized Cannabis Herbal Substance and Manufacturing of standardized Cannabis Herbal Preparation (APIs) containing THC and other cannabinoids/terpenes. Medicrops is aiming to harness the full medicinal potential of the cannabis plant and make it available to patients around the world as a therapeutic agent. They strongly believe in an operating philosophy based on continuous improvement, on openness in communication, integrity in serving their consumers, fairness and concern for their employees and responsibility to the communities within which they operate.
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