Cultivating innovation: HEXO taps Stratford Managers to develop innovation lab

The Gatineau cannabis producer is among the fastest growing pot companies in Canada
The teams from HEXO and Stratford Managers pose together.
From left, Tim Fleming, innovation coach with Stratford Managers, Patrick Woods, project manager with HEXO, Natalie Giroux, business lead in innovation strategy with Stratford, Adam Miron, cofounder and CBO at HEXO, Elaine Johnson, VP intellectual property strategy with Stratford, Dean Fulford with Stratford, leadership development practice lead, and Timothy Koo, project manager at HEXO. (Photo by Mark Hollleron)

As one of Canada’s fastest-growing cannabis companies, HEXO is well-versed in standing out from the crowd.

But with rapid growth comes the need to scale. As leaders of a high-profile company in a relatively uncharted industry, HEXO’s executives faced a unique dilemma.

How can we continue to innovate efficiently and effectively as we grow?

For HEXO, formerly trading as Hydropothecary, the solution came from Ottawa consulting firm Stratford Managers.

“We were a startup for a very long time. For us, it was clear that we needed to mature,” says Adam Miron, co-founder and chief brand officer at HEXO.

Stratford Managers came on board to assist the Gatineau-based cannabis producer in developing its innovation lab, bringing in a cross-service team with expertise in human resources, business development, intellectual property and innovation coaching.

“For the innovation lab, it’s a matter of setting up the right culture and climate so that everybody knows that they’re welcome to innovate,” says Natalie Giroux, business lead in innovation strategy at Stratford Managers.

In a matter of months, the Stratford team developed a plan for implementing HEXO’s innovation lab, including staffing and resource recommendations as well as an in-depth process to follow as new ideas come about.

Uncharted territory

As a Canadian producer, HEXO is in a relatively uncharted space. Though medical marijuana has been legal since 2001, the impending legalization of recreational use this fall has left many wondering at the use of cannabis and its commercialization in Canada.

HEXO’s unique target market also requires that the firm keep ahead of – or even set – industry trends.

“We call them the explorers,” Miron says of his target customers. He defines them as high-income individuals who don’t outwardly identify as cannabis consumers for fear of the stigma and adverse impact it may have on their personal and professional lives.

Among the products that have already come out of HEXO are Decarb, an activated marijuana powder that can be consumed in capsule form or sprinkled on food, and Fleur de Lune, a personal lubricant infused with THC. Decarb won best new cannabis product at the 2017 Lift Canadian Cannabis Awards.

“We wanted a flag that people would be proud to fly,” Miron says.

"We wanted a flag that people would be proud to fly."

Cross-service approach

In order to develop the many components of the innovation lab, Stratford Managers had to first get to know HEXO inside out, from its employees to its corporate culture and beyond.

For the Stratford team, the task came down to developing frameworks for HEXO to implement that would be realistic yet impactful. To do this, the various members of the firm’s cross-service team conducted interviews with employees and performed market research.

“Most companies struggle, because when they have a good idea they go full on in that direction to deliver on it, and they forget that they need another idea to work on in the meantime,” explains Giroux.

The new processes developed by the Stratford Managers team will help guide HEXO’s innovation from start to finish. They include laser-focused details such as a single point of contact for the company’s CEO to check in on recent developments and a process for determining when an idea is no longer viable.

Other aspects of the innovation lab project include the drafting of job descriptions for specific roles and recommendations on what lab equipment HEXO should acquire. Currently, Stratford Managers is assisting in the hiring and onboarding process for a crop  of new employees that will help to fuel the firm’s innovation process.

“We knew five years ago that if we didn’t fill the room with people smarter than us, then it wouldn’t work,” says Miron. “And we did exactly that here.”