NEW YORK (MainStreet) Already a $100 million industry, vaporization has exploded over the last year in response to chill attitudes toward marijuana legalization. Seibo Shen, CEO and founder of vaporization technology company VapeXhale, seeks to play off the trend toward healthy consumption of cannabis. But will VapeXhale be a "one-hit" wonder or continue to get the pot buzz as it grows in momentum? Shen sees his company's offering as integral to the mass spread of cannabis for medical and recreational use.
The company leads with the VapeXhale Cloud EVO, a plug-in machine that uses heat to extract active ingredients from cannabis herbs by changing them from a liquid into a a gaseous state. Think of it as a more sophisticated bong.
"We've created a vaporizer that uses an all-glass air path," he said. "We chose that material not because it was easy or cheap to work with, but because it provided an inert and safe material."
From there, Shen introduced hydra tubes, which allow the consumer to customize a vaporization experience by using different percolators and diffusers in the mouth piece. It's almost a Starbucks choose-your-own flavor adventure where users can control for the release of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), among other elements.
That's the customization process Shen thinks will be essential as marijuana consumption grows.
"We found that many patients, especially the ones in California that have a wide variety of strains to choose from not only can they choose their therapeutic effect, but many of the strains have different flavors and aromas," he said. "Some are more earthy, some are fruity some are sweet tasting. And with this all-glass air path, it allows the full flavors to shine through and also the health aspect of the glass if very important."
From Software to Glassware
Born in Japan and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, the 35-year-old UCLA grad had a lucrative ten-year career selling software and doing business development in Silicon Valley.
Shen had four successful exits from Data.com, Successfactors, E2open and Yammer.
He had enjoyed his days as a bit of a stoner in college and occasionally degustated weed into adult life. But after marriage something changed.
"When my wife and I found out we were having a child, she had really, really encouraged me to either quit smoking my medicine or switch to vaporization," he said. "And based on the ones I saw on the market, none of them met my personal needs, so I decided to build my own from the ground up."
His vaporizer prototype was his first foray into hardwaredwelling as he had in the land of software.
His design won best overall product at the September 2012 Seattle Medical Cannabis Cup in September 2012 and the Februrary 2013 Los Angeles High Times Medical Cup, the Grammys of pot.
In November he decided to leave his day job and head into the weed business full time.
His technology capitalizes on a subtle change in energy input extraction. E-cigarettes on the market use what's called "conductive vaporization." In this scenario, there's a hot surface on which the herbs are dropped, netting a rising vapor. But as with when you're frying food, the underside of the weed will be charred, so the vapor is always mixed with some smoke.
Shen's vaporizer implements a convection technique.
"With convective vaporization, you're only using hot air and shooting that hot air through the herb and waiting for the active component to volatize," Shen said.
That creates a gentler release, and there's less smoke and fewer toxins within the vapor more palatable and healthier for patrons of the device.
Shen's appreciation for marijuana has has boosted his ability to understand his product and innovate his vaporizer.
"Obviously, today I don't refer to myself as a stoner, but back in college, those were definitely my stoner days. I've definitely grown since that time, but what I believe...this is a project for passion for me. I had a very lucrative career in high tech already, but by doing something that I really love, I believe it allows me to be much more creative, think of different ways to create better products."
Written by Ross Kenneth Urken for MainStreet