By Harry Brelsford
Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado Springs-based Highview Technology Solutions has successfully supported the state’s cannabis industry for the past six years.
Although its parent company, Colorado Computer Support, has been a managed services provider for the past 21 years, founder and CEO Blake Schwank took a different angle on serving the cannabis vertical, creating a new, separate corporate entity.
“We did that to keep Colorado Computer Support focused on traditional entities and not be associated with cannabis,” Schwank says. “It also has our primary banking relationships we don’t want to upset.”
Having a second entity — Highview Technology Solutions — focused on cannabis technology allows the company to have different banking relationships.
“We didn’t want stinky cash in our main banking accounts,” he says. “That was the primary driver. But it also allowed us to keep accounting, contracts, billing and marketing all separate.”
Schwank says the vertical integration of the Colorado cannabis industry works well with his MSP business model, particularly when it comes to automation, remote management and monitoring, etc.
“Our current clients include growers and dispensaries. With growers there is a lot of technology supporting video surveillance,” he says. “And we have a bunch of dispensaries where the center of the universe is the point-of-sale systems.”
And the approach appears to be working, with the company growing from 18 employees to 27 in the past year.
In the Trenches
Schwank says every one of his cannabis clients are essentially starting a new business so there is the typical startup madness you see in any business. On the cultivation side, for example, they may be able to grow great cannabis but figuring out the business side is tough.
“On the technical side, we frequently go into cannabis businesses where they had just about anyone do their IT management over the past five years,” he says. “We went into one grow where they had five different 24-port switches (critical network infrastructure driving the video systems) like D-Link, Cisco, Net Gear, etc. The client sincerely wondered why they continue to have technical problems. It’s a common theme.”
A big part of Schwank’s cannabis industry success has been the co-managed approach. With this approach, a Highview employee is dispatched to the grow facility to be a first responder.
“We back that employee 100% and support this person with high-level technicians when needed,” Schwank says.
Marketing and Breaking In
Schwank finds new cannabis customers by doing a little bit of everything.
“We publish two videos a week to YouTube, we do a lot of newsletters and we rank high in search,” he says.
For technology professionals trying to break into the industry, Schwank urges them to be patient and be cautious because it’s still a mess, and some states more than others.
Do your research and spend time learning this unique industry, he says.