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Spotlight: Donna Johnson on producing the Lift Expo in the era of COVID-19

May 11, 2022 | Media Partners, The GrowthOp

This post is presented by our media partner The Growth Op
View the original article here.

“The Expo’s mission is to help educate and help everyone navigate their business growth career path”

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This is Spotlight, a new series by The GrowthOp. Published weekly, Spotlight will provide commentary and insight from experts operating in the cannabis and psychedelic industries. This week we spoke with Donna Johnson. 

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Donna Johnson, the vice president of strategic events, meetings and incentives at MCI Events, helped produce the Lift&Co Expo that kicks off in Toronto this weekend.

Beginning in 2016, the annual cannabis conference has introduced new sections this year, including budtender master classes, as well as a ‘discovery zone’ with exhibitors displaying the latest in products, services and innovations.

“This is our first foray into an event that brings together all different types of participants from corporate C-level, enthusiasts, consumers, retailers, budtenders, patients, investors, et cetera. So it’s a great opportunity to be able to work on this event and be able to take it to the next level,” Johnson tells The GrowthOp from Texas.

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MCI Events, a global company with its headquarters based in Switzerland, began managing the event in 2020. Under the terms of that agreement, Lift&Co retains ownership of its events portfolio while MCI USA assumes all operations.

Johnson, who has been producing events for 30 years, recently spoke with TGO about the challenges of organizing the Lift&Co Expo in the era of COVID-19 and how the event can help spread cannabis education countrywide.

Donna Johnson is vice president of strategic events, meetings and incentives at MCI Events.
Donna Johnson is vice president of strategic events, meetings and incentives at MCI Events. Photo by submitted

What’s the experience been like organizing the Expo over the course of the pandemic?

Lift&Co Expo was the only cannabis event across Canada that was able to actually meet in person (in Toronto) and actualize in November of 2021. That didn’t go as easy as we thought. We must have moved dates three or four times to be able to have it. We continually monitored the regulations set forth by the province of Ontario and made sure that in November that we were in alignment with everything that had to happen.

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We thought it was important to do an event that facilitated education, networking and all the different areas for people to come together because the cannabis industry, even though it’s an industry, it’s also a community.

How do events like this help normalize cannabis and push the industry forward?

It’s not Lift&Co Expo’s job to normalize this industry. Our job is to propel forward to educate and engage the audience. Now, where I think we can influence some change, is we would like to work with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) on trying to change some of the regulations around sampling, trial servings, et cetera.

Being able to have product there that people can actually touch, smell, see, not consume, but just being able to learn more in person about what is so special about this strain vs. XYZ strain. I think that’s where Lift&Co Expo really wants to go in the future, to help the AGCO understand why it’s so important that we try to change some of the rules and regulations that they have in place right now to be able to have our trade show be at the forefront of education.

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We are there to educate. And that’s the whole role and goal of Lift&Co is to provide education. And to be able to make sure that the consumer, the budtender, the retailers, and even executives, are able to make educated decisions to propel their business forward for the future. So we need the commission to understand what we’re doing.

How is this event different from others?

We are launching the CannaVest North Investment Forum, where we are bringing venture capitalists to the stage along with finance and banking to present to those that are looking to get into the cannabis industry, whether it’s trying to gain funding because they do want to launch as a licensed producer or they want to open stores or things like that.

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This year we’re also starting tours so those that are coming from different areas across Canada and across North America can immerse themselves in the cannabis culture in and around Toronto. So we have two different tours that we’re launching this year.

We’re also having master classes for budtenders this year. Budtenders are the front line, they are the ones that really want additional education, they want to be able to touch, see and recommend products. They will see where the cannabis is coming from, where it grows, how it gets to their store and how they can be part of the success and where their career goes in the future.

What are you particularly excited about this year?

There are a few things. One is the next-gen of cannabis innovation, the future of rapid delivery of cannabis. There are a lot of game-changers coming into play in how you can order cannabis, have it delivered to you, how you can do the click and collect, how you can ship it across Canada, you name it. So that’s one that we’re extremely excited about.

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Also, athletes in cannabis because we’re hearing more and more about how cannabis is a game-changer when it comes to professional athletes and how they are using it to overcome injuries.

Some of Canada’s leading cannabis industry pioneers will also be putting on a session that we’re excited about. We also recently received confirmation that we do have some pretty big banking institutions joining us for the first time. Banks were a little hesitant to really roll up their sleeves and get involved in some of the cannabis programming that we’ve put on in the past but this year, they really are excited about it.

What are you hoping attendees take from this year’s event?

The Expo’s mission is to help educate and help everyone navigate their business growth career path. We want to set them up for success as well as we want to provide a relaxed, fun environment where they can network with other peers, colleagues and friends and meet new people in an environment where they all have a shared interest.

If you know someone that you think could be a good fit for this series, please get in touch at [email protected]

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