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Posted: February 01, 2013

Business as usual: School for home-growers

Mike Taylor

The ink was barely dry on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Executive Order formalizing Amendment 64 and making it legal to possess and grow marijuana in Colorado, when Matt Jones and Freeman Lafleur sprang into action, launching THC University.

Named for the active ingredient in marijuana, THCU at this point is offering one full-day class, "Growing Marijuana 101," scheduled for Feb. 9 in a classroom they’ve rented on the Auraria campus in downtown Denver.

Attendees will be able to choose from three offerings: an "associates" program consisting of the daylong class for $175; a "bachelor’s" program that includes the class and 24/7 online support for $275; and a "master’s" program that includes the class, 24/7 support and a grow kit.

Jones and Lafleur hope to fill a need in light of the fact that while the law makes legal the personal use, possession and limited home-growing of marijuana, it is still illegal to buy or sell it.

"Right now we’re focusing on the growing at home, but we’re quickly going to be advancing to more of a certification program for people who want to get into the industry," Jones says. "In talking to a lot of dispensaries and edibles companies, that was one of the biggest things they mentioned: being able to hire students from the school who are already knowledgeable, because right now they have to do a lot of training. We want to get into more professional training once the regulations come out on the business/commercial side. One of my goals is to be one of the first classes to educate people on how to get into that business."

As of mid-January, Jones said the Feb. 9 class was about 60 percent of capacity, with about 12 attendees signing up at THCuniversity.org. He said he was already receiving interest about a second class planned for March 9. There will be no plants or product in the class.

"I’ve had companies wanting to give samples and stuff to students, but there we’re kind of crossing different boundaries," Jones says. "A lot of the students aren’t going to have their (medical marijuana) card. We have to be careful on a lot of stuff like that."

Jones and Lafleur, both 24, have been friends and business partners since meeting at a T Mobile store where they both worked about four years ago. They shared a common passion for launching businesses, which they’ve attempted repeatedly with varying results.

As an 18-year-old, Jones launched a company called Operation Renewable Energy for which he planned to raise money to buy land on which solar and wind companies could put solar panels or wind turbines. "The issue with that was that I was 18 and had no idea what I was doing," Jones says. "I would be cold-calling, doing everything I could to push that. It’s really hard to ask for thousands of dollars from people."

Later he and Lafleur launched LoDo magazine, a nightlife publication that lasted two issues. They were ahead of their time with another startup – an enterprise called Typhoon Marketing that would manage social networking for companies.

"Companies laughed at us for promoting social networking," Jones says. "Now, tons of companies are springing up, providing social-networking services."

The duo’s persistence finally paid off when they created a company that custom-designs XR codes – those bar codes for coupons in magazines and other publications that you can swipe with a smartphone to receive deals or discounts. Their company,
XRlicious.com, designs the code’s appearance to relate to what the client is selling. A wine company, for example, might have a code that looks like a wine glass.

"That was our big break," Jones says. "That was when I was able to quit my day job."

Jones and Lafleur both eschewed college after high school, opting to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions. "That was really our college, starting businesses, learning from our mistakes," Jones says. "Just keep going. A lot of times you come up with an idea, but it’s just not the right time."

THC University might well be the right idea at the right time.

Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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