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May 21, 2019 | Tom Ballard

PART 3: Joe Fox’s lifelong love of learning leads to launch of Blühen Botanicals

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a three-part series spotlighting Knoxville native Joe Fox and his entrepreneurial journey, the latest being Blühen Botanicals that opened a retail location in Knoxville’s Old City last week.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

As we’ve noted consistently throughout this series, learning is an integral part of Joe Fox’s approach to life. Having learned that the hemp industry grows in dog years (7x), he and his partners in SMJT LLC made a key pivot to be an early winner.

“We made a decision last summer to redo our business plan,” Fox explained. The idea previously had been to grow smaller quantities of high-end hemp. “We decided to add high-volume processing to our growing and retail segments of Blühen Botanicals.”

Since making that decision, it’s been a sprint for the rapidly-growing start-up that Fox says “has taken a lot of risks.”

The team raised $1.5 million last year to launch the venture with all of the funds coming locally with the exception of one investor in Birmingham and recently announced a $30.6 million investment from SOL Global Investments Corporation.

When approached last August to be the presenting sponsor at the inaugural “Southern Hemp Expo” in Nashville, Blühen Botanicals jumped at the opportunity even though the start-up did not have a logo, website, social media presence, or marketing strategy. Just a few weeks later, those boxes were checked in the rapid-fire approach that personifies the start-up’s Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer.

“We launched our entire brand on September 1, even though we did not have a product or facility,” Fox says. “That’s the approach we take . . . pushing ourselves.”

How did the start-up accomplish such a rollout in a few weeks?

“Lisa Duncan put together a dream team to get it done,” he said. “She’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever worked with.”

At the time, Blühen Botanicals had three full-time employees and reached 42 in November. Since then, the company has been adding two to three people a week.

The general public saw the next evolution of the company when it opened its retail shop in Knoxville’s Old City last week in conjunction with the annual Rhythm & Blooms Festival. At that grand opening, Blühen Botanicals unveiled what Fox describes as its “core wellness line” of products derived from cannabidiol (CBD).

“We have an aggressive timeline of rolling-out one product a month,” he says.

The retail location will also host educational programs, have a café with CBD-infused coffees and teas, and serve as home to a wellness experience.

“The last six months feel like six years,” Fox says. He’s clearly an individual who drives himself and the team.

“I challenge these folks to move at a faster pace than our competitors,” Fox says. “We have to be nimble and pivot faster than our competitors and get our projects completed faster.”

The recent investment by SOL Global “gives us the firepower to grow this business much larger and faster,” Fox says. “Blühen Botanicals will be the raw material provider and processor for all of their brands across the globe.”

The investment is significant, not just in terms of the dollar amount, but also in the less than year-old company and the Knoxville region. In the case of the latter, Fox says the SOL Global team was most impressed with the community as well as the Blühen Botanicals team.

“The value here isn’t in me but in the team,” he says. “We are methodical in the way we hire. We insist on a cultural fit first and foremost. They (SOL Global) saw the hard work in hiring the right team.”

Noting that “it was a very humbling experience to get there (the investment),” Fox adds that “there are some big expectations to meet.”

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