10 years ago, Abbie Testaberg never imagined she would be running a cannabis company. In fact, while her husband Jody had over 20 years of experience in cannabis cultivation, Abbie didn't share his same enthusiasm for Mary Jane. But when their 2 sons were diagnosed with chronic conditions, her family's world was turned upside down. Determined to help her boys, Abbie began searching for options. Through this process, she came to understand the true qualities of cannabis. Today, Abbie is the co-founder of Whole Plant Technologies. A company specializing in advanced cannabis growing technologies – Whole Plant Technologies produces premium product grown organically, pesticide free, with zero waste and limited environmental footprint through the promotion of efficient equipment and clean energy sources. Passionate about the medicinal applications of cannabis, Abbie hopes to spread the awareness, education, research, and access to this plant worldwide.
In the beginning, what motivated you to first get involved with cannabis?
My husband Jody was a master grower and a cooperative partner/owner in a grow op in California. He had 20+ years of experience in this space. Years ago, we had known each other but it was an acquaintance kind of situation. Later, we re-met fell in love and got married. Jody moved back from California to Wisconsin to start a family with me. Then, about 3 years ago, it became very obvious that Jody was getting antsy and wanted to continue pursuing his passion. And in combination, we had just had our second child who was born with spina bifida. In about 6 months after that, my first son was diagnosed with a chromosome abnormality.
When we started to deal with the kid’s health issues, research, and kind of come to terms with everything – I discovered that I had significant food intolerances and gut health issues that had caused me not to absorb nutrients properly. My body basically didn’t give my kids what they needed, which resulted in their conditions. As I was doing research, cannabis kept coming up. And as much as I wanted to ignore it and my husband’s passion, cannabis kept coming into my view. So I always say it was then that I started to drink the “Cannabis Kool–Aid” I really started to research the plant more. I also started having more thorough conversations with my husband about what he knew.
We tried to figure out a way to be in Wisconsin and start Whole Plant Technologies. So, we began lobbying in Wisconsin. However, the CBD bill was really only an awful solution. We then worked in Minnesota with a couple of different companies that were looking to get licensure. One of the companies we helped with their licensing proposal wasn’t one of the 2 chosen. At that point, we decided to send Jody out to Oregon to start prototyping his trade. About a week after he went out to Oregon, Jody got called from Minnesota. One of the 2 companies he had worked with did get licensure. Jody ended up coming back and working for them.
However, the relationship there with his intellectual property wasn’t quite right in terms of what he would have to give up and not get back. So, we decided to send Jody back out to Oregon again about 9-10 months ago to continue his path of prototyping. From there, I worked on developing the back-end design of Whole Plant Technologies. It’s been a 3-year process in total. In the last year, we’ve been working super diligently on launching the company.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I am a person who supports and appreciates recreational marijuana but am very passionate about medical applications. And honestly, the work I do, its for my children. But if not for my kids, what I see is a need for countless other patients. Hopefully we can do things for my kids but in that process I also believe we’re going to do some great things for people.
What does a day in the life of Abbie consist of today?
It really does depend. But what I’ve been doing lately because we are running our restaurant in Wisconsin is trying to tie up loose ends. We’re looking to sell the business and that is a very hands-on process. Right now, though, I usually get up and check emails for Whole Plant and touch base with Jody. I then go into the restaurant and either work on the floor or do owner/manager jobs or crunch numbers for potential buyers.
This type of day has rushes. There is a morning, afternoon, and evening rush. In-between I usually go to the library and that’s when I do any type of computer work, communication work, or design work that is needed for Whole Plant. Then, I come home back to my kids. I’m very lucky that my mom is a partner in our business in Wisconsin. As a partner, my mom handles a lot of the daycare for me, which is helpful because my kids do require a little more attentiveness. I play and engage with my kids, do dinner, all of that just kind of stuff. I’m one of those people who works from the beginning of the day until I go to bed. But I take time out to stop all the way through the day to engage with my kids.
We spend a half hour to 45 minutes on our nightly routine. This may be TMI but one of the consequences of my son having spina bifida is that he lacks bladder control. So we have a nightly routine of a bowel program. My other son also has a nebulizer program because he has a chromosome abnormality. He has an extra X chromosome attached to his XY chromosome. With that comes an autoimmune dysfunction; essentially he is allergic to the world. He has asthma-like allergy progression. So we do those interventions at night. We work holistically as well, including other type of mouth work and breathing treatments to help boost his immune system. So, that is kind of an average day for me.
While I am definitely busy as a business owner, I’m lucky enough that I can modify my day to fit my needs. It makes it more stressful at times. A lot of people may not necessarily be able to handle this kind of lifestyle. But for me, I try to see things in a positive light. Being a business owner really allows me to be this stay-at home mom and working mom at the same time.
any habits or mindsets that have helped make you successful?
I maintain what’s called stupid and cheerful status. What I mean by that is boundless positivity. There are so many times as a business owner where you face challenges. It’s an uphill battle. There are so many rejections, so many questions, so many problems and so many things when finding out how to make something work. For me, especially in the service industry, you’re constantly dealing with customers and employees.
My interactions with the potential for negative situations is exponentially higher than it is for most people. If I allowed my mindset to be in a negative or frustrated place, I would never succeed. I would have quit a long time ago. For me, it’s maintaining that entrepreneurial mindset. If we just keep working at it, keep problem solving and we keep coming at it with new perspectives and positivity – we’re going to get to where we need to go.
How has cannabis changed your life?
It has taken my understanding of the cultural perspective of what controls us. And I know that may sound crazy but I’ve always been sort of an optionally defiant kind of human. I went to college for theater and social change. I’ve always questioned what I have been told. Between my kid’s health issues and my research into and experiences with the cannabis community, I’ve really just fully discovered where we are at as a cultural entity.
Where we are politically and monetarily along with the understanding of how this really defines the common person’s access to a lot of things. Whether it be medicine, knowledge, or whatever it is. It’s almost helped me really understand that we have a lot of constraints on us that are quite frankly unnecessary and problematic. And so, yes, cannabis helps me heal and has the potential to help my kids heal, and all of these other great things. In a recreational standpoint, we know its safer than alcohol. But to me, it is that symbolic entity that we’ve really been put in a box. We need to really work hard on having positive conversations to move outside that box.
What has been your biggest struggle working in the cannabis industry?
In general, it is legalities. We’ve had to make the very difficult decision to leave our safety net of our family along with the kid’s doctors to make the move to Oregon. The sheer legality of not being able to do what we would like to do where we call home. And then I would say every startup/entrepreneurial struggle is financial. Working through investment opportunities, loan opportunities. Just having enough capital to live two lives, one out in Oregon and then one in Wisconsin. Those two struggles I would definitely say are the biggest.
Do you have any advice for women looking to break into the industry or get involved?
I see so many amazing women setting great examples. My advice would be to stay positive and stay confident in oneself and then really find empowerment and membership within the cannabis community. I feel like I’m sort of a “late comer” to these really amazing women who have been here and are doing it. They have put in a lot of hard work to lay a foundational path for us. I appreciate so much the community of women who are already doing amazing things and then realizing the need to outstretch their hands backwards to us coming up. That relationship is empowering and quite frankly stronger in this community than in other business communities.
What would you say are the top 3 skills Every Cannabis Entrepreneur Needs?
Communication is huge. Written, verbal, and even pictorial – just being able to appropriately articulate your vision. Second to that, work ethic. It’s your basic grind. Being able to get up, work hard, and not give up. While that is foundational to any entrepreneur or startup, with cannabis, because there are so many more setbacks you really have to have that work ethic of not giving up. Thirdly, knowledge. Even if you don’t know a lot about cannabis and you want to get into the industry, you have to do the hard work of reading about, talking about, and embracing the plant. If you have been lucky enough to be in the community for a long time and you have this knowledge, it goes back full circle to being able to communicate your knowledge about this plant.