Brian Westphal: Lotus Boards
If you’re walking into this knowing little about industrial hemp, you’re in luck because you’re about to meet an entrepreneur who is diving into the industry headfirst. We are surrounded by manufactured products: Our appliances, our clothing, our kitchen utensils, our furniture, but do you know what material it’s made from? Do you know what environmental impact was made in the processing of that product? The revolution of cannabis is coming in increasingly larger waves, but it’s not just changing our health regimes, it’s changing everything around us. It’s reintroducing us to industrial hemp. And Brian Wetphal, founder and CEO of Lotus Boards, is putting that to the test right under our feet.
What was the deciding factor for you to join this particular industry?
There’s an extraordinary amount of untapped potential in the industrial hemp industry. Remember, back in the 1930’s this was the next ‘Billion Dollar Crop’ and it vanished out of thin air. Translate that to today with inflation and the ever-growing market size for ‘green’ products… and we’re talking big time!
Not only is there the opportunity to make big bucks, but also to make an impact on the environment. Hemp reduces the need for fertilizers, water, and GMO farming, which is a bigger problem than most people realize. With just this first grade of hemp plastic we’re using in the Lotus Boards, we’re effectively replacing over 30% of the plastic needed while reducing energy input and carbon emission up to 70% when compared to similar manufacturing processes such as using glass fiber reinforcement. Imagine if that was applied to a large scale!
With just this first grade of hemp plastic we’re using in the Lotus Boards, we’re effectively replacing over 30% of the plastic needed while reducing energy input and carbon emission up to 70% when compared to similar manufacturing processes such as using glass fiber reinforcement. Imagine if that was applied to a large scale!
What skills from your previous experiences helped you in what you are doing now?
My background is in Mechanical Engineering. I’m a recent graduate of Cal Poly Pomona University. It was there that I learned the technical tools to calculate factors that went into design to handle the number of stresses our skateboard can experience. The design of the board was like an open canvas where I was able to harness my creative side to develop the most aesthetic cruiser board on the market. There’s nothing like it anywhere else.
Tell me about the point in the time you realized the coming of the ‘green rush’?
I don’t think there was any one point – Every single day is a constant reminder! Seeing all of the development in the industry and getting that amazing support from people everywhere is what makes me realize it daily. There’s a huge need for us to change our ways of manufacturing. Just look around you. Realize how many of the items in your everyday life were made using harmful methods and how we can each play a part in improving that.
What are you doing to impact the industry?
My vision with Lotus is to bring industrial hemp to the general public, namely the younger skater demographic. The best way to show people its potential is to put it right in their hands, or in this case under their feet, as they shred.
The Lotus Board is one of the first products in the United States made from hemp plastic. Most products made from plastic injection molding can be made using this material as an alternative. The quickest way to have cultivation become legal in the United States again is to demonstrate the crop’s money-making ability with different applications. Then, there’s no denying it.
Describe your work ethic to me in one word.
Consistent. Most people tend to fluctuate with their work ethic and motivation, but I stay on top of it all day, every day.
What does a typical work day look like for you in your business?
From the time I wake up to when I go to bed, which is usually 11am to 4am (since I’m a total night owl), I’m working behind the scenes. I am the sole operator of Lotus, so I wear all the hats of the business. This really allows me to focus the company towards my vision. I work out of my home office for now, but soon we’re gonna need a step up once we get inventory.
How do you find inspiration in this industry? What have you found that has inspired you?
I get inspired by visionaries like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. They are not afraid to push the boundaries of what people thought was possible or even reasonable and they always end up surprising us. I want to do the same thing for industrial hemp. I envision a society that acquires all of its manufacturing materials from bio-based sources. If you think about it, we’re surrounded all day by toxic materials and pollution. Hemp is one of the best crops to bring us closer to that vision. We can already make textiles, food, houses, and now plastics from hemp and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Tell me about an esteemed achievement of yours.
The turning point for Lotus Boards was when I won the Cal Poly Pomona Bronco Startup Challenge. I always had the support of my friends, the Polyfounders, but when my vision was supported by a panel of investors, I realized that I had to pursue it to completion.
How would you advise someone who wants to join the industry?
Get creative, test the boundaries, be innovative. Think farther than just smoking related materials because you can really apply hemp to make almost anything now. Find something that you use every day that is harmful for the environment. It’s not too different from any other business, all it takes is a commitment. There’s no ‘secret’! I started from having absolutely no knowledge and am still learning.
Get creative, test the boundaries, be innovative.
What’s your newest knowledge about the hemp industry?
There’s a lot of cool hemp development I can’t talk about, but most of the scope of these applications is replacing our current methods of manufacturing in ways that are much better for the environment. We’re gonna see some very cool hemp products roll out in the next few years.
If we are sitting across from each other a year from now, how will our conversation about the ‘green rush’ be going?
At this rate, the spread of cannabis is happening at an exponential level, so it’s tough to gauge. I expect us to be wearing Lotus Boards hemp shirts, talking about how more and more states are considering legalizing hemp cultivation. The number of people experimenting with hemp applications is going to increase by a factor of 10. Once a market opportunity presents itself, entrepreneurs will jump all over it. Most are focused on the marijuana side right now as that’s where the buzz is at.
If you talked to me a year ago, Lotus was just an idea. I was coming up with board concepts and experimenting with the material. Not many people were talking about hemp. Fast forward to just a week ago, and Lotus was featured in High Times. A lot can happen in the span of a year.