An Entrepreneur’s Cannabis Vision
“I’m a product of the UC system, and UC Berkeley is the cherry on top. They’ve carried me all the way, from where I come from in East Africa, through poverty in America, toward a PhD and becoming an entrepreneur in California.”
Berkeley Optometry — School of Optometry at the University of California, Berkeley
Wrote article for Berkeley Optometry, the college’s print magazine. Article also appears on the college’s website..
Students with start-ups are as common at UC Berkeley as blue and gold “Cal” T-shirts. But likely only one — Kaleb Asfaha, a PhD candidate in Vision Science at the School of Optometry — is applying his years of analytical chemistry experience and mass spectrometry skills to opening a pharmaceutical-grade lab capable of certifying the purity and safety of legal cannabis in California.
Kaleb has temporarily set aside his nearly finished dissertation on Chlamydia trachomatis, a bacterium that can cause a blinding disease called trachoma, to found Merso Labs Inc. Once licensed by the state’s nascent Bureau of Cannabis Control, Merso plans to fire up its mass spec instruments sometime in November.
Kaleb has thrown himself into the project, networking with cannabis business people, finance gurus and venture capitalists. He says he has raised about $500,000 from friends and family, and has half a dozen VC companies ready to pay between $1.5 and $3 million for a stake in his budding business, located in Santa Barbara County.
“I’m a product of the UC system,” says Kaleb, 34. “And UC Berkeley is the cherry on top. They’ve carried me all the way, from where I come from in East Africa, through poverty in America, toward a PhD and becoming an entrepreneur in California.” With two degrees in chemistry — a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara and an MS from San Francisco State University — this native of Ethiopia and California resident since 2000 is a Golden State immigrant success story.