As the Green Rush Grows, Newport Beach's Blaze Keeps Cannabis Startups Coordinated

As the Green Rush Grows, Newport Beach's Blaze Keeps Cannabis Startups Coordinated

Behind California's lucrative marijuana businesses are the software companies keeping the books straight.

SaaS startups like Newport Beach-based Blaze run the iPads customers use to buy legal cannabis at stores in Venice as well as the delivery apps that help bring products straight to their doors.

And as more states pass marijuana legalization, delivery services, dispensaries and the companies that serve them are bracing for a new wave of business.

This week, the venture-backed company closed a $8 million Series A round, and plans to expand across the Midwest and East Coast.

The four-year-old company sells software and apps to over 300 legal cannabis companies in nine states, including California.

Delivery services such as L.A.-based Heyemjay have integrated the startup's API into their apps for drivers to facilitate drop-offs. The software handles compliance and logistics in each state, where strict, differing delivery requirements can slow down operations for small businesses.

Blaze cannabis

Blaze's customers also include marijuana dispensaries, wholesalers and cultivators who pay a monthly or annual fee for the software.

"We track inventory. We track all their transactions, whether it be sales or invoicing and purchase orders," said co-founder and CEO Chris Violas, who raised a $1.5 million seed round in 2019.

The former Amazon Web Services account manager threw himself into studying the cannabis market during college, where he studied business and played Division 1 soccer until a series of injuries.

"In 2010, there was no legitimate delivery service that could bring cannabis to your doorfront in a proper way," said Violas.

He launched a small delivery service a year later — back when marijuana was legal for medical use only — and built Blaze as his senior thesis.

Violas thinks the cannabis retail tech industry has "reached a tipping point," with a handful of startups continuing to close splashy venture deals. New York-based LeafLogix — which Violas calls his biggest competitor — was acquired this month by cannabis ordering platform dutchie during a $200 million round that valued the Oregon-based company at $1.7 billion.

Blaze's boost in funding will help the 30-person team build out its tech products and expand into new states. The round was led by Delta Emerald Ventures with participation from Act One Ventures and SOJE Capital.

"We've got a big goal here," Violas said. "We want to bring canni-tech up to where the rest of the world is at with technology."

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Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.