Marijuana Equipment Start-Ups Flourish as Large Rivals Avoid Legal Pitfalls

Marijuana’s uncertain legal status across the country has unleashed a network of innovators and entrepreneurs into a space that would ordinarily be filled with name-brand manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and federally funded research universities.

These small “cannabusinesses” are rushing to fill niches and make money in a field where the drug's illegal status at the federal level has made many start-up basics — from getting a new machine to accessing credit — far more challenging. Colorado, for instance, boasts a cottage industry of innovation because it was one of the first states to legalize recreational cannabis sales to adults, and also has a highly educated, youthful workforce.

Take Greeley, Colo.-based Leaf, for example: A converted garage in this northern Colorado college town has become a de-facto lab for developing the company’s self-contained marijuana-growing “refrigerator.” The $3,000 wifi-enabled cabinet has a webcam so its owner can monitor the growing plants no matter where they are. One of...

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