Cultivated talent yields fully-grown careers at Montreal medical cannabis start-up

Montreal start-up LyonLeaf Cannabis Inc. (LyonLeaf) has grown a lot—no pun intended—since originally applying to Health Canada for a standard cannabis cultivation and processing license in 2017. The company has grown in headcount by nearly 900% since it received that license at the end of 2019. You read that right: 900%!

“2020 was a ramp up year for us,” explains Honghao Sun, chief financial officer at LyonLeaf Cannabis Inc. “We had five employees at the end of 2019. Currently, our state-of-the-art pharmaceutical-grade facility is running at full capacity, with 44 employees supporting all aspects of our operations.”

COVID-19 threw some shade over the potential growth. LyonLeaf’s management team began to worry about the company’s ability to ramp-up operations as each step required cash from scarce financial resources. The catch, however, was that without ramping up they wouldn’t have the ability to become profitable.

A budding business blooms

James and CedricLyonLeaf began to explore its options. McGill University’s Career Centre advised them to reach out to BioTalent Canada and apply to its Career Starter program.

“As an early-stage company in the biotech sector, preserving cash during operation ramp-up—especially during a pandemic is very difficult,” explains Honghao. “Career Starter provided us with the financial support we needed to find the quality hire to support our operations’ ramp-up.”

That quality hire turned out to be Cedric Hirou. He was brought in as a cultivation technician and caught on quick. In just three months, he became experienced enough to coach and train new team members and found numerous ways to improve efficiency in production.

“We use a vertical growing system in our production room. Each room consists of two tiers and the upper tier is much more difficult to harvest cannabis plants than the bottom,” explains Honghao. “Cedric quickly found a way to make the top tier harvest as efficient as the bottom tier.”

He’s already been promoted to Senior Cultivation Technician while it usually takes about two years on that career progression.

Many pivots forge new career path

Prior to his career at LyonLeaf, Cedric Hirou amassed a lifetime of experiences. A Montreal native, he spent most of high school in ballet school. After graduation, he attended circus school for a few years before flipping his focus into a biochemistry degree at Concordia University. And then COVID-19.

“Before working at LyonLeaf, I was the equipment technician for a competitive dragon boat club in Montreal,” says Cedric. “I oversaw transport, maintenance, and storage of a large fleet of dragon boats. The pandemic eliminated the need for such a position.”

He relished the opportunity presented to him by LyonLeaf. Start-up organizations often afford a young hire the opportunity to gain a lot of diverse experience and to work closely with more seasoned professionals and executives. He gained a solid understanding of the inner workings of the company and how it functioned; experience he now passes on to new team members.

However, being hired through Career Starter gave Cedric access to some tools that expedited his career growth. The program ensured he received job coaching and regular progress reports to track his development.

“Having my progress tracked by my employer and BioTalent Canada gave me more motivation to invest myself fully in my work and to learn new skills along the way,” says Cedric. “It shone a light on my achievements and encouraged discussions that opened new avenues for growth.”

No administrative burden

Programs like Career Starter offer great opportunities for employers and participants alike. But a program is only as good as the administrative experience it offers to its participants. LyonLeaf had nothing but positive experiences interacting with BioTalent Canada.

“BioTalent Canada exceeded our expectation in terms of the transparent and speedy application process and claims process,” says Honghao. “We’re very happy with the financial support we received, and the additional screening needed to help us recruit and retain quality talent. We would definitely use this program again.”

Cedric has had an equally positive experience.

“All my interactions with BioTalent Canada have been friendly, positive, and productive,” says Cedric. “The resources available through BioTalent Canada offer many tools for personal and professional growth. I believe that Career Starter was a major factor in my success at LyonLeaf.”

In addition to Career Starter, LyonLeaf Cannabis has also received funding through BioTalent Canada’s Student Work Placement Program (SWPP). SWPP is an initiative to increase the job-readiness of students registered in STEM, healthcare, business and all other programs at Canadian post-secondary institutions.

To apply for any of BioTalent Canada’s wage subsidy programs, visit It could be your company’s opportunity to harvest careers within your organization.

Funded in part by Government of Canada’s Youth Employment Skills Strategy Program