Photo Credit: Paolo Azarraga

Industry Innovators: Drew Henson, Founder & CEO of TOQi Technologies

Keegan Williams

By Keegan Williams

March 17, 2023

The cannabis space is immense, hosting an abundance of intersections for a wide variety of consumers and professionals alike. One of these prominent areas is cannabis technology. As the cannabis industry

, so too does our collective ability to embrace new technologies that could lend themselves to this blossoming space.

Drew Henson knows this all too well. As the founder and CEO of cannatech company

Technologies, which designs and sells intuitive wireless cannabis technology, Henson routinely searches for potential technical innovation within cannabis.

Courtesy of TOQi

Henson has designed a number of innovative lifestyle products across various industries, among multiple international collaborations with renowned designers, famously partnering with NASA to clear his award-winning

for the International Space Station, where three Ghost-S cameras were deployed.

It’s clear that the cannatech professional has stayed busy with ventures across numerous industries, and for Henson, it only works to serve his work with TOQi and the cannabis technology industry.

“Ultimately the question is, if you have more experience, is it helping you? And, ‘definitely,’ is the answer to that question,” Henson said.

An Engineer, Designer and Cannabis Enthusiast: Career Beginnings

While he didn’t start his career in the

space, Henson has a storied history with the plant. He recalled the first time he ever smoked weed in his youth, in a parking lot before Japanese class with a good friend, “definitely a recreational usage of the plant” that he said smacked him in the face.

He admits he was always a bit of a wild child, one of those kids who disrupted class. While adults could easily attempt to explain his childhood behavior, Henson avoided the ADHD label as even then, he saw what pills could do to his peers and didn’t want to be stuck on them himself.

Courtesy of TOQi

“When my brain normally works, I’ll see pictures. And inside a picture, I’ll see something that relates to another picture, and it just goes on auto,” Henson said. To understand how he perceives the world is to understand that systems, and system designs, are something that work “very naturally” with his frequency, he said.

“You ask me to memorize something? Total shit at that. Like, I could never be a doctor. That’s not my jam,” he said

Henson noted that his way of thinking lent itself well to subjects like mathematics and physics. In order to sit down long enough to put those skills to use, Henson said cannabis was a major help. Even as a kid, he understood the medicinal value of the plant. Growing up in Western Canada, entrenched prominently in snowboarding and skateboarding, it was also just part of his life and culture.

His dream in life was to design Formula 1 racing tech, so he pursued his undergraduate degree in engineering physics at the University of Saskatchewan, followed by a master’s in industrial design from Milan, Italy’s SPD Polytechnic School of Design.

“There was an F1 competition; I entered; I ended up coming about fourth in the world and just really realized that my passion in life is effectively making electronics,” Henson said. “That’s my art, like the consumer electronics that I make and the things that I create are different than anything I’ve ever seen anybody else make.”

Photo Credit: Paolo Azarraga

Fast-forward, and soon enough, Henson was working for an action camera company similar to GoPro, Drift Innovation, putting a number of cameras on the market and eventually leading to his NASA collaboration.

A New Start: Tapping into Cannatech

After working in F1 tech for a number of years, Henson realized he wanted to make electronics that would help people. He also thought about a lesson one of his mentors taught him surrounding quality of life.

“I’ve seen what it’s like to be on a racetrack for 16 hours,” he said. “I’ve seen what it’s like to travel North America with a racing team. But I’ve also seen where you have to live for your entire life, and it’s some small town here or there… Culture’s an important thing to me, you know?”

Leaning into his move back to Toronto, Henson started his own studio,

, in 2014, along with a personal safety platform, an app that allowed people to share what they see, what they hear and where they are, which made it to Best Buy, along with a wearable device for the app called the Lotus. As that company wrapped up, Henson decided to put “the last bank and the last bag [he] had into developing some new tech for the cannabis industry.”

The Birth of TOQi Technologies

Shortly after, TOQi was officially born, to create a better cannabis experience with superior technology and innovative design, serving human truths and inspiring a more personal cannabis journey.

Reflecting on how he adds value to the cannabis industry, Henson cited one of his main principles: He and his company are here for a purpose. When the vaporizer scene exploded in California, Henson experienced them all and saw an opportunity for innovation. With TOQi, the aim is to be the “Dyson of the industry,” when it comes to hardware, he said.

Courtesy of TOQi

“There were a ton of 510 batteries before we came out on the market. All of them look like pens. We made one that doesn’t, and we were able to take market share away from that and grow into a company. Where we’re going, where we’re coming from — that’s where we started. I’m never going to make another

with a little tweak or Puffco Peak. I love those two products. I use them, you know? I’m here to find ways to push the future forward.”

With the 510 battery market, Henson said it was obvious that the experience was bad. It wasn’t just about making wireless charging technology, a unique element TOQi embraces; it was also about creating superior circuitry. Namely, TOQi batteries operate in a fundamentally different way than the others.

Henson curated a closed-loop system, which checks the output to ensure that it outputs at the correct voltage and features three temperatures at 2.8, 3.2 and 3.6 volts to ensure a positive experience. 

“We tuned that with a standard cartridge to cover one degree above decarboxylation, so you’re getting as much THC actually converted over. Perfect! That’s how we get a really nice hit, and I think that’s how we start to contribute to the industry, is just with these purposeful thoughts.”

TOQi Technologies: Adding Value to the Industry

As TOQi continues to grow, and broader technological advancements open new opportunities, Henson wants to be more than just “the hardware guy” and wants his company to be more than just a vape brand. He’s thinking much bigger, and his array of global experience allows him to see that potential.

Henson said, without his storied resume, he could have potentially gotten stuck in the 510 battery space, creating new versions of the same product. He used GoPro as an example, currently on its 11th version, adding, “Not a single one of their other products really carries the same weight as that one flagship camera, and it never has. That’s a dangerous way to live, but I’m beyond that. I just have so many other creations I think I can add value to the industry with.” 

Photo Credit: Paolo Azarraga

Beyond new tech, Henson looks toward other needed moves in the cannabis space, like TOQi’s

. The 12-week internship program is focused on mentorship and skill-building around effective communication and advocacy in the not-for-profit sector, particularly in reference to engaging with government and the for-profit cannabis industry.

Referencing long-time adult cannabis users in the industry today and his own life, Henson said that past criminalization was like a coin flip, in that just a slight shift in circumstances could have

“It’s one thing to appreciate it, but then it’s a second thing to come on the market launch, look around and be a Black owner, and just kind of be like, ‘Where’s everybody at?’ And when there’s a lack of people who look like the people who are most affected by a problem, then, typically speaking, nobody’s solving the problem.”

Just like his approach with technology, Henson said it’s important to create impact with purpose;

shouldn’t be about simply showing that a company is paying attention, advertising a donation receipt to customers. 

“There are companies, obviously, in this sector, every sector, that behave that way. Black History Month comes around, International Women’s Month comes around, and you see the most performative behavior you’ll ever see in your life. Where are these people out for the rest of the year?”

Courtesy of TOQi

After formulating the concept, the team began reaching out to underrepresented communities, though as a young company, they were also looking for some additional assistance.

ended up stepping to the plate. Henson said that other companies were reluctant to jump on, or some jumped on initially and later jumped off, and even though Aurora catches flack for being a big corporate entity, “when nobody cared, they cared.” 

“Everybody talks about sending the elevator back down, but that doesn’t necessarily mean like, I have all the money in the world or I’m successful. It just means you have a lesson you can teach so go teach it.”

Untapped Potential and the Future of Cannatech

Henson is dreaming big, and moving forward, he said that one of the most obvious places cannabis tech can and will advance is AI. Years before the launch of software programs like

, he saw what was coming and got certified in Python programming for machine learning.

“I didn’t know for what yet, but I knew it was coming and I knew it was important. And we at TOQi have been working on integrating machine learning into software pieces, you know, for end consumers is the general summary I can say about that. For now.”

Henson said that the potential for machine learning in cannabis nods to the highly personalized experience consumers have with cannabis. Some people love flower; some are

; some love , and some consumers might enjoy a little bit of everything. The more the cannabis industry can help consumers to , the higher level of happiness the community as a whole will have, Henson said.

Photo Credit: Paolo Azarraga

Next up, he’s eager to share the TOQi Blunt Box, a humidor for 10 blunts, pre-rolls or joints, with storage for a rolling tray underneath, ready to pack up and take on-the-go and perfect to utilize with company.

“Especially during COVID, cannabis really took a shift toward being something that’s personal and a one on one experience because you can’t pass the blunt anymore,” Henson said. “However, if you can open a box and still have a shared experience — I give you a blunt, I take a blunt — that’s something now that reclaims that and again, provides purpose to the industry.”

Henson also recognized that this is an age of innovation. He gave a shout out to other game-changing products, admitting that he wishes he thought of them first but is happy to use them himself. For him, in the midst of cannabis companies looking to gain the upper hand, these steps forward are inspiring and point to the cannabis space’s collaborative potential for technological growth.

“What it comes down to is creating things that people are actually using, and if there’s other companies out there that are achieving that, those are the people that I’m happy are around because we can work with each other as we try to compete with each other. You need that sort of push.”

Keegan Williams

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Keegan Williams