'Psychedelics Companies Are Onto Something Extraordinary,' Says Kevin O'Leary: Meet Our Keynote Speakers

Whether you're into finances or just a fan of Shark Tank, chances are you know who Kevin O’Leary is. AKA Mr. Wonderful, the Canadian investor of Irish heritage is well known in the finance space and as a TV personality

But, who is the real Kevin O'Leary? 

One this is for sure: investing is in his genes. His mother, Georgette was a small-business owner and talented investor. She would use a third of her weekly pay and put it into large-cap, dividend-paying stocks and interest-bearing bonds, often gaining high returns. He learned an array of investment lessons from his mother, including the most important: always save one-third of his money. 

This year, at the upcoming Benzinga Psychedelics Capital Conferenceto be held on April 19 at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, O’Leary will be a keynote speaker and promises to share his accumulated investment wisdom in an event you don't want to miss. 

Before we reveal more about O’Leary’s interest in the promising yet nascent psychedelics industry, let’s talk more about his beginnings and early breakthroughs. 

O'Leary earned a bachelor's degree, with honors, in environmental studies and psychology from the University of Waterloo in 1977 and an MBA in entrepreneurship from the Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario in 1980.

For a time, he explored a career in politics and campaigned to be the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada in 2017. He dropped out of the race a month before the election due to the lack of support in Quebec.

From A TV Producer To Founder Of A $4B Company  

During his MBA studies, O’Leary was chosen for an internship at Nabisco and worked as an assistant brand manager for the company’s cat food sector. According to O’Leary, the expertise he acquired in marketing at Nabisco was extremely useful in his later success at The Learning Company

After Nabisco, O’Leary worked as a TV producer, co-founding the production company Special Event Television (SET) with his ex-classmates Scott Mackenzie and Dave Toms

After his stint at SET, O’Leary’s breakthrough came in the form of a new company. Like so many inspiring success stories, this one starts in the basement where O'Leary created Softkey Software Products, a publisher and distributor of CD-ROM software for Windows and Macs. 

Unfortunately, the project's biggest backer who'd promised $250,000 backed out one day before signing the documents. 

But that didn’t stop O’Leary. He turned to his mother whom he convinced her to lend him $10,000 in seed capital. As it turns out, mom's ten grand proved crucial to his business journey, enabling him to eventually set up a $4 billion company. 

Before selling his company to Mattel MAT for $4.2 billion and becoming a multimillionaire, with Softkey he acquired all rival enterprises like WordStar, Spinnaker Software and The Learning Company, which he bought for $606 million and adopted its name. Following that deal, he moved the company’s headquarters to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Soon after the acquisition, he left Softkey, which brought in significant losses for Mattel and several shareholder lawsuits. 

But, O’Leary wanted to keep his money working for him, so he founded O’Leary Funds, with which he managed to raise hundreds of millions from investors with the same investing philosophy. He launched and is chairman of, O’Shares ETFs, a group of exchange-traded funds.

Shark Tank 

From 2004 to 2014, he appeared on various Canadian TV shows, including the business news programs SqueezePlay, The Lang and O'Leary Exchange, as well as the reality shows Dragons' Den and Redemption Inc.

As a self-proclaimed “Eco-preneuer” who often invests in environmentally friendly projects, O'Leary also appeared on Discovery Channel's Project Earth.  

Since 2009, some of the most important Shark Tank deals in which O’Leary has taken part include Talbott Teas (later bought by Jamba Juice) and GrooveBook (later bought by Shutterfly), the latter with Mark Cuban. O'Leary has a holding company, called "Something Wonderful," for managing his Dragons' Den and Shark Tank investments.

Interestingly, he is seen as an investor who prefers to loan money to entrepreneurs in exchange for a percentage of future revenue, instead of taking a share of the company. 

O'Leary is on the investment committee of Boston's prestigious 200-year-old Hamilton Trust.

Something Extraordinary - A Look At Psychedelics 

In an op-ed for Business Insider, O’Leary talked about why he's bullish on psychedelics stocks. 

First of all, he explained his investor approach: “Look for solutions to people's problems.” And then went on to clarify the difference between cannabis and psychedelics investments. According to O’Leary, investors who’ve lost money on cannabis, need not fear because psychedelics are different... in a good way.

He advised three things about entering the psychedelics space: 

1) Understand The Relative Risk 

What makes this industry a bit safer for investing is the way it functions. And “while psychedelics are also DEA Schedule I substances, the companies developing them are doing so through clinical trials regulated by the Food and Drug Administration,” O’Leary noted. Compass Pathways CMPSMindMed MNMD, and ATAI Life Sciences ATAI are the three leaders in the space who have the most trials. (Disclosure: O'Leary is an investor in Compass and MindMed.)

2) Understand The Market Opportunity

O’Leary noted that the opioid crisis is costing the U.S. at least $500 billion annually, while Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health projects that mental disorders could cost the global economy up to $16 trillion, between 2010 and 2030. 

Canaccord values the market for psychedelic-inspired treatments at up to $100 billion. This tells me that psychedelic medicine might just be a whole new asset class,” O’Leary wrote. 

3) Follow The Money

Private equity and venture capital have been flowing to psychedelic-inspired medicine, and institutional and retail investors are already getting in line behind them.”

For example, Compass Pathways is backed by Facebook FB investor Peter Thiel and the biotech investor Christian Angermaye.

Careful Though...No Sure Bets 

O’Leary is careful to let investors know there are no “sure bets.” When it comes to psychedelic companies, it is important to know that they don’t have money to start and they need millions of dollars to finalize their clinical trials. 

He stressed that he likes to invest in new solutions to big problems, noting that it looks like treating mental illness and substance use disorders more effectively is one of the biggest problems ever. If psychedelic medicines such as psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA have the slightest potential to help resolve the enormous problem, then it makes sense to invest in them. 

"I think these companies are onto something extraordinary," O’Leary said. 

Though he's super cautious to keep his portfolio diverse, because “nobody knows which horse will win the psychedelic medicine race.”

Interesting Facts 

His nickname Mr. Wonderful came from Shark Tank. “In season one, someone was trying to sell a publishing deal to us for music and I proposed an aggressive 51% equity position because I wanted control of the business,” O’Leary told Boston Magazine. “And Barbara [Corcoran] said, 'Well aren’t you Mr. Wonderful?' and I said, 'You know what Barbara, I am!'"

When he was younger, O’Leary wanted to be a photographer, but his stepfather advised him to go to university, which got him interested in business. 

His daily routine includes getting up early, exercising on his stationary bike while reading European bond reports before 5.45 a.m., and then off to work where he's always the first to arrive. 

He uses two phones – one for family and the other for business. “Every employee has my number, and it never rings. But the idea of access builds a powerful bond with your team,” he said. “Say, ‘Look, I’m your leader, I want you to call me anytime you want.’ They’ll never call you, but they’ll respect you.”

Thanks to his paternal heritage, O'Leary has Irish citizenship and carries an Irish passport. 

The 1st Psychedelics Investing Conference Comes to Miami

Come and meet our Irish friend in person at the Benzinga Psychedelics Capital Conference on April 19, which is bringing together the biggest publicly-traded psychedelics companies in North America with investors eager to learn more about the space. Check out the full list of speakers.

In October, Beringer Capital, a private equity firm focused on the media, marketing services, and technology sectors, acquired a majority stake in Benzinga in a deal valued at $300 million.


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Posted In: CannabisNewsPenny StocksSmall CapMarketsBenzinga Psychedelics Capital ConferenceBoston MagazineBusiness InsiderChristian AngermayeJason RaznickKevi O'LearyPeter ThielPsychedelicShark TankThe Learning Company
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