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He went to Hollywood, got disappointed, and then founded a cannabis startup.

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Anna Kouparanis is already creating businesses that will benefit if cannabis is legalized.

Anna Kouparanis was overshadowed by her older brother for a time. In the media, she was nicknamed “the sister of the founder of Farmako” Niklas Kouparanis. She had started the cannabis company together with scene celebrity Sebastian Diemer and in the meantime she left unintentionally. Anna, Kouparani’s sister, was the company’s first employee. She herself founded Farmako a year later and Forbes has just named the 28-year-old one of the 30 most important people under 30. So she’s more than just “the sister of”.

Anna Kouparanis is an entrepreneur who launched medical cannabis wholesaler Ilios Santé, cannabis prescription telemedicine platform Algea Care, and associated umbrella company Bloomwell Group. The long-term goal of building the company is to be a big player in the market, when cannabis is legalized for everyone in Germany, as foreseen by the traffic light government in the coalition agreement. By 2025, experts forecast the European medical cannabis market to be worth €3.2 billion. Last year it was around 400 million euros.

Anna Kouparanis wanted to be an actress in Hollywood

Kouparanis originally wanted to pursue a different career path. “My dream in life was to become an actress,” says the businesswoman in an interview with Gründerszene. “So I went to Hollywood.” That was in 2012, right after he graduated from high school. But after a year she realized that success as an actress often depends on subjective opinions. “You are very dependent on other people. It’s a lot of nepotism. And I didn’t like the way they treated young women,” Ella Kouparanis says.

Then go back to Germany. She was then 19 years old. Now what her? She never thought about studying and only did her Abitur for her parents. “I wasn’t a high achiever, I got mediocre grades. School often bored me,” says the founder. This is the case for many entrepreneurs he talks to. “The school system is not designed for entrepreneurs, but for quiet paths. I never heard about starting a business in school.”

Without thinking twice, he decided to study management and write his master’s thesis. at Mercedes Benz Consulting because she has always been interested in car design and marketing. But she later didn’t want to work in a corporation: “The processes weren’t fast enough for me,” says Kouparanis. Shortly after, in 2018, his brother founded Farmako. “He wanted me to be his first partner, so I said yes.”

She describes her entry into the world of entrepreneurship as “nice, because in the first few weeks I had puppy protection and less responsibility,” says Kouparanis. “But my self-confidence grew rapidly.”

“I always had the feeling that I had to do it myself”

He has a special relationship with his brother, they have always done everything together. This is also due to the fact that her family in Germany consists of only four people: her parents, her brother and her. The Kouparanis family has an immigration background. Half of the relatives live in Greece, the other half in the United States. “It always made me feel like I had to do it myself because I didn’t have the safety net to let myself fall. It was just the four of us and that bonded us tremendously.”

In 2019, his company Ilios Santé, a wholesaler in Frankfurt am Main, with which he bought and sold medical cannabis, was founded and registered. The vision of the startup is to also develop new products. They can be hybrids of different plants or new forms of administration, in cooperation with pharmacies.

Problems as a young woman in the pharmaceutical industry

At first she struggled with gender stereotypes in the pharmaceutical industry. “When you start a wholesale business as a young woman in a male-dominated market and talk to typical pharmaceutical companies, you get the wrong picture,” says Anna Kouparanis. “I was asked who owns my company after talking about being the founder and CEO.”

Together with his brother Niklas, doctor Julian Wichmann and investment banker Samuel Menghistu, he founded Algea Care, Wichmann manages the telemedicine platform. According to his own statements, there are about 7,000 patients a month to whom 80 doctors prescribe medical cannabis. The main reason for administration is chronic pain.

Anna Kouparanis with her brother Niklas (second from left) and their Bloomwell co-founders Samuel Menghistu (left) and Julian Wichmann (second from right)

Anna Kouparanis with her brother Niklas (second from left) and their Bloomwell co-founders Samuel Menghistu (left) and Julian Wichmann (second from right)

Studies are still unclear

The number of patients and doctors seems small, but medical cannabis has only been prescribed since 2017. According to Kouparanis, only two percent of all doctors have prescribed cannabis to their patients.

This is also due to the fact that there is still little knowledge in this area. Furthermore, not all studies show clear results on the efficacy of the product for specific indications. A study published just a few days ago even reached the conclusion that certain groups of people could become dependent on medicinal cannabis.

Kouparanis and his co-founders now want to create a clearer study situation and accumulated knowledge about sensitive therapies as well as doses of THC and CBD. “With medical cannabis, patients often tell the doctor what they want. But at Algea Care, doctors have gathered so much information from patients and diagnoses that they can recommend what’s best for the patient. We want to take cannabis therapy to a new level of quality,” says Kouparanis.

Sale and prescription of medical cannabis

Both Ilios Santé and Algea Care are part of the Bloomwell holding company created by the Kouparanis brothers and their two co-founders. The company structure offers advantages: the wholesaler Ilios Santé is the first point of contact in the value chain, buys the products and intends to manufacture them themselves in the future. Algea Care is the prescription arm.

The holding company completed the seed round in October 2021 and received almost nine million euros. The money comes from billionaire Boris Jordan, the CEO of the American model Curaleaf. Like Algea Care, the company started as a telemedicine startup for medical cannabis and has focused on a broader market since legalization in the US. Kouparanis and his team want to benefit from this experience.

However, it could still be some time before cannabis is legalized in Germany. Anna Kouparanis also knows it and sees it calmly. “We want to be one of the big players in the legal market. It doesn’t matter if legalization is only two or five years away. That could mean there is enough capital and perseverance.”

Cannabis legalization is not everything

However: “Legalization alone doesn’t mean we’ve won,” says Kouparanis. There are many challenges. One of them is that cannabis will also need a pharmaceutical standard in the future so that the quality of the product remains the same. Otherwise, it could be the case that patients who turn to the legal market receive inferior therapy, according to the founder. And, of course, it would also be to his company’s advantage if he could bring the established structures for medical cannabis to more customers head on.

Finally, a not so serious question: Has the founder tried cannabis herself? “I tried it once,” says Kouparanis. “But it never made sense to me. I laugh a lot and I’m always relaxed, no matter how high the stress.” For chronically ill patients, it makes sense. But not for herself.

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