• Chris Burggraeve, a former Coca-Cola and AB InBev marketing executive, found his way into the cannabis industry after MBA students opened his eyes to the opportunity.
  • He co-founded Toast, an upscale cannabis brand, where he now serves as the CMO.

Chris Burggraeve — a former Coca-Cola and AB InBev marketing executive — found his way into the cannabis industry through an unconventional path: The corridors of New York University’s Stern School of Business.

After Burggraeve left AB InBev in 2012, he turned to academia, teaching NYU master’s and MBA students around the world the ins and outs of marketing in the beverage industry.

Five years ago, it was craft beer, not cannabis, that was on Burggraeve’s radar.

But as Burggraeve taught, he said MBA and other high-level students began submitting proposals for his classes based on building businesses in the fledgling cannabis industry. “It piqued my interest,” Burggraeve said.

Then, in 2016, Punit Seth, a Stern MBA student, found Burggraeve after class.

“He pitched me the base idea of Toast — the back of the napkin story around it,” Burggraeve said. It was a cannabis brand geared towards the luxury, high-end market. He was sold.

“I’ve been in CPG (consumer packaged goods) all my life,” said Burggraeve. “And I knew cannabis would be the next big thing.”

He co-founded Toast that same year, and now serves as the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, guiding the creative aspects of the brand. Seth serves as the CEO and “makes the trains run on time,” Burggraeve said.

When Burggraeve and Seth teamed up in early 2016, there were few cannabis companies geared towards upscale consumers. At that time, Burggraeve said his peers from the CPG world looked at him as if he were from Mars…