Rebecca Nicholson is CEO and co-founder of 5D Ventures, a social impact and investing platform that focuses mainly on the psychedelic retreat industry. The firm’s portfolio includes Beckley Retreats in Jamaica/Netherlands, Holos in Costa Rica and Dimensions in Ontario (among others).
Nicholson recently talked about growing up among psychonauts, her early days helping to set the vision at 5D Ventures, how to spot opportunists from mission-oriented healers, and the advice she’d give aspiring clinic and retreat operators who are looking to raise funds.
How did you find your way into the psychedelics field?
I was born and raised in Prince Edward Island, which is really the foundation of where I am right now. It’s a stunningly beautiful place to grow up. My parents ended up there in the ’70s with an influx of hippies. They called themselves Back to the Landers. The first thing they did was found a spot in the woods, built a log cabin, an outhouse, and a community food house. They were active, creative souls in search of a great place to raise their children in nature.
So, I was raised with these psychonaut-type of people. I grew up on a hobby farm, we had trails all through the woods, we had goats and chickens, dogs and cats. It was a beautiful experience for me. I think my consciousness has been expanding since the moment I was born because I just felt so alive in the woods and in nature. I would sit for hours on the hill in front of my house, and just meditate and breathe and watch the leaves shifting in the wind. That’s when I really felt truly alive.
Of course, later I became excited about cities and opportunities. I moved to Toronto when I was 18 and went to York University, a real culture shock from the Island. As I moved through my life, I became much more involved in health and wellness, yoga and mindfulness self-compassion work. This was really the foundation of what felt right for me — not only because it involves nature and working with people, but also moving our bodies and breathing and taking time to sit within yourself.
I ended up pursuing lots of different kinds of jobs, in business operations, team management, leadership and eventually became connected with the founder of 5D Ventures. It was the perfect place for me to bring my background and experience to such a mission-oriented firm with a focus on the psychedelic space.
During your Prince Edward Island days, did you have any psychedelic experiences yourself? Or was that something you discovered later after moving to the city?
Sometimes in small communities it can be a little bit boring, especially as you get into your teen years. There are a lot of mushrooms that grow naturally in PEI. So, there was definitely a little bit of experimentation when I was younger, but nothing too crazy. I did experience the mysticism, that sense of what mushrooms can do.
So when the founder of 5D Ventures [David Heden] approached you about joining the endeavor, what was the vision? And was this your first foray into a career in psychedelics?
Yes, it was. David and I are yin and yang. He comes from the finance world and worked on Bay Street in the financial district of Toronto since he was 17. And I come from the wellness and mindfulness world. We have a great combination of backgrounds to execute our mission aligned values.
When we first started working together in 2020, we discussed opening up our own psychedelic retreat center in Costa Rica. We saw it as a great blend of our talents and interests. Then we were introduced to other future co-founders who were interested in retreats and other business ideas. It snowballed from there. Gradually, we shifted from starting a retreat to starting an investment firm that would support the mission aligned businesses. We began by making investments from a family office perspective before we moved into private equity.
Did you end up backing any psychedelic retreats in Costa Rica?
Yes, within about 1.5 years we made close to 30 investments. These were all from the family office perspective, so a lot of angel investments and philanthropy. When we were ready to have the conversation of rebranding and restructuring into private equity, we took our biggest investments — our top seven at that time — and transferred them into our first fund which is called The Progression of Consciousness Fund. That’s when we started to raise outside capital.
Can you talk about the types of businesses you are focused on supporting, and how you make decisions who to invest with?
The conversation always revolves around supporting the real heart led warriors, the gifted facilitators and space holders that deserve to be supported. With any rapidly emerging new industry, you see a lot of people who get in it for the wrong reasons. I think we’ve all seen this in the psychedelic industry, just like it was with cannabis early on. People thinking, “Here’s a quick buck.” We wanted to counteract the pump-and-dump mentality by supporting those who had the real heart for it combined with a strong business sense. We set out to find operators who have integrity, who have a strong mission and a true vision, the light warriors.
And how did you find those people?
We had a lot of focus in Costa Rica in part because of the alternative health license and the fact that they remained mostly open during Covid. There are incredible people running retreats for the love of it and who have the knowledge and the respect for the medicine and Indigenous wisdom. We’d find them by word-of-mouth and then we’d get to know them personally and understand what was driving them, what their mission was. We were able to spot the opportunists from the dedicated healers.
Also, I will say that I believe a lot of women investors — and a lot of women in the psychedelics space, in general — have an intuition about this kind of thing. There is a certain sort of energy from the feminine side that can read people and hold space in a different way.
That’s interesting, and maybe one of the reasons there seems to be more women’s associations across the psychedelics landscape than in other industries.
That’s so true, there’s a handful of women led psychedelic initiatives. There’s an amazing group founded in Canada called ‘Celebrating Women in Psychedelics’, which is an online forum with women from all around the world. We do live talks with different women in the industry who want to share and learn about all aspects of the industry. We are supporting each other and sharing knowledge and opportunities.
I think the time for change is now. When you think about healing, you can’t be healed by someone who doesn’t understand your experience or where you come from. I know there are amazing healers who are men, but I wouldn’t want to go to a retreat run just by men. We need to understand how healing works. Feminine nature is very good at supporting and holding space. I think it’s really a fundamental part of our maternal instinct.
Does 5D Ventures invest in other parts of the psychedelics universe, such as biotechs or drug discovery companies looking to build patentable IP? Or does that not match your goal to support mission-oriented organizations?
I do believe there are plenty of mission-oriented people working in biotech and pharma who are trying to help people with new compounds or molecules. Obviously, we need that piece of the puzzle to be able to have more reach. But that’s just not part of our current mission. We want to support the people who are doing the hands-on healing work who are helping people today. They’re the ones who need support. We don’t want to wait 10-16 years. People are suffering now and we need to create more accessibility to deep healing opportunities.
Now that you’ve been making psychedelic-industry investments for more than three years, what advice would you give someone looking for financial help to launch a mission-oriented business or nonprofit? How do people find impact investors like 5D Ventures?
I think there are different ways to look at it. For us, focusing on natural plant biomass, part of it is figuring out where the next legal jurisdiction will be — and what the business model is. If you’re getting ready to open a business in a legal market, I think you’ll have a good case for investors.
When it comes to ketamine clinics and MDMA rolling forward, whether it’s in the U.S. or Canada, I think people need to figure out what their mission is and why. Of the thousands of ketamine clinics now open, hardly any of them are doing proper prep or integration work. To me, that’s a huge problem. I feel many impact investors would want to know what the integration process is, so that people can be properly supported after their psychedelic journey.
I think smaller businesses should ask themselves, “Do I want a venture capitalist breathing down my neck for the entire time I’m running this business?” Because that’s what happens. In many ways it’s more advantageous to raise funds from friends and family to launch your business. Once you get it rolling and want to take it to the next level and scale, then you can start looking around for outside capital. Until that point, it’s a lot of extra pressure. Rushing to raise outside capital is not always the best decision.
OK, one last question. Back to you growing up among psychonauts in the woods of Prince Edward Island. What do your parents now think of your career choices?
That’s such a great question. My father and I are very similar as humans. He’ll visit me and be open to trying a microdose and doing yoga or going for a nature walk. As for my mom, when I started working in this space, she’d ask, “What exactly are you doing?” I’d explain, I’d send her podcasts I was on that talked about psychedelic medicine. She’s a little more unsure. But in the end, I think everyone in my family was like, “Oh yeah, Rebecca you were always different, you were always testing boundaries, this makes sense for you.” And I think that’s what drives me in this industry: pushing boundaries and stepping into the unknown. Because that’s exactly what this space needs.