How one start-up cannabis lab achieved ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation in 5 months with the help of Qualtrax.
Becky Hobden is the founder of the ECC Test Lab located in Ashland, Virginia. Now a team of four, ECC Test Lab is a full suite cannabis testing lab that uses analytical and microbial methods to test for potency and purity in cannabis samples.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Q: How did ECC get started?
A: Before launching ECC back in 2018, I had worked for a long time in the Biodiesel industry. So, I was familiar with quality management, the workings of the lab, and also the complexities of highly regulated industries. However, I’d never started a business before, and I had never worked directly with hemp or cannabis. In terms of the business, in the beginning, we focused on the hemp industry and mainly did testing of biomass for CBD and THC levels for farmers who were concerned with regulatory compliance.
Q: Have you added additional services since the beginning?
A: Yes! As processors started making hemp-derived products for human consumption in Virginia, and across the United States, we brought in testing for contaminants, such as pesticides, mycotoxins, heavy metals, residual solvents, and microbial.
We have also added a terpenes profile and water activity to the tests we offer. Now that we’ve received our controlled substance registration with the Virginia Board of Pharmacy, we can provide testing for the medical marijuana processors in Virginia.
Q: How did you manage quality and your lab in the very beginning?
A: Manually. A lot of start-up labs have tight budgets, in the beginning, so we organized documents and quality with excel spreadsheets and created our Certificate of Analyses for customers as PDFs. This worked fine in the beginning but, as we started getting more customers and expanding, we knew we needed to put systems in place.
Q: Which systems did you put in place to keep growing?
A: To grow, things needed to get automated. So, after about a year of business, we started looking into both an eQMS and a LIMS system. I didn’t realize at first that there was a big difference between a Quality Management System and a LIMS system. But, after a while, I realized that we needed a LIMS to capture everything happening in the lab day-to-day and we needed an eQMS to manage quality and help us get our ISO 17025 accreditation.
Q: Did you do a lot of shopping before you found systems you were happy with?
A: Yes. We went through multiple LIMS systems before we landed with one we liked. We found that we needed software in place that is configurable to our unique needs. For example, start-up labs are constantly expanding our capabilities, and we needed to be able to add different analytes, methods, tests, and training. Qualtrax has been very configurable in terms of how we manage our quality. Flexibility is very important as organizations scale. I’m thankful that we have Qualtrax as part of our management system
Q: Some start-ups wait until they’re more established before implementing an eQMS, what was the benefit for ECC in implementing earlier on?
A: As labs grow, they’re going to need to implement a quality system at some point. Implementing an automated system early on saved us so much time because now we won’t have to load historic documents into the system a few years from now. We also realized that automation was going to be the key to saving staff time.
Q: What have been the other benefits of having an eQMS?
A: Well, we were able to become ISO 17025 accredited in 5 months. While ISO 17025 is never an easy task, Qualtrax helped to organize, streamline, and document our quality processes, which made the task much less daunting. Qualtrax was an alternative to hiring a full-time Quality Manager or creating a complicated quality system that had to be managed manually. By choosing to allocate my resource towards Qualtrax, everyone at ECC Test Lab plays a part in management documents, workflows, and testing and training. Qualtrax is elevating what we are doing here at ECC.