Evan Spencer's Project Alpha is chasing cannabis.

A former Buckeyes team captain is back in Columbus and hoping to get the ball rolling on a new private equity fund. Evan Spencer, a wide receiver on the 2014 National Championship Ohio State football team, launched Project Alpha in March with a focus on the burgeoning cannabis industry.

Project Alpha invests in sale-leaseback real estate deals in the industry and plans to grow into other facets of the market long-term. Spencer says the model allows growth through dependable cash income but also positions the company as a PE fund for vertical growth more than a real estate-only firm. Investors get a 9 percent quarterly return from the fund, Spencer says.

Spencer says here and now is exactly the right time, place, and market for the cannabis industry. The U.S. legal cannabis market was valued at $11.9 billion in 2018 and is forecast to expand 24.1 percent a year from 2019 to 2025, according to a May report from Grandview Research.

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Spencer says Project Alpha is developing relationships with West Coast players to facilitate its entry into Midwestern markets. Illinois, for instance, passed legislation legalizing recreational marijuana in June, and legal sales begin in January. Cannabis research firm Brightfield Group predicts the size of the Illinois market will rival that of Colorado.

And of course, medical sales in Ohio, now Spencer’s home turf, began last January.

Longer term, Spencer aims to build investment in alternative energy and in the software-as-a-service sectors because he believes they hold potential for social good. “If I can build a financial practice that leaves our world better off in the finite amount of time I have on earth, that’s awesome,” he says.