Michele Romanow of CBC’s “Dragon’s Den” takes on the business of shaping synergy.
By Jennifer Lee
Photography by Ted Belton
Entrepreneur Michele Romanow puts high value on collaboration. “You never do something alone,” the Calgary native stresses.
In Michele’s own life, partnership and teamwork have transformed her business vision into a successful career that launched with founding one of Canada’s leading e-commerce companies, Buytopia.ca. This, in addition to other luminary ventures, including founding SnapSaves, a mobile savings platform acquired by Groupon and a role on the board of directors at such pioneering companies as Freshii, a multinational “healthy fast food” chain, have earned Michele a wunderkind tag and the boardroom cred to occupy a throne on CBC’s Dragon’s Den.
While some viewers may be drawn to the reality show as a potential schadenfreude spectacle, Michele is a dragon with heart on and off screen. For her, it’s all about “telling people to dream.” As a six-year member of the Board of Directors for SHAD—a registered Canadian charity that empowers exceptional high school students to become innovative leaders and change-makers—she is committed to guiding the next generation of entrepreneurs. Michele puts emphasis on the benefits of transformational programs like this—not only as a SHAD fellow, but as a true believer in Canadian innovation. “The rubber hits the road when you actually try to build it yourself,” she quips.
In the same way starting a business from the ground up instills an “incredible amount of empathy” for other entrepreneurs, as Michele notes, actively building a more caring and compassionate Canada makes one conscious of individuals in need of change for the better. In her perspective, “moving words into action,” is the way forward. “I always encourage people to build the future that they want to see.” Take Michele’s recommendation and the next time you feel like posting on social media about “what you want or something you don’t believe in,” instead get out into the world and do something about it. “As an entrepreneur you learn from doing,” she declares, same goes for change-makers.
When mentoring young leaders, Michele’s counsel stays true to her own secret for success: brilliant partnerships and teamwork. “The more you make connections, the greater the possibilities,” she asserts. “We are obsessed with this media narrative that it was just one person… it was never just Steve Jobs. Behind all great people, there are great partnerships. We love to tell the story of these single individuals with incredible visions, but it’s always a ‘we.’ I would have never have been successful without my team—I owe them an extraordinary amount.”
Given her take on business, Michele—who made Forbes “Millennials On A Mission” list in 2013, alongside fellow international trailblazers the likes of FEED Projects’ Lauren Bush Lauren—is debunking the myth of self-obsessed millennials. “This is one of the least materialistic generations in many ways. It’s the generation that has cared more about wanting to make an impact early on,” she suggests. “There are so many positives, this generation [is] seeking more…and they’re building side hustles! Side hustles can turn into amazing businesses or amazing impacts.”
Through SHAD, Michele has met young and motivated entrepreneurs to invest hope in. “When you see those people around you, you know the future of our country is very bright!”
Read on to learn why Michele believes that “Canadians are way more than polite;” we are great innovators.
Why is “we” stronger than “me?”
What’s that Margaret Mead line? Something like, never doubt a small group of motivated people. That’s the only thing that’s ever made a difference! [“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”] It’s important to emphasize the “we” because it’s always about a tiny team that does something mighty.
What is the kindest action you’ve been on the receiving end of, and what about the gesture touched you personally?
It’s always the littlest things that make the difference—it’s the thoughtfulness. Once I was having this really awful phone call, and I was upset, sitting outside of Starbucks. I remember this woman—who must have heard me on the phone—she bought me a coffee, she left and said “I hope your day gets better from here.” It was amazing. It was a two-dollar gesture, and she wanted nothing in return—random acts of kindness can go an extraordinary way.
Fill in the blank: Moving forward into the next 150 years, our country needs [blank] in order to build a more caring and compassionate Canada.
To remain loving and accepting.
People internationally make a mistake. They say Canadians are “polite,” but Canadians are way more than polite; they are accepting of people from all walks of life, all parts of the world. [Canada is] where you can choose who you love and what you say. That is of incredible value—especially today… [one] we need to keep alive and well. My mother was an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, she came here when she was 11-years-old and didn’t know a word of English. My father grew up in a little town in northern Saskatchewan that only spoke Ukrainian. I had immigrant parents, and I had a life built here because people were loving and accepting of them—we were allowed to build our dreams here.
Describe the core values of your ideal Canada.
Accepting, ambitious, diverse, strong and brave; we need all of those together.
What small action have you taken in present day to help secure a brighter future for our country tomorrow?
Mentoring the next generation of entrepreneurs. And… learning to listen—that’s an extraordinary one. Listen more, judge less. And, seek to understand, not to be understood.
What’s one action you want people to take in order to build a better country?
Love more and judge less—it’s a mindset, more than an action in some ways.