In the past ten years, Dragon’s Den has gone from a home-grown Canadian project to an international phenomenon with multiple spinoffs that play in 28 countries around the world.
Last season however, the CBC came back with a whole new roster of Dragons. With the only series veteran left being Jim Treliving, the replacements had to prove themselves before audiences who’d gotten used to the battle of the sexes that often went on between Arlene Dickinson and Kevin O’Leary.
Even among all these changes, one fresh face stood out as the youngest dragon to ever join not only the CBC’s cast, but the cast of any of the show’s spinoffs including the American adaptation, Shark Tank (where O’Leary now resides).
There’s a new kid on the block
Michele Romanow, dubbed the Tech Titan on the show, is a 31-year old entrepreneur from Calgary, Alberta who was worth $150 million as of 2015. Her fellow dragons are Joe Mimran, 63, Jim Treliving, 75, Manjit Minhas, 36 and Mike Wekerle, 52.
Romanow says that this season, readers can look forward to some exciting surprises and more tech pitches than ever before. When asked if she believes her being on the show has something to do with that, she simply laughs and concedes. She doesn’t, however, believe that it has everything to do with her. The market has spoken, and entrepreneurs need to listen.
“I think entrepreneurship is in many ways, luck and timing as well. I think it’s really important to look at where the economy is going and where the growth and trends are. You gotta have an online strategy. You certainly have to have a website,” said Romanow.
Romaonw has started several of businesses that have been successes and failures, but only one that earned her the “tech titan” title; Buytopia. Romanow launched Buytopia.ca in 2011, which had acquired over 2.5 million subscribers by 2013. After acquiring six competitors, Romanow left Buytopia to build up its recently launched spinoff, SnapSaves.
SnapSaves, a mobile couponing app that gave customers cash-back when they buy certain items at grocery stores, was acquired by Groupon in 2014. The company was then relaunched in the United States as Snap by Groupon.
“I think I bring a millennial perspective to the show,” said Romanow, who laughs about her arguments with Treliving about whether or not the sharing economy was sustainable. She was also named as one of the 20 most disruptive “Millennials on a Mission.”
Furthermore, she was the only Canadian to be named.
Tech is growing in Canada, and Romanow has grown with it
She goes on to reflect on the state of Canadian tech and the forces behind its rapid growth in recent years. As someone who remembers when “startup” wasn’t cool, she’s certainly felt the change.
“There’s been a lot of growth. With the decline of resources, we need to have this growth,” she says.
Romanow is a prime example of these trends. Her first business wasn’t a tech startup at all, but rather a no-waste operation called The Tea Room. Following that, her next notable venture called Evandale Caviar, was a vertical fishery that distributed high-end caviar to luxury hotels and restaurants.
When asked whether startup culture could become part of Canadian culture, she argues that it already has. Toronto has become a world-class place to build a business, she conveys, with an accessible range of resources and support. She didn’t have that when she was starting out.
“When I started in 2008 as an entrepreneur, there were no accelerators, there were no shared offices, there were no incubators. Now, there’s an event every night of the week,” said Romanow.
While she’s currently working as the head of marketing for Snap at Groupon, Romanow has another startup on her mind.
Romanow is just getting started; Her next challenge lies in fintech
She’s quiet about the details, but does reveal that her next venture will launch her into the world of fintech. The Canadian fintech sector has been heating up with several notable startups and big players like Apple Pay now maneuvering in the space.
“The Canadian banks have started to look at how they can start to work with and learn from startups,” she says.
Romanow goes on to squash the idea that one needs to be an expert in a subject to launch a business in the field. Her admission that she doesn’t know much about fintech is followed immediately with confident “yes, I’m going to launch a fintech business.”
The daunting prospect of navigating an entirely unfamiliar industry, much like the word “no” itself, doesn’t even phase her.
Surprises are coming in Season 11 of Dragon’s Den and Romanow seems to be at the heart of many of them. With a newly-added Battle episode, where two businesses in the same space go head-to-head, and several spirited arguments about what consumers really want, Wednesday nights in front of the television are not to be missed.
“My job is to encourage as many people as possible to become entrepreneurs,” she concludes. The question she’s left with however is, can anyone truly be an entrepreneur?
The key to being a successful entrepreneur, says Romanow, isn’t necessarily to be an expert in one thing, but to be capable of anything.
Image credit: CBC Media Centre