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Youngest Dragon has ties to Canora

When Dragon’s Den is televised this season each Wednesday on CBC, many Canora area residents are taking note of one of the new Dragons – Michele Romanow. She is the daughter of Marvin and Dagmar Romanow of Calgary.
Michele Romanow
Michele Romanow

When Dragon’s Den is televised this season each Wednesday on CBC, many Canora area residents are taking note of one of the new Dragons – Michele Romanow.

She is the daughter of Marvin and Dagmar Romanow of Calgary. However, Marvin grew up in Canora, the son of the late Frances Romanow.

“I have many special memories of Canora,” says Michele, who now lives in Chicago. She recalls growing up in Regina and she has many warm, early memories of going to Canora to visit her grandmother.

“My Baba Frances lived there her whole life and I have tons of good memories,” she said.

Going to school in grades 1 to 5 in Regina, Michele recalls that “in the summers we would go to visit her and in the winters, she would come stay with us… and make us perogies like she used to make for the church.

“Its really fun to be a Dragon,” said Michele. “I spent my early career investing and trying new ideas. Now I love to hear other entrepreneurs and see what their ideas are all about.”

At 30 years of age, she is the youngest Dragon on the Canadian show and the youngest of all the Dragons ever on the show or similar programs now airing in 28 countries.

Although she thanks her parents for a strong home environment when growing up that allowed her to express herself, Michele is a self-made entrepreneur who has taken the business world by storm. The business community placed her on a list of the 100 most powerful women in Canada and she made the Forbes Top 20 Most Disruptive “Millennials on a Mission.”

She launched her first business in 2006 while studying at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. Identified as a zero consumer waste coffee shop, it was called The Tea Room. She then partnered with two colleagues from her engineering class and together, they founded several companies without raising any external capital. When she graduated, she started Evandale Caviar, desbribed as “a vertically integrated fishery that distributed high end sturgeon caviar to luxury hotels and restaurants.”

In 2011, she started a company called Buytopia which grew as she acquired more competitors.

Soon afterwards, Romanow started SnapSaves, a mobile couponing app, that gives shoppers cash back when they buy certain items in the grocery store by partnering with consumer packaged goods companies. Groupon purchased SnapSaves in June 2014, and re-launched in the U.S. as Snap by Groupon. Through her association with Groupon, she found it necessary to move to Chicago, where that company is based.

In an overview of the first season of Dragon’s Den, Romanow said it was a privilege to do deals with entrepreneurs on television because “it is what I was doing before on my own.”

She likes to describe her appeal on the Dragon’s Den as being because she was “self-made” in the business world.

“My dad does very well and did very well, even extraordinarily well in business but he made sure I took my own route. I started those companies on my own – figured out technology space on my own – and the accomplishments were my own.”

She says her father gave her lots of love but he didn’t give her the money.

            Marvin made his mark in the oil business. He started work with Saskoil and Wascana in 1990 and was the vice-president of production when the company was purchased by Nexen in 1997. Thus came the move to Calgary where he was the chief financial officer for Nexen for 11 years and then in 2008, he became the CEO. He had developed a relationship with Chinese investors who had already put a lot of money into oil production in Canada, but it was shortly after he retired in 2012, that the Chinese made the move to purchase Nexen. The $20 billion deal was the largest acquisition by the Chinese in the Canadian oil business, but they had already invested close to $50 billion in the Canadian oil industry. The company which purchased Nexen is traded under the name CNOOC, which was a private company, but more than 70 per cent of the shares were owned by the Chinese government.

            In his semi-retirement, Marvin spends one week per month as an executive in residence with the University of Saskatchewan, where he lectures in leadership, management and financing. He also coaches “leadership teams” where he works with deans at the university and their teams. Romanow also sits as a director on five boards.

            When asked about the father’s description of a daughter who is self made in the business world, Marvin said her net worth numbers are less important. Her entrepreneurial spirit is of what he is most proud.

            “She was a kid who was always very curious, highly outgoing and very willing and able to move into action when required.”

            He points out that Dragon’s Den is a television show which is made to be entertaining through a lot of editing. For Michele, it is a natural extension because of her character and confidence in business.

Marvin says that Michele acquired her interests in business quite naturally because he spent his whole career in business. “When I would come home from work and talk about my day, she was interested. When I would go away on business trips, when I would return, the kids were always full of questions.”

From her early years, she showed a natural inclination towards business just from participating in normal family dialogue.

While Michele is the oldest of his four children, he says the others are also ready to take on the world. Jacqueline is already in business while Nicole just finished her MBA and is job hunting. The youngest, Richard, is still in university studying engineering.

Romanow says he is very happy for his kids that they can do what they want to do and be successful.

Not only is he proud of Michele but he is more happy for her that she found something she likes and is really good at. “She is a very normal person but she has the qualities to make her driven and become successful. She has had her share of challenges and failures but she never gives up.”

In his philosophy for parenting, Romanow says a parent should not make career choices for the child. Those choices should not be a mirror of what the parents want. It is important that the child plot his or her own route in life and that way, the successes are the child’s alone.

            Michele said she has a really positive feeling from shooting her first season of Dragon’s Den (the 10th season for the program). She was sought out by the TV program’s producers and she had to audition. The whole season was shot from the middle of April to the middle of May. The television season started in October and will conclude in April.

            The contract is for only one season. “If the audience and the producers like you, you are invited back the next season.”

            Michele says she loved her time with the other Dragons and in hearing the pitches from many entrepreneurs from across the country. She loved the relationships that formed with the other Dragons. She especially enjoyed the banter with Jim Treliving, who is turning 74, and is the longest serving Dragon on the show. The other Dragons were also great to work with and she did partner with them from time to time. In total, she made 18 deals during the season. “That’s a lot of companies to help and grow.”

            Meeting the entrepreneurs is the most fun, Michele said. The Dragons have no idea who is “coming down those stairs” to make the next pitch.

In closing, Michele said she has “lots of warm memories for Canora – it was a wonderful place for dad to grow up – it’s an extraordinary community – a close community – and all those values were instilled to my dad and on to myself.”

            The only close relative left in Canora is “Uncle Adam (Mary) Kotyk.” When Mary was asked about watching her niece on The Dragon’s Den, she found herself feeling very proud.

            While neither Marvin or Michele have been back to Canora since they buried his mother in 2014, Michele speaks of the warm feelings she has for the community and Marvin said he “expects to circle back through there some day.”