Michele Romanow

MICHELE ROMANOW – Tech Titan, Dragon’s Den Judge

When she and her partners were starting Evandale Caviar, Michele Romanow immersed herself in the process of starting a fishery from scratch.

After all that, she found herself trying to sell the worlds most luxurious cracker topping in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crash.

Needless to say, Evandale didn’t survive.

What did survive, however, was Romanow’s spirit of entrepreneurial risk taking, a strategy she has characterized as “Launch now, fix later.”

There may be a lesson in that for members of Canada’s legal cannabis industry. Romanow’s message is particularly timely and will be part of this year’s O’Cannabiz Conference and Expo.

The Dragon’s Den panelist is this year’s keynote speaker at the conference’s April 23rd Business Conference. Romanow’s message promises advice on embracing change, encouraging disruption and incentivizing innovation.

“You have to get excited about disrupting an industry,” Romanow told Larysa Harapyn of the Financial Post. “And that really keeps you going. The status quo isn’t good enough.”

In 2018, when Canada opened the door to legal cannabis production, there was a plan but that plan ran into problems, setbacks and snags. Producers had troubling finding enough retailers to meet the demand, and consumers expressed frustration with the length of time it took their online purchases to be delivered. Retailers had to navigate a mountain of paperwork. Since then, the growing pains have continued.

“The thing you need to do is to start,” Romanow said in a CBC interview. “There’s no perfect plan to be an entrepreneur. You have to jump in with two feet. You have to say I’m just going to commit to trying to make this work my very best.”

The bumpy road the industry has been on for the last 18 months or so is the kind of chaos Romanow believes should be embraced. Since Health Canada set the rules, there have been changes in provincial governments in Canada that modified the landscape. New states south of the border have come online as producers and possible markets. Even the consumer base has changed as new products and strains of cannabis emerged. Business 101 says there will be a winnowing eventually. It’s the companies that adapt and “get scrappy”, as Romanow would say, that will emerge at the end.

“A lot of people think that innovation is just you come up with one big idea and then it works,” she has said. “But, it’s this ability to try and experiment.”

The full story on the legal cannabis industry is far from written. The final draft will be authored by people thinking outside the box and unafraid to take risks. One of the stumbling blocks for this kind of disruptive thinking was finding venture capital that shared the vision. When Romanow started her own investment firm, Clearbanc, she heard ‘No’ hundreds of times from the rank and file of the financial industry. Not coincidentally, support came from the businesspeople who’d been through that process themselves and dreamed of a better way.

“When we started Clearbanc we could see that the future of work was changing. We had tried a couple types of products,” she told Pattie Sellers at Fortune Magazine’s 2019 Most Powerful Women Forum in Toronto. “What struck a chord was that 40 percent of all VC dollars today go into companies that are spent directly on Google and Facebook. That means entrepreneurs are spending the most expensive capital to do something that by definition should be repeatable and scalable. You know that if you injected a dollar you get four dollars in sales out. So, if we can just give entrepreneurs a cheaper way to fund that and a faster way to fund that.”

While some of those involved in Canada’s cannabis industry express frustration with the way things have been rolled out, the opportunities are still there for those willing to ride the waves.

Romanow, a 34-year-old native of Calgary, made the list of Women’s Executive Network’s 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada in 2015, and was name by Forbes Magazine as a Millennial on a Mission. She also earned the 2018 Angel Investor of the Year by the Canadian Innovation Awards.