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Michele Romanow on Canada’s Innovation Landscape

Michele Romanow crossing her arms
Michele Romanow crossing her arms
Photo courtesy of Janick Laurent

Serial entrepreneur, Clearbanc Co-Founder, and Dragon on Dragons’ Den, Michele Romanow shares her thoughts on entrepreneurship and the landscape for innovation in Canada.

With an expansive resume and having played a large role in accelerating Canadian innovation, what have been your proudest accomplishments?

I’m most proud of the Clearbanc team. We started out of our Toronto condo five years ago and now we’re over 200 people and have invested over a billion dollars in more than 2,500 e-commerce companies, making us the largest e-commerce investor in the world. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a serial entrepreneur, what’s your current outlook on Canada’s innovation landscape?

Innovation has never been more important for the Canadian economy, especially as we move our economy beyond resources. It’s important to remember that so many incredible companies came out of recessionary periods and I have no doubt this time will be the same. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated secular changes in the economy — for example, e-commerce penetration as a percentage of retail sales has soared from 16 percent to 28 percent in the last eight weeks. Even in slow-moving sectors like health care, telemedicine technology has been rapidly adopted. There’s no better time to innovate than now. 

In your opinion, what unique edge or advantage does Canada have in the global landscape for innovation and entrepreneurship?

Canada has a chip on its shoulder, but that’s not a bad thing. We sit next to the largest economy in the world and it can be easy to think we’re lost in their shadow. But Canada has shown that with such a diverse, ambitious, and educated population, we’re building the next generation of great companies. We’re hungry and have all the tools we need to get started. Now it’s about launching, iteration, and execution. 

Throughout your career, what have you found to be the crucial traits or habits individuals need to consistently innovate and problem-solve creatively?

Understanding success is impossible without failure. When you build a company, there’s so much iteration and evolution before you find true innovation. I’ve had to iterate 10 times on some ideas before things really started to work. The most successful entrepreneurs on Dragons’ Den are open to feedback and are comfortable testing and pivoting. I’ve also found that the entrepreneurs that get lucky on their first try often fail in the long run because they haven’t built this iteration muscle.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs and small businesses in this difficult and uncertain time? And what advice do you have for other business leaders looking to foster a culture of innovation throughout their organization?

Now is the time to get started. We have fewer distractions, fewer plans, and fewer trips. We can all use this time to figure out how to build for a new world. For small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), every business has to have a digital presence. If you’ve been putting off launching an e-commerce store or website, we just experienced a time where people couldn’t find you without going online. We’re only at the beginning of the era of digital. I’d encourage every entrepreneur to build out their online offerings as much as they can. Even as we go back to old ways, these new online habits are here to stay.

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