For some, success comes easily. For others, it requires a cocktail of grit, dedication, and third-level education. Michele Romanow falls into the latter category.

Though she recently gained notoriety as the latest addition to CBC’s Dragons’ Den, Romanow cut her teeth as an entrepreneur through multiple ventures. Before appearing on television, she started SnapSaves (acquired by Groupon),, and a caviar company. While an undergraduate student at Queen’s University, she created The Tea Room, North America’s first zero-waste coffee shop.

"You learn how to constantly find answers and solve problems — those are essential skills for any entrepreneur.”

Strangely, though, her education began in civil engineering, which differs greatly from business, but was nevertheless a huge boon to her in later life. “Civil engineering gave me such strength and fluidity with numbers,” says Romanow. “Business, as everyone knows, is a lot about numbers, but it’s actually a lot about ratios and quick mental math, to see if basic things like margins and sales rates really make sense. I think that, more than learning to build a bridge or learning how concrete worked, it was the problem-solving aspect that really made a difference.”

A running start

It was around this time she met her future business partners, Anatoliy Melnichuk and Ryan Marien, with whom she has worked with for the past 10 years. As fellow engineers, the trio instantly hit it off, constantly brainstorming about what their next million-dollar idea would be and eventually pitching them in competitions. This passion led them to win six contests, earning the group almost $120,000 before graduating. “That changed my whole life,” says Romanow. “It gave me some start-up capital to get going, and it gave me the confidence to believe I could be an entrepreneur when I was only 22 years old. So, I’m forever grateful for my education in that regard. I wouldn’t have had the basis in knowledge and the confidence to go forward without it.

Now, Romanow sits comfortably on the list of Canada’s 100 most powerful women, but even here, at such a lofty position, she hasn’t lost sight of the value of education, regardless of what form it takes. “In school, you learn how to learn. That’s really powerful. You learn how to constantly find answers and solve problems — those are essential skills for any entrepreneur.”