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Wonder woman
Nova Scotia’s Barb Stegemann named one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women and top Game Changer on CBC’s Dragon’s Den

Of all the accolades Barb Stegemann has received since becoming the first Atlantic Canadian woman to land a venture capital deal on the CBC television show Dragon’s Den, being named the Top Game Changer in the show’s seven seasons is the one she wears with the most pride. “Before you’re 40 you’re called a rule breaker and you get your wrist slapped. The funniest thing happens if you stick to your beliefs and you stick to your ethics… after 40 they start calling you a game changer and they give you awards.”

Stegemann admits freely that she doesn’t play by the traditional rules. On her first appearance on Dragon’s Den she boldly announced, “I don’t believe in charity,” a statement that garnered criticism. She has since backed it up by providing economic empowerment opportunities for farmers in Afghanistan, Haiti and most recently the Middle East. “If a farmer can buy books and shoes for his children in a safe environment in Afghanistan, that child cannot be taken away by oppressors and brain washed,” Stegemann argues.

Her venture has not only provided for poor farmers but has brought her business success as well. While Stegemann recognizes the need for charity, she calls it a short-term solution that does not bring about real change. Instead, she uses her own experience growing up on welfare to change the lives of others. “I used to talk to God and say ‘why did you send us to such poverty?’ Now that I’m older, I thank God. Now I know why, because I have empathy.”

While she has become a powerhouse entrepreneur, being named Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young, a Woman Innovator by the U.S. State Department and the first female Honorary Colonel of Canadian Forces Base Greenwood, Stegemann’s business began with an ideal. Her best friend was injured in Afghanistan while serving with the Canadian military. She set out to further his aspirations for the people of the war-torn country and came up with her fragrance line, The 7 Virtues. She buys orange blossom oil from Afghan farmers at rates that make it viable for them to choose the legal orange blossom crop over the illegal but lucrative opium poppy. She turns the oil into high end perfume that now sells in stores across Canada and internationally, proving capitalism can have a social conscience.

“Historically, Dragon’s Den has been seen as capitalism to an extreme and to be able to have been a part of shifting that, and the way people view the role of business and our buying power,” says Stegemann, “it’s been very meaningful for me.” It’s an ideal she will continue to promote as an author and public speaker. Being recently named one of Canada’s 100 most powerful women by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) will make her message all the more resonant.

“There’s a lot of power in doing something for the first time, in doing something that is very unique,” says WXN founder Pamela Jeffery, “because you have the power to inspire others.” Supported by former Dragon and now Stegemann’s mentor, Brett Wilson, Jeffery says Stegemann’s nomination simply stood out and made her an obvious choice. “She really does have something that’s very unique as far as the founding of her company, The 7 Virtues,” says Jeffery.

Whether you call her an innovator, a trailblazer or a game changer—and she has been given awards with all of those titles—Stegemann takes the words seriously. The ability to inspire other women to do more than just improve the company bottom line but to find joy and inspiration in their work and in their life is one Stegemann is still contemplating. “It makes me think I have another book in me,” she says.

“I’m a hearing-impaired girl from a trailer park in Antigonish and my perfume is on 5th Avenue in New York. How did that happen?”

By Megan Venner

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