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Annette Verschuren

Kailee Mandel

My parents were Dutch immigrants who treated my sister and I equal to our three brothers. That was a big advantage.

My father had a heart attack at 42. The doctor said we should give up the farm, but it’s all we had. So he started to innovate. He was the first dairy farmer in Nova Scotia to use the liquid manure system, because he didn’t want us kids to have to do all the labour. We still milked those cows, brought in the hay and, oh my God, we worked our asses off. But he tried everything to make it easier for us.

I worked in the coal mining business for nine years. The cost of producing coal underneath the sea was economically difficult, and I really wanted to do something else. So my first husband and I went to Toronto. I remember looking up at these buildings—I’d never seen a freaking escalator before—and saying, “I’m going to own this city.”

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When I was first at Home Depot, the Aboriginal people in northern B.C. started to strike against us, because we were allowing companies to clear-cut, and we were buying stuff from the Amazon. That was wrong. And so, we said, “In the next two years, suppliers all have to be part of a third-party forest management practice.” And it changed everything.

Can you imagine if the Government of Canada said: “Every large company that is bidding on big stuff, you have to bring in one or two innovative products and bring in Canadian companies?”

Particularly to women, I say: Don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t be afraid to take a risk to become an entrepreneur. It’s not as scary as it looks. A farm girl from Cape Breton could do it.

I was divorced in 2000, the same year my mom died. In 2008, I met Stan [Shibinsky] at a party. He kept calling to take me out, and I kept saying no. One day, my assistant said, “You know, I really like this guy. You should give him a chance.” Not everybody gets it right the second time, but boy, it’s good.

When I left Home Depot in 2011, I didn’t want to go back into retail. Taking a company from $600-million to $6-billion and 28,000 people—it was hard to leave, but it was the right time. Stan and I travelled the world, and I saw the environmental challenges we have. When I started thinking about what I wanted to do next, that’s when we founded NRStor.

We can store water and we can store food, but we ain’t so good at storing energy, which will help us reduce the need to use gas plants to balance peaks. It will deliver energy when it’s needed. This is the future.

Of the top 100 clean-tech companies in the world, I think Canada has 13. But we don’t brag much. We’re a bit more skeptical, and we talk more about the challenges. I’m into solutions.

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We have 4,000 people a year die of suicide in our country. Most people have mental health issues. Me too—I used a psychologist during periods of my career, and I am not afraid to say that.

I’m inspired by people who want to make money and do good. I’ve made money all my life, but I think it can be done with a responsible filter that recognizes you have to replenish and take care of the planet and its people. More and more, I think capitalism is moving in that direction.

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