[HALIFAX, NS] – It’s not every day that someone can use the philosophy of Plato to launch a business venture, but that’s how one Halifax businesswoman operates.
Barb Stegemann enthusiastically began The 7 Virtues product line, which includes her own philosophical writing and an inspired perfume line, that reaches out across a war-ravaged world to force a change in the status quo through the international language of trade.
Her perfume is made from orange blossom oil grown in Afghanistan — a traditionally symbolic and legal crop.
“We’re getting oils from legal crops to compete against heroine,” she says.
Many farmers in Afghanistan were forced or scammed into growing poppies, which supply the drug trade that funds terrorist organizations in the Middle East.
Stegemann isn't a big believer in charity; she really preaches is empowerment. By making the deal and creating a change at the primary industry level, she has created more than just a crutch for a society to lean on; she has given them a way out.
With guaranteed buyers for their crops, farmers are far more reluctant to join the poppy trade.
“Not only is it economically empowering, it gives people their dignity,” she says.
Stegemann was never worried about what many would see as a risky investment — dealing with a country in strife. Instead her natural curiosity led her to peruse a gut feeling to get in contact with Abdullah Arsala of Afghanistan, who works with many farmers of legal crops in the region.
“The minute you judge another person because of their skin colour, their faith, their gender or their socioeconomic status you’ve failed to see what’s in front of you,” says Stegemann. “And when you start developing — like a muscle — that state of wonder, which is where all philosophy begins, you say, ‘I wonder what would happen if I called Abdullah. I wonder what would happen if I reached out to him.’”
The approach works both ways. Arsala is just as open to the idea as her and she says he has that same sense of wonderment and was willing to take the leap to unlock the potential of working with Stegemann.
Her philosophy extends to every facet of her business, even her branding. The 7 Virtues packages are adorned with quotes from the great minds of history, such as Plato, Mary Wollstonecraft and a Muslim thinker called Rumi, whose message resonates very strongly with Stegenmann and her business:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there,” reads her bottle.
To her that quote from Rumi is a reflection of her business in the orange blossom fields.
Stegemann hooks three "Dragons", but chooses only one for venture
Most recently Stegemann brought her idea to the investing giants of CBC’s Dragons' Den and nothing has been the same since.
"Going on the Den was a life altering experience," she says.
In the episode that aired this past Wednesday she was able to partner up with "Dragon" Brett Wilson of Calgary.
Socially conscious Wilson was sold almost from the beginning of her pitch.
“Number one was the quiet confidence she started with and it grew,” says Wilson. “She continued to dismantle every argument against her from the other dragons.”
She received interest from Wilson, Arlene Dickinson and Jim Treliving. In the end after passing due diligence with Wilson, she decided not to bring everyone on board but was grateful for their support.
"I actually chose Brett," she says. "As a mentor and partner."
She says they quickly learned they could work well together and share many of the same philosophies that allow her and Abullah to click.
Stegemann nominated for Manning award
In addition to the surge of interest following her national television appearance, Stegemann and The 7 Virtues has been nominated for a Manning Innovation Award.
“They’re about doing good for the common good,” said Stegemann.
The awards are a great national honour.
“We felt she had what it takes,” says Colin Deacon, immediate past chair of the Atlantic Chapter of the Manning Awards, whose task is to seek out worthy nominees from the region. “Part of this is benefiting Canadians.”
On a personal note, Deacon is very impressed with what Stegemann has accomplished.
“Through her work, she’s proven that the only sustainable solutions are market solutions,” he says. “She’s giving Canadians a product they can feel good about.”
The Manning Awards are the only national innovation awards and Deacon said it is hard to even qualify and be nominated for them.
The 7 Virtues has been nominated under the category of Innovation Award and is eligible to receive a $10,000 prize if selected in the fall during the awards gala.
Stegemann would immediately put that toward buying more products from farmers.
“Imagine how much oil I could buy with that,” she said.