Fans of the television show Dragon’s Den may have recognized a previous Nelson resident, as entrepreneur Margot Micallef pitched to the panel of fiery business celebrities last week.
Micallef, who spent part of her childhood in Nelson, was selected to appear in an episode that aired on January 21 and will air again with CBC on Friday, January 30 at 1 p.m.
She has a passion for health and wellness. Her company Gabriella’s Kitchen manufactures and markets two brands of fortified and functional pasta products including a high protein, low glycemic line called SkinnyPasta and a gluten free line of prepared pasta meals called Antipastos Kitchen which are currently available across Canada.
The Star asked Micallef a series of questions about her ties to Nelson and her experience on the Dragons’ Den.
Q: What are your ties to Nelson?
A: In 1964 my family immigrated from Europe to Nelson where my dad became a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame College in Nelson. I started school in Nelson (Grades 1 and 2) and it was the first time my siblings and I ever experienced snow. It was so awesome to see this white fluffy stuff falling from the sky. It looked like cotton balls but we soon learned you could run in it in bare feet!
Later as an adult and the co-founder and CEO of Vista Radio I helped launch Nelson’s first radio station – The Bridge (now Juice FM).
Q: When did you start this business line and why?
A: Both my sister and I were very health conscious. She was a marathoner and I had cut out refined carbs from my diet.
Neither of us had been eating pasta because we found it to lack sufficient nutrients for the caloric and carb content. And we missed it. At the same time my aunt had to give up pasta because she had been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. We all missed eating pasta.
But there was nothing on the market that tasted good, had the mouth feel and texture of regular pasta and was able to bind with sauce the way regular pasta does… Eating is a social experience and if you are forced to eat differently than everyone else with whom you eat on a regular basis, it becomes an isolating and demoralizing experience.
Q: What made you decide to apply to be on the Dragons’ Den (DD)?
A: DD is a great launch pad for entrepreneurs. It’s a great way to showcase your business and if you get a deal that’s the added bonus.
Personally I love collaborating and the idea of collaborating with any of the Dragons was an inviting proposition. It’s difficult to tell your story in an hour, but we were delighted that our product resonated with consumers — our website crashed within 15 minutes of the show airing.
Q: How did you prepare for your pitch? How long did you prepare ahead?
A: We share our story regularly with consumers, retailers, distributors and the media so we are constantly rehearsing for such pitches.
It took a while to get the props together and figure out the logistics of how we were going to be able to cook the food on the set, get it to the Dragons while it was warm etc. But, the story came very naturally and was more like a conversation than a presentation.
Q: What was your proposal to the Dragons?
A: We offered them 15 per cent of our company for $125,000.
Q: Why did you want that from them rather than seeking it through a bank or elsewhere?
A: The ability to collaborate with such experienced entrepreneurs is something I really valued. It wasn’t just about the money — it was about the value of a partnership. I have had multiple business partnerships in my life. Some have lasted 20 plus years. I really think good partnerships are about figuring out how one plus one equals three. I’m sorry the Dragons didn’t take up my invitation to partner with me but since then I’ve attracted other first class partners and together we have expanded our footprint significantly since taping the show.
Q: What was your focus during the pitch?
A: We really wanted to explain the unique attributes of our products.
Q: What was it like to have a business meeting of sorts with cameras on you?
A: I totally forgot the cameras were there within two minutes of getting on set. I just forgot where I was and it became about telling my story.
Q: What has transpired since the date of your pitch and now?
A: I am very much a person who plays the cards I’m dealt. So it was business as usual for us after the show. We hunkered down and worked on expanding our market and our product line. We doubled the number of stores we were in, expanded our reach outside of Quebec and Ontario to the rest of Canada and expanded our product line. We also launched a new website GKSkinnyPasta.com and renamed the company Gabriella’s Kitchen after my sister Gabriella who continues to be my inspiration.
Q: What was it like to see yourself on TV?
A: I was apprehensive at first but while I was watching it I was really focused on how great the product looked, how fabulous our packaging looked and how inspiring our athlete ambassadors looked. We are really lucky to have so many people who love our product come out and support us.
Q: What has this meant for your product(s)/ business and you as a business person?
A: Every experience prepares us for the next experience we are going to face in life. As Steve Jobs said: “we connect the dots backwards”. I learned a lot from my experience of being on Dragons’ Den. I learned a lot from my interaction with the Dragons. And I’m grateful for the privilege of being able to showcase my business and our fabulous SkinnyPasta and our gluten free line (Anti Pasto’s Kitchen) in front of over one million viewers. That is pretty awesome.