From SFU to Dragons' Den

An SFU alumna has just made one of the biggest pitches of her life – but for now, the outcome is a secret.

Canadian entrepreneur Margot Micallef recently went to Toronto to appear on an episode of CBC’s Dragons’ Den, pitching Gabriella’s Kitchen, the health food company she started with her sister. While she wasn’t allowed to say if the Dragons invested prior to the airdate, Micallef shared her experience in the leadup to the episode’s broadcast.

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“We pitched the whole company, and it was a lot fun,” she told the NOW. “We learned a lot and really piqued the interest of the Dragons in unique foods.”

Before entering the business world, Micallef earned her undergraduate degree in psychology at SFU, then ventured into law school at UBC. After a decade in law, Micallef branched out into business – and proved to be quite successful at it.

“Somebody asked me once before about when I learned I was an entrepreneur,” she said. “I think entrepreneurs are born, not made, so in the back of my mind, there was always this desire to be in business.

“I’ve also always wanted to help people – that has been my real guiding light in the world.”

In 2003, Micallef started Hollywood Foods, a healthy pasta manufacturer, after she was unable to find a suitable alternative that fit with her diet.

“I started missing it because I’m Italian … and I couldn’t find anything,” she said. “Around the same time as all of that happened, my sister (Gabriella) got diagnosed with lung cancer. She and I founded this business together – she was also very health conscious.

“She was a marathoner and really in the best health of her life, or so we thought.”

As a result of her diagnosis, Gabriella started cutting certain foods out of her diet, which highlighted the social experience of eating with friends and family, and how people can feel left out when they can’t eat the same foods.

“We don’t think about it when everyone sits down at the table and eats the same thing, but when one person has to eat differently than everybody else, it really becomes an isolating experience,” said Micallef. “You really do suffer disconnection from the rest of the people who are enjoying something at the table.”

Recognizing a need for healthy and socially inviting foods, Micallef hired a chef to develop SkinnyPasta, a healthy alternative to traditional pasta that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates and calories. She also created a second line of gluten-free pasta called Antipasto’s Kitchen.

“We came to realize a need for food that met all of those goals, that fulfilled a person’s desire to eat well and to eat healthy, that alleviated symptoms of chronic illness that might curb various things you might be able to eat, and that was so delicious that everyone wanted to eat it regardless of whether or not they were particular of what they ate,” she said.

Micallef renamed the company Gabriella’s Kitchen after her sister, who proved to be an inspiration in her fight with cancer.

“She was given months to live, but because, frankly, of the way she lived – socially, spiritually and physically – she lived five fabulous years longer than anyone thought she was going to.”

While Micallef is a seasoned veteran in the business world, she said pitching to the Dragons was somewhat intimidating.

“Walking down those stairs, it’s pitch quiet – my heart was thumping,” she recalled “I do a lot of public speaking, so I’m pretty confident presenting, but I was really nervous going in front of the Dragons.”

However, that nervousness vanished as she got into the presentation, spending almost an hour in the den.

“When you’re passionate about something and you’re engaged with someone about things that you’re passionate about, it’s not work at all,” she said. “It was easy to forget that I was talking to five really impressive entrepreneurs in Canada who can be really intimidating.

“It was a lot of fun and I would do it again in a heartbeat.”


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