Grad unsticks herself from corporate world

Would you cook more often if you didn’t need to spend as much time cleaning your cookware afterwards?

“The number one task consumers dislike the most about food preparation is the time spent cleaning up,” says Kalpana Daugherty. That’s what she told a panel of judges on Dragon’s Den earlier this year when she successfully pitched her UNSTICK collection of reusable, non-stick, heat-resistant sheets and liners for cooking, baking and grilling.

She invited judge Joe Mimran, founder of Joe Fresh, to join her onstage while she cooked on an electric grill using her products. The liners are heat-resistant up to 260 C and easy to clean, thanks to the non-stick coating. The products are also non-toxic and FDA-approved, and if cared for properly, the sheets and liners will last for up to 2,000 uses.

Daugherty received three offers from the dragons and asked Jim Treliving, owner of Boston Pizza, and Manjit Minhas, co-founder and co-owner of Minhas Breweries and Distillery, to split a $200,000 investment for a 25 per cent share of her company.

After graduating from U of G, Daugherty, BA ’97, spent 15 years working in corporate marketing at Kraft, Pepsi and Pizza Hut. Her priorities changed when she and her husband, chiropractor Alrick Daugherty, BA ’93, wanted to start a family and she suffered a miscarriage at work. “It was pretty devastating,” she says. “It just kind of changed my perspective on life. Life is too short.”

When she became pregnant again, Daugherty decided to quit her job. A week later, she found out she was having twin girls, who are now seven.

During a trip to China, she saw a food vendor barbecuing chicken skewers with a liner on a grill. “I stopped dead in my tracks because she was cooking them on this material. I stood there thinking how is this material not burning or catching on fire and nothing is sticking to it?” She asked the street vendor what the material was but the language barrier kept her from getting an answer.

When Daugherty returned to Canada, she scoured stores for the liners but was unable to find a similar product, so she decided to develop her own. Her biggest challenge was finding out what the liner was made of. A business contact in China pointed her in the right direction and she found a manufacturer there. She began testing her designs in her kitchen, but making 3D paper models proved to be a challenge, so she sent her pots and pans to the manufacturer to mould the liners into the right shape.

Her first product was a barbecue-grilling sheet, which goes directly on the grill. UNSTICK now includes a range of liners for bakeware, frying pans and casserole dishes, which available at grocery, housewares and hardware stores. After less than a year on the market, UNSTICK won a 2015 Product of the Year award. In September, Daugherty will participate in the celebrity-gifting suite for the 2016 Emmy Awards.

“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” she says. “My dream has always been to take my corporate learning and launch my own brand or product line one day.” – SUSAN BUBAK