It took Mya Prehn mere minutes to win the hearts of the five investors on CBC’s Dragons’ Den.
The seven-year-old Grade 2 student from Stettler — an entrepreneur in her spare time —became the youngest guest in the show’s history with her appearance, taped in March and aired on Wednesday, Nov. 12.
Prehn appeared on the show during an all-student special to seek the Dragons’ investment in Lunch Apeel, a company she created with the help of her mother, Erin.
Lunch Apeel sells a kit designed to encourage healthy eating for kids. The set includes stickers that parents can use to mark the nutritional value of the items in their kids’ lunches, with three rankings: one, two or three apples.
There’s also a chart parents can use to track their kids’ dietary habits, with rewards — like a new book or a lunch date — given at different levels of achievement.
Mya and her father, Brian, are fans of Dragons’ Den and made the trip to Calgary together when auditions were held there.
They needed an idea to pitch, said her mother, Erin. Mya’s first pitch — a robot that applied makeup — was creative, but perhaps too complex.
“Obviously, none of us knew how to make that,” said Erin. So they went back to the drawing board.
Mya told the Dragons that the product was inspired by her own experience, as she would often eat the treats packed in her lunch and leave the healthier items untouched.
“I didn’t eat all my healthy stuff,” she explained to the Independent later. “My mom decided that we should make it a game.”
They pitched this idea in Calgary in February, not expecting any response, and were “incredibly surprised” to receive a phone call inviting them to Toronto for a taping of the show.
They flew out east in March, using the invitation as an excuse for a family trip. They also took in a Raptors basketball game and visited Ripley’s Aquarium.
Erin went with Mya to the taping at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in downtown Toronto. She presented her pitch to the Dragons, handing each one a hand-packed lunch and explaining how the program works.
Jim Treliving came forward with his lunch and picked out three items — strawberries, a wrap and crackers — which earned him six apples on his chart.
The Dragons were amused and amazed by Mya’s pitch, with David Chilton asking her, “Now where did you go to university?”
After she told them she was six years old — her age at the time of the taping — Michael Wekerle asked her to show some ID.
The investors were especially impressed when she told them she had already sold around 50 kits at $9 each. The company also has a Facebook page (now with more than 450 likes) and a website.
Her request was for $2,000 in exchange for a 50 per cent share in the company. When Arlene Dickinson asked her what she would do with the money, Mya’s response brought the house down.
“Buy lots and lots of chocolate bars,” she said, adding that she was just kidding and that she would use the money to make her website “funner.”
“I think this is a really smart idea,” said Dickinson, who is the spokesperson for Breakfast Clubs of Canada. “I’m a big believer in helping kids eat better.”
Dickinson was the first to offer support. Ultimately, the Dragons agreed to contribute $1,000 each, for a total of $5,000. They took no stake or royalties, but made the condition that once Mya’s company turns a profit, she must donate half of it to Dickinson’s charity.
Mya accepted the pitch, looking to her mother offstage for guidance. The Dragons invited Erin onstage briefly to share the good news with her.
Michael Wekerle declared Mya the “six-year-old entrepreneur of the year,” while Dickinson joked that she could be prime minister someday.
Mya had to keep the results a secret for eight months between the show’s taping and its airdate, and she said it was “very, very hard” to keep her good news to herself.
The Prehns had a viewing party at the Ramada Inn last week, and since the show aired, they’ve received close to 100 orders for the product.
Acknowledging that it’s hard for a child to grasp how much money $5,000 is, Erin said they’ve tried to explain it to Mya and that she understands she’s “pretty fortunate to get that.”
She said that she and Brian have taught Mya to “work hard and seize these opportunities,” and that this has been a learning experience for her.
Erin also said they’ve had correspondence with some of the Dragons, including an email from David Chilton and a card from Jim Treliving, who sent along a gift card for Boston Pizza to be used for a celebratory dinner.
She said all the Dragons were kind, adding, “They still wanted to take the time out of their incredibly busy days to keep in touch.”
Erin said she was also grateful for the town’s encouragement, and for those who showed their support by purchasing a kit or tuning in on Wednesday.
“Obviously, Stettler is a small town with a huge heart,” she said. “They have been absolutely fantastic.”