This is Money

Funky Lunch picks up 10,000 prize

By Helen Loveless
26 July 2010

With lending from the High Street banks still a struggle for many business owners to access, it is little wonder that firms are looking to alternative options.

Thousands of entrepreneurs entered the first Enterprise Business Challenge, a competition launched by Dragons' Den judge Peter Jones for entrepreneurs who need a helping hand with their business and some capital to develop it.

The prize was a 10,000 cash injection, plus ten hours of legal, accountancy, PR and HR services from leading firms.

Last week, a judging panel including Maggie Choo, director of online business-to-business marketplace Alibaba.com which sponsored the challenge; Ian Smart, managing partner at Grant Thornton; Helen Loveless, enterprise editor of Financial Mail; and Peter Jones, chose winner Mark Northeast, of Funky Lunch, from a shortlist of six businesses.

Funky Lunch was set up by web designer Mark, 36, from Littlehampton in West Sussex, to help parents encourage their children to try new foods by making them look as appealing as possible.

Mark began by making his son Oscar, 5, a sandwich shaped like a rocket in order to encourage him to eat it, then experimented with designs from a food 'caterpillar' to musical instruments and posted the pictures on Twitter and Facebook.

This led to a book deal and his book Funky Lunch came out in May.

Mark is now working on a schools initiative through which he hopes to hold Funky Lunch days in primary schools, at which children will design and make their own food sculptures, with the aim of encouraging them to eat healthily by making it fun.

As well as earning money from the scheme, Mark plans to expand the brand into a range of accessories, and even has plans for a food bar franchise farther in the future.

Mark says: 'The cash injection will really help me to market the business but more valuable will be the advice and support that I will receive, from experts in their fields.

'This is the first time I have pitched for investment and the process was nerve-wracking, but I would definitely do it again. It makes you think more clearly about your business.'

The judges, who marked the candidates on criteria including originality, profitability, quality of the presentation and the clarity of the business proposal, were impressed by the strength of Mark's brand.

They were also encouraged by the interest Mark says he has received from other countries.

Peter Jones said: 'A challenge like this is always difficult as there are so many people with aspirations to run their own business. Some are obviously more viable than others. The main purpose of the challenge is to encourage entrepreneurial spirit in people.

'When choosing whether or not to invest in a business I am looking for edge in a product or service - I think about whether people would buy or use the product or service and how big the market might be.'

He adds: 'When it came to Funky Lunch, Mark had a real passion for his business which is important. He also has a strong brand and with the right support and if he uses the money to invest wisely in developing new branded products the business could go far.'

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Mark Northeast & Peter Jones