Prince Andrew has a mission: To bring small businesses together with investors and mentors to create a network of burgeoning new companies.
“I’m just the accelerant,” the Queen‘s second son, 56, tells PEOPLE of his Pitch@Palace initiative, amid the bustle – and a little light-hearted hustle – at St. James’s Palace in London on Monday evening. “That’s my job – to be an accelerant to these businesses.”
His role is to keep people coming and pitching ideas to those he brings to the room. “It’s exactly what a member of the royal family should be doing for these businesses,” he says.
At his fifth Pitch@Palace, a young American and her business partner earned top honors for their device that administers medicines to infants during breastfeeding.
JustMilk‘s Rebekah Scheuerle, 24, from Austin, Texas, and Theresa Maier, 25, were voted the best of 14 medical and biotech ideas on show in the State Apartments.
• Want to keep up with the latest royals coverage? Click here to subscribe to the Royals Newsletter.
“The device is worn by a mother while she’s breastfeeding and releases that medicine into the milk,” Scheurle tells PEOPLE. “So you don’t need to have spoons and measure anything.
Maier, a fellow Ph.D. student at the department of chemical engineering at Cambridge University, adds, “This evening is great opportunity to tell people about our development from a nonprofit to the steps we are aiming to take in the future.”
JustMilk were one of 14 businesses chosen from 42 finalists to present their ideas. They, in turn had been whittled down from 250 in “bootcamps.”
Andrew launched Pitch@Palace a little more than two years ago and is seeing success among its alumni. Of the 205 ideas, none has folded. “Some of them have got financing in two years and $176 million has been invested. That’s not an unhealthy sum to be invested in these sorts of businesses,” says the royal. “We’ve not had any failures as far as I’m aware.”
And his idea is growing, with 8,000 emails received at his office since January 1. “We are working in the KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid!” he says. “It’s what people say is the way that it’s working best and most effectively, and it’s showcasing the best that we’ve got.”
The booming initiative “is hugely impressive,” says Scheuerle. Prince Andrew “has put together an amazing opportunity to amplify the causes of so many different people. He really does want to be able to connect you with the people that would help you to take your idea forward.”