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Pitching Your Product to a Prince

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Yui Mok/Pool via AP

Say you’re an entrepreneur, and you’ve invented what you’re sure is a great product. Where would you go to get investors on board?

Chances are, you didn’t say “Buckingham Palace.” And you almost certainly didn’t think of Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. But you know what? You should have.

The younger brother of Prince Charles hasn’t been in the entrepreneur game for very long — only since 2014, in fact. But in that short time, his group Pitch@Palace has made a big difference in the lives of quite a few business owners.

The prince’s initiative operates in more than 60 countries and has helped some 865 entrepreneurs. Its efforts to “amplify and accelerate” their work has helped create almost 3,700 jobs and generated more than $1 billion in economic activity.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Prince Andrew at a dinner I attended in Seoul, Korea. It was fascinating to learn more about his initiative and some of the businesses that Pitch@Palace has helped.

Although I mentioned Buckingham Palace above, that doesn’t mean hopeful entrepreneurs must travel to London to compete for investors at a Pitch@Palace event. The prince was in Toronto last month, and two dozen Canadian entrepreneurs lined up to pitch their business ideas to him there. Tens of thousands of entrepreneurs from all around the world — Asia, Africa, North America and elsewhere — have applied at dozens of events.

And although the events are in the form of a competition, many of the “losers” gain valuable exposure that enables them to attract investors as well.

Interestingly enough, many of the businesses that have competed at Pitch@Palace events are in the health-tech field. It’s fair to say that Prince Andrew’s work has the potential not only to save money but to save lives.

Take Helpwear, which makes a special wristwatch that detects when a user is suffering a heart attack and automatically contacts emergency medical services.

Or consider Cambridge Medical Technologies. It makes an electronic bandage that measures biomarkers in the fluid beneath the skin. In only seconds, doctors can monitor for such conditions as sepsis, diabetes, and alcohol abuse. The bandage can be worn all day, so patients can be monitored at home instead of the hospital.

Or take Mursla, a Cambridge-based biopsy company that specializes in cancer detection and prevention. Their product: a device that can uncover tumors through a simple blood sample.

According to Pierre Arsène, Mursla’s co-founder and CEO, tumors shed small parts of themselves into the bloodstream. His device uses nano-sensors to detect those parts when analyzing the sample. This is not only simpler and less painful (no need for a more invasive medical procedure) but improves survival rates.

“If you detect [the cancer] earlier, you can completely change the ability to cure it,” Arsène said.

Of course, Pitch@Palace gives a platform to a wide range of companies, including those working in data management, cybersecurity, robotics, and educational tools. Simply bringing them together with prospective investors helps forge important connections.

“We have met people tonight whose work has been so instrumental in the development of our business ideas, but who we have never actually been able to access to have a one-on-one conversation with,” said Irra Ariella Khi, CEO of VChain Technology, a 2018 Pitch@Palace winner.

Prince Andrew said something else at that dinner in Seoul — something that really stuck with me. He said, essentially, that we’re all born with an equal amount of potential intelligence and ability. The only real question is what we do with it.

Are we doing our best to make a positive difference? In the case of Prince Andrew, I’d say the answer is an emphatic yes.

Few of us have the resources of a member of royalty. But we can all take our God-given abilities and do something to make the world a better place. Let’s hope we try and follow the prince’s example.

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