Prince Andrew hails the power of women in industry as his Pitch@Palace project to encourage entrepreneurs celebrates its fifth anniversary
- SafeToNet, designed by mother-of-four Sharon Pursey, 51, stops teens ‘sexting’
- BioSURE, invented by Brigette Bard, 47, is first approved HIV self-testing kit
- GoodBox, created by Francesca Hodgson, 34, is a contactless device that makes giving to charity easier
A female entrepreneur who has developed software that parents can install on their children’s mobile phones to stop them ‘sexting’ has been praised by the Duke of York.
SafeToNet, designed by mother-of-four Sharon Pursey, 51, uses artificial intelligence to address growing concerns over ‘toxic’ material online.
It is the first company in the world to block harmful messages and content on social networks without breaching children’s need for privacy.
It does this by ‘learning’ the child’s normal pattern of use so it can alert parents if their online behaviour changes.
SafeToNet, designed by mother-of-four Sharon Pursey, 51, (pictured) uses artificial intelligence to address growing concerns over ‘toxic’ material online
Prince Andrew highlighted Britain’s army of female entrepreneurs, telling the Mail: ‘Remember that a really successful idea is one that solves a problem. And when it comes to solving problems, women tend to have the upper hand’
It is among dozens of success stories to emerge from Prince Andrew’s Pitch@Palace initiative, which gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to meet industry leaders who can help make their business dreams a reality.
The project, which celebrates five years at St James’s Palace tonight, sees start-ups invited to pitch to an audience made up of some of the most influential businesses – Google, PwC and Barclays have all been involved – who can help not just with investment, but also connections and mentoring.
What had been intended as a one-off has grown into a major global initiative with 128 events, some as far afield as China.
It has helped 931 business, created 5,982 jobs and generated £1.1billion of economic activity. Last year 23 per cent of alumni were female-led businesses and 39 per cent of winners were women.
Prince Andrew highlighted Britain’s army of female entrepreneurs, telling the Mail: ‘Remember that a really successful idea is one that solves a problem. And when it comes to solving problems, women tend to have the upper hand.’
He said the number of female-led business winning Pitch@ Palace is ‘very good news and a clear indication that female-led businesses are doing well’.
HIV innovator saving lives with self-testing blood kit
Mother-of-three Brigette Bard has developed the world’s first approved HIV self-test
For Brigette Bard, saving people’s lives and helping to end the global HIV epidemic are as important as business success.
The mother of three’s diagnostics company, BioSURE, has developed the world’s first approved HIV self-test, using a fraction of a drop of blood, making it as easy to use as a pregnancy test kit.
It is now stocked in chemists such as Superdrug and Boots and is on sale globally.
Mrs Bard, 47, used to run a firm helping export fish and other food products, before turning her attentions to the sexual health field. She won Pitch@Palace last year.
‘I heard about it through one of our investors and we are always keen to raise our profile as people can still run shy of HIV. Pitch has huge global impact,’ she said.
The firm had previously had issues with Google, which was blocking its ads in the UK because of the nature of the product.
‘After the pitch, while I was still at Buckingham Palace, someone very high up at Google came to ask what the problem was and how they could help,’ she said.
‘We linked up with several other major investors and companies wanting to help spread the world.
The Duke really got his sleeves rolled up. It’s not just a PR exercise.’
Mrs Bard is now mentoring other women. ‘
We are virtually a female-led team here and I go out of my way to employ women who have got kids,’ she said.
‘I believe mothers bring a wealth of experience with them.’
Princess Beatrice, who is expected to be there tonight, has followed him into the entrepreneurial arena, forming her own start-ups consultancy. Andrew also paid tribute to the Queen.
‘Being led by an inspirational woman, I have seen the positive effect of women in a team from an early age and have always made choices on the best person for a role regardless of their gender,’ he said. ‘I am probably a great deal more understanding of the issues facing women in the entrepreneurial world than some, but I am quite certain that, as I’ve said before, women are just as, if not more, capable than men in many areas of business and they shouldn’t feel inferior to their male counterparts in any way.’
Mrs Pursey, who has four children aged 16 to 29, worked in the tech industry before having a family.
‘My children were telling me how popular social media sites, such as Snapchat, were being used for sexting because children believed the images were not permanent,’ she said.
‘As a parent and as someone with a keen interest in the industry, this was deeply troubling.
Pioneering device makes it easier to give to charity
Francesca Hodgson co-founded GoodBox, a firm pioneering contactless terminals that make it easier for people to donate to charity.
Mrs Hodgson, 34, from Bristol, was inspired after many years working with charities and seeing how some were struggling to keep up with an increasingly cashless society, which makes traditional collection box-shaking far less profitable.
The mother of two has made some of her best business contacts taking her sons aged two and five to ‘playdates’ – indeed, it’s how she met her business partner.
Francesca Hodgson, 34, co-founded GoodBox, a firm pioneering contactless terminals that make it easier for people to donate to charity
‘Childcare is expensive and the hours can be difficult,’ she said. ‘But you don’t have to do a nine to five and there is time to have a family, be there for them and run a business.’
GoodBox, founded in 2016, offers a range of contactless machines from large freestanding ones to small, hand-held devices.
The Natural History Museum saw its donations rise by 22 per cent in the first year of using a machine. Other partners include Great Ormond Street Hospital, Help For Heroes and Save The Children.
Last year the firm got through to the finals of Pitch@Palace.
‘It was the most wonderful but nerve-racking experience,’ Mrs Hodgson said.
‘The whole programme was really supportive and we are still in touch with investors we met at the event. Even a year on we are still benefiting. It’s about the power of support and connections.’
‘We decided we wanted to create an environment to allow children to use their phones safely and realised the way to do this would be to put something on to the operating system that would work as a safety net to filter harmful content.’
The app does this by replacing the existing keyboard on a smartphone with one that removes ‘high risk’ words, relating to everything from sex to cyberbullying and online aggression, and issues a pop-up warning when something inappropriate is typed or an inappropriate website is accessed.
Parents download the app to their phone, link it to their child’s and receive notifications when online behaviour changes and risk levels increase.
The AI can weed out any potentially offensive photographs that are taken or sent.
The user can then opt to get their parent to reinstate the picture if it is an innocuous snap.
The firm was invited to join Pitch@Palace in 2017 and Mrs Pursey says the duke’s ‘little black book’ has opened countless business opportunities.
This included setting up a meeting in Singapore with one of Asia’s biggest mobile technology suppliers, with 600million customers.