Earthshot Prize Winner Reveals How Prince William Is 'Leading from the Heart' Through Awards

Earthshot Prize winners Vaitea Cowan and Sam Teicher tell PEOPLE how the Prince of Wales' encouragement has changed everything for their planet-saving projects

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Prince William is supporting Earthshot Prize contenders every step of their journey.

The Prince of Wales, 40, is committed to ensuring that winners and finalists of his game-changing environmental prize receive the resources they need long after their contest cycle wraps. While Prince William wasn't present at the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit Wednesday, as the royal family continues to mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth, Earthshot 2021 winner Vaitea Cowan tells PEOPLE she's excited to see him at the upcoming awards ceremony in Boston in December.

"He is such a force of nature and so real, you know? He is absolutely authentic," Cowan tells PEOPLE of her experience meeting the prince. "I can feel that his passion is as deep as ours and that he is innovating in his own way. I'm ecstatic and so thankful for everything that he's provided for us," adding that she also looks forward to seeing the future King "just to update him on all the progress that we've made."

Cowan co-founded Enapter, an energy technology company whose compact AEM electrolyzers transform renewable electricity into green hydrogen with exciting efficiency. She and her team won the inaugural "Fix Our Climate" Earthshot, with the $1 million prize accelerating their goal of building a mass production site, which will now open in Germany in 2023.

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Grateful to Earthshot for making the opportunity possible, Cowan says she most admires Prince William's dedication to making the world a better place through the program.

"He has his northern star of bringing light to these innovations and doing everything we can to repair the planet," the changemaker says. "He will not stop. He's able to use his influence and his network to support this mission of repairing our planet and restoring our environment. He's really leading from the heart and utilizing all those tools that he has available to make the biggest impact that he can, which is something that all finalists and winners have as a leading ambition — 'What is the biggest impact we can have?' — and that's exactly how he's thinking as well."

Sam Teicher, an 2021 Earthshot Prize winner in the "Revive Our Oceans" category, tells PEOPLE that life has changed considerably since he and his Coral Vita co-founder Gator Halpern won their award.

"It's reaffirmed our focus on why this matters so much. Having Prince William and the Earthshot Prize community come together and not just recognize our work, but that this threat of coral reef degradation is so crucial. It makes us proud that this is what we're focused on, but also gives us even more opportunities to scale our work, to innovate our impact and our model," he explains.

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Based in the Bahamas, Coral Vita is using their Earthshot Prize winnings to expand and enhance their land-based coral farms to help save dying reefs around the world, with a goal of having large-scale farms in every nation with reefs around the world.

In addition to bringing the reef-saving mission to the global stage, Teicher says it was perhaps "the most unique experience of my life" to host Prince William and Kate Middleton at the Coral Vita hub in Grand Bahama in March. The Prince and Princess of Wales visited the farm and even planted coral at the end of their Caribbean tour this year.

"It was amazing. It was really something that wasn't even on my bucket list," Teicher jokes of hosting the senior royals.

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Sharing a warm example of how much Prince William cares about Earthshot's top talent, Teicher recalled attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, last year.

There, the first in line to the throne invited "Clean Our Air" finalist Vinisha Umanshankar, who was then only 15 at the time, on stage with him during the World Leaders Summit to speak about her work.

"He brought her on stage right after President Biden, right before Bill Gates, and we were sort of in the room for that," Teicher says. "It was sort of him lending his voice, his platform, his network, on behalf of all of us."

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