Prince Andrew, Duke of York, is to completely step down from his role as head of the Pitch@Palace initiative he set up at Buckingham Palace to showcase entrepreneurs, and the operation will be relaunched as "Pitch," without any royal involvement, according to a well-placed source.
Despite indications on Thursday that the Duke had decided to stay on in the private sector after stepping aside from all public duties, TechCrunch understands there is to be “no further royal involvement.”
This week, Pitch@Palace’s major sponsors -- including Barclays Bank -- were reportedly furious that the Duke had declined to resign. Sponsors listed as Pitch@Palace supporters are British chip designer Arm and airline AirAsia. Other backers, including KPMG, Standard Chartered and Bosch, pulled out earlier this week. Mark Eavis, a director of Pitch@Palace who runs an advertising agency, quit his role on Tuesday.
The Duke, who founded Pitch@Palace, which matches investors and corporate partners with startup companies, was previously due to host a Pitch@Palace event at St James’s Palace next month. But a planned trip to Bahrain to promote the event was canceled on Thursday night amid the furor surrounding his disastrous BBC Newsnight interview, in which he defended his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier and sex offender, and showed little sympathy for Epstein’s victims.
Yesterday royal sources said Pitch@Palace would be moved to his “private portfolio.” But it's understood that previous sponsors have won the battle to force the Prince to resign from the initiative completely.
Pitch@Palace will now be rebranded as “Pitch” by the directors, who are headed up by Amanda Thirsk (pictured), formerly the Prince’s private secretary, a role now abolished after the Duke stepped down from public duties.
The Duke was the “significant” controller of Pitch@Palace Global Ltd., the private company set up to run the events. The scheme had provided startup firms with advice and contacts, but no funding. A controversial clause in the terms and conditions, recently revealed on Twitter, showed that it was entitled to a 2% equity share for three years for any company that went through the Pitch@Palace program, has, say sources, been removed from the conditions to apply.
One VC I spoke to about the terms said he was “aghast” that such a clause had been inserted in the application document.
A source told TechCrunch that the terms had “never been actioned” and would no longer continue with the new "Pitch" entity.
Pitch@Palace was a glitzy event, using all the prestige of its royal connections -- including soldiers from the Household regiment as part of the theatrical staging -- to showcase often over-looked startups and entrepreneurs. Although venture capitalists attended early versions of the event when it launched in 2014, in recent years its switch into more impact-led companies and charities had meant institutional investors tended to steer clear.
Speaking to the BBC, Will King, founder of King of Shaves, said it was "really sad" the Pitch@Palace initiative had "been affected by the personal issues around the Duke of York." King, a founding member of Pitch@Palace, had previously suggested Prince Andrew could be "rotated out of his captaincy of the ship" for the business initiative.
Speaking to TechCrunch, a well-placed source said: “The directors of Pitch are keen to find another way for it to survive after several years as an extremely successful initiative, which helped many under-served entrepreneurs.”
“In a week or so there will be a full statement about its future,” they added.
“The directors are looking for a new home for ‘Pitch’ out of the Palace, as an independent, going concern.”
They also said “new sponsors are coming on board and several old sponsors are sticking with it. It would be a massive shame if it collapsed.”
According to the Pitch@Palace web site, it claimed to have generated £1.345 million in economic activity, 6,323 jobs, 39% of its winners were female, created 1,042 alumni and saw 2,842 pitches.
Picture: Getty Images