The double-edged sword of high-profile support - Jim Duffy

Pitch@Palace is the flagship enterprise that Prince Andrew started, grew and scaled, notes Duffy. Picture: contributed.
Pitch@Palace is the flagship enterprise that Prince Andrew started, grew and scaled, notes Duffy. Picture: contributed.
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For those who were in the know, The Pitch at the Palace as it is known (Pitch@Palace), is the flagship enterprise that Prince Andrew started, grew and scaled.

This royal project was widely revered within UK entrepreneurship circles as he was firmly behind it. What this in effect meant was that he used all his networks, connections and, of course, royal credentials to bring together a vast array of high-net-worth individuals who would super-charge the enterprise.

The prince used all his networks, connections and royal credentials, Duffy also states. Picture: contributed.

The prince used all his networks, connections and royal credentials, Duffy also states. Picture: contributed.

But alas, in the wake of widespread media coverage, many who were spearheading the project are now running for cover.

Many big brands love to be loved. Therefore, being afforded the opportunity to get involved in projects and ideas that bring love is usually a win-win for all ­concerned. Sponsors, funders and backers power these projects with the resources and cash that they can bring to the table. In many cases, it is all just a bit of window-dressing and feel-good factor with some posh guests and canapés.

A newspaper headline that all involved can feed on for a day or so, run up the flagpole and offer a bright salute to. In the case of Pitch at the Palace, those companies involved did a good job. None more so than KPMG, who now it seems are ending their partnership with the prince on this one.

The Pitch at the Palace website shows the prince with well-known business people and entrepreneurs such as the BBC ­Dragon Peter Jones. Statistics on how many entrepreneurs have been supported, how many jobs created and so on are flashed up on the screen. The accelerator process from bootcamps to final pitch-offs is all documented with lively photos that show the “wow factor” that this project can generate.

Boys' club

For many though, it has been seen as a rich boys’ club, the elite, having some fun with start-ups. But, for others, it is deemed a vital cog in the UK’s start-up ecosystem that if lost will indeed be a loss. Boris Johnson likes to remind us of how important enterprise and entrepreneurship is to the country.

For him, that spirit of entrepreneurship helps drives business, the economy and create jobs. Just what every politician needs, right? But it is more than this. Every economy needs its well-performing, ever-green cadre of entrepreneurs to be part of the overall make-up of business. It is crucial in growing economies.

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Like them or loathe them, they are integral to the business landscape. This is why projects like Pitch at the Palace play a vital role in fostering UK entrepreneurial talent.

So, in the week that sees Prince Andrew in the spotlight, my question is what succession planning has taken place to keep this enterprise alive, despite the aftermath of his BBC TV interview? As this flagship project was so close to Prince Andrew and one in which he was heavily personally involved, will it now die a slow death, as sponsors and supporters drop their support? The answer is almost certainly a yes – it is doomed. Here is why.

Association

More key supporters like KPMG who have been busy in the entrepreneurship space are likely to sever ties with the event. For them, what was once a most positive association, and one that supported new business with great media flair, has lost its sheen.

All the high-net-worths will also keep a lower profile. Being associated with the prince now and in the near to medium future will be viewed by their PR advisors as unwise. So, rather than be front and centre on the website in glossy pictures, they will be unavailable to attend the pitch events.

There goes the ­funding. Finally, the entrepreneurs themselves. Although desperate for investment, they will have to make a moral decision on what potentially comes attached with being associated with the organisation.

A lot of soul-searching will take place regarding association, but being associated with Prince Andrew is now not seeming like such an “honourable” option.

Jim Duffy MBE, Create Special.