Prince Andrew scandal hits the startup community
4 min read
19 November 2019
Following the Epstein scandal, major sponsors have pulled out of Prince Andrew's startup competition, Pitch at the Palace. Have budding businesses lost a vital resource?
It’s safe to say that November 2019 will not go down as one of Prince Andrew’s best moments in life.
From scrutiny over his friendship with convicted sex-offender, the late Jeffrey Epstein, to denials over his involvement with the young women Epstein associated with, (televised in a BBC interview with disastrous results), to accusations of racist behaviour, the prince hasn’t been the ideal bannerman for the royal family.
What’s less talked about is the impact his fall from ‘grace’ is having on the UK’s startup community.
A blow to future businesses
Prior to the full unveiling of the Epstein case, Prince Andrew’s ‘day job’ was acting as an ambassador for British business, and for young startups in particular.
The Pitch at the Palace, (Pitch@Palace), was one of his crowning achievements. The startup funding competition has been running for five years, where accounting firm KPMG was one of its major sponsors from the start.
The event, that takes place in Buckingham Palace and is hosted by the prince, gives selected startups the chance to pitch their ideas to a room of high profile business leaders (ex-McLaren CEO, Ron Dennis has attended in the past), and a whole host of mentors and potential investors.
Major sponsors pull out
Following Epstein’s death this summer and the subsequent ‘negative publicity’ surrounding his ‘close friend’ Prince Andrew, KPMG has pulled out from sponsoring the event, and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is also reviewing its sponsorship position at this time.
With such giant names pulling out of Pitch@Palace, the competition could be on shaky financial and reputational ground, which begs the question, where will potentially innovative startups go to seek funding?
Pitch@Palace is no small competition, in fact, over the five years since it started, it’s attracted over 80,000 startup applications, raised £1bn of investment for young UK businesses, and has created as many as 6,000 jobs.
The social impact startups from last year's competitionCalling all startups: Prince Andrew wants to help your business grow Read more
What’s more, taking part in the event was a good indicator of a high chance of survival for attendant startups.
A vital resource for startups lost?
Call it the effect of having a number of high profile investors and business influencers all in one room, but whatever the cause, businesses who took part in the competition boasted a 97% survival rate, according to sources from ITV news.
A number of startups that have taken to its stage in the past have been social impact businesses.
One example from last year was Lilypads, a provider of sustainable women’s sanitary products where profits go towards providing sanitary care to women in underdeveloped countries.
A previous winner who also attended the competition in 2018 was Jono West, founder of Mobile Power, a business that offers transportable battery power technology to communities in Sub-saharan Africa.
The stain(s) of poor reputation
The scandal surrounding the prince and its impact on Pitch@Palace could well put interested startups off applying in the future due to fears of negative association.
This makes the discreditation of Prince Andrew, and thus the event as a whole, a mighty blow for the startup community, and for budding social impact businesses in particular.
For startups, seeking funding has always been a minefield, with traditional lenders less likely to fund what they might see as a ‘risky’ enterprise, hence why startup competitions are such a vital component to getting innovative business ideas heard and funded.
Let’s hope this impactful competition is rescued before it’s too late.