Entrepreneurs back Prince Andrew's business scheme
Entrepreneurs have come out in support of Prince Andrew's business scheme for start-up firms as fears grow it may not continue amid the current controversy.
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."
The scheme provides start-up firms with advice and contacts, but no funding.
A source close to Prince Andrew said he would continue to be involved.
This is despite his stepping back from public duties for the foreseeable future.
There has been ongoing controversy over the prince's ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Mr King, a founding member of Pitch@Palace suggested Prince Andrew could be "rotated out of his captaincy of the ship" for the business initiative.
He said there were plenty of royals who could take his place, including William and Kate, as well as Harry and Meghan.
"If you're going to continue the Pitch@Palace in the royal environment, where you have an infrastructure that is paid for - I think, in part - by the taxpayer it would be an extraordinary shame that the palace don't see the opportunity in continuing this initiative."
He said the scheme had created £1bn of economic activity and noted that 97% of the companies who used it were still going.
But asked if it can continue with Prince Andrew at the helm, he said: "I don't know, I don't know."
Mr King said he had been invited in 2013 to a breakfast chaired by the prince's personal secretary Amanda Thirsk "with the idea of trying to develop a UK entrepreneurial eco-system".
It was this idea which became Pitch@Palace, he said.
Nick Mason, co-founder of digital identity tool Zaka, said Pitch@Palace was "a fantastic programme for young entrepreneurs that offers valuable opportunities to learn from and connect with leaders of industry."
"The Duke of York and his team were a constant source of encouragement throughout the impeccably-run programme and are clearly passionate about empowering the wonderful ventures that participate," Mr Mason said.
Alex Redston, co-founder of of Prison Voicemail, was one of the first people involved in the event.
He said the event had put him in contact with "one gentleman worth billions... who had incredible connections in telecoms and was interested in social impact".
"An amazing contact to make," Mr Redston said. "And other people who have helped us. Because we were so early stage we didn't quite understand the absolute rocket fuel that was there at the time."
James Talbot, chief executive of audio products firm Damson, said Prince Andrew retiring from public duties "would represent an absolute disaster for the start-up community".
"The Duke of York has provided an excellent platform for businesses, like Damson, to benefit from the network of connections and associates [to which] his status gives him access," Mr Talbot said.
Rajeeb Dey, the chief executive of training software firm Learnerbly, said: "Pitch@Palace has provided hundreds of entrepreneurs with unparalleled access to leading investors and influencers in the world of business."
Business giants KPMG and Standard Chartered revealed they had severed ties with the Duke of York's mentoring initiative this week.
These revelations came after a BBC Newsnight interview with Prince Andrew which critics described as a "car crash".
Sources have told the BBC the KPMG and Standard Chartered decisions were taken before the BBC interview. Several businesses and universities are reviewing their association with Prince Andrew following the interview.
Despite the prince's stepping back from royal duties, he will still continue to be involved in the entrepreneur event, a source close to Prince Andrew told the BBC.
The source said Prince Andrew was integral to Pitch@Palace.
"If you talk to any of the entrepreneurs you'll hear this," the source said, adding: "I see it [Pitch@Palace] continuing, absolutely."
The source said none of Pitch@Palace's partners had mentioned the prince standing down, seemingly contradicting a report in the Financial Times.
Pitch@Palace was aware six months ago that Standard Chartered and KPMG would not be extending their sponsorship, but other sponsors were "steady as they go", the source said.
"People believe in the programme. It's huge and important to the economy so as long as we are finding and developing great entrepreneurs - that's why the partners are involved. They know that's important to their business," the source added.