Entrepreneurs have come out in support of Prince Andrew’s business scheme for start-up firms amid fears it may not continue amid the current controversy.
Will King, founder of grooming firm 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.
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.”
King of Shaves founder 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.
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 steeping back from royal duties, he will still continue to be involved in the entrepreneur event, a palace source told the BBC.
The source said that 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.