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Prince Andrew's own pitch for the Commonwealth post-Brexit

Entrepreneurs from more than 40 Commonwealth countries pitched their ideas. Credit: ITV

The UK decision to leave the European Union has been much discussed and endlessly debated since the vote in 2016, and never would you expect a member of the Royal Family to tread into such a politically sensitive space.

But in many ways, the Commonwealth summit, hosted by the Queen this week in London, is a reminder - to Brexiteers and Remainers alike - that there is a bloc of countries, with a common language and legal system which could become an important catalyst for both trade and growth after Brexit.

As I was sitting in the audience of a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style event last night watching the Duke of York host entrepreneurs and business leaders from across Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, it struck me that the Commonwealth does present post-Brexit Britain with some distinct advantages.

With 2.4 billion people the opportunities are obvious.

The bigger question, perhaps, is whether those opportunities can offset the inevitable uncertainty for businesses as we untie ourselves from the EU.

The event, called ‘Pitch @ Palace’, has been running since 2014 by the Duke of York. Credit: ITV

But in St James Palace, against a blue stage with a podium and a couple of Guardsmen with bearskin caps (more on them later) I watched entrepreneurs from more than 40 Commonwealth countries pitch their ideas to a room of financiers and government ministers from a similarly diverse range of member states.

The event, called ‘Pitch @ Palace’, has been running since 2014 and was the brainchild of the Duke of York.

Prince Andrew, once a trade envoy for the UK, now spends a lot of his time supporting start-up businesses and helping young entrepreneurs.

The ‘Pitch @ Palace’ idea is a simple one: come to a palace (or another big space), pitch your plan, ask for help/money/advice, and those in the room promise to make one follow up action with one or more of the entrepreneurs.

It has been very successful in the UK and the idea has been exported to the UAE, China, Mexico and Singapore.

Unsurprisingly, this week’s Pitch event was the Commonwealth edition.

And Prince Andrew’s family know how much this project means to him.

Last night, his former wife, the Duchess of York, was there chatting to some of the bright minds behind the businesses.

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His daughters Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie were also in a supporting role.

Even the Prince’s soon-to-be son-in-law, Jack Brooksbank, was in the room as the pitches came and went from the stage.

Where Pedro Da Fonseca from Namibia was pitching his LED street lights which are built to withstand the heat of a Namibian climate.

Redza Shahid needs to meet investors for his social supermarket in Malaysia which allows customers to purchase surplus food.

Admore Chiumia told us how 80 per cent of Malawi is not electrified so schoolchildren can’t study when the sun goes down. He’s looking for advice on how he can grow his solar lights company.

On and off they came. A 3 minute pitch for the finalists, a 30 second pitch for the rest.

You know your time is up when the two Guardsmen standing next to the podium in their red tunics blow their trumpets – informing you in a polite - but uncompromising - way to shut up.

The entrepreneurs have forgotten they’re in one of the Queen’s palaces. For them, this moment on stage is one which could make or break their fledging business.

If you’re wondering whether it works, go ask the people at YoYo Wallet, who came to Pitch @ Palace a few years ago with their idea for an app and went away with a deal with the boss of Caffè Nero (if you use that app for your coffee,you’ve kind of got the Duke of York to thank for it).

The Prince himself spoke at the start and finish of the event and spent the intervening moments time supporting the contestants, taking pictures on his phone, and adjusting the windows when the room got too hot.

It’s clear he wants this event to succeed.

The organisers of Pitch say the networks created at this event will lead to greater connectivity – and trade – between the 53 countries of the Commonwealth.

And it’s why the summit this week in London is more than just about the rows over Windrush migrants, or the issue of who takes over as Commonwealth Head after the Queen.

It’s also about connecting people with an organisation of countries that began in 1949, long before the UK thought about joining - and then leaving - the European Union.