Why Prince Andrew got down to business in Toronto

Prince Andrew made a low-key visit to Canada, where he spent time encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship, and royal diplomacy will be on display as U.S. President Donald Trump arrives in the U.K. next week for a long-anticipated and controversial state visit.

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Prince Andrew speaks during a Pitch@Palace event to support entrepreneurship, in Toronto on May 28. (Albert Leung/CBC)

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When Peter Whitby made his pitch to a well-connected business crowd in Toronto a few days ago, one goal was top of mind: Could he find someone to help get his startup, which produces an innovative air-filtration mask, to market in India, where air pollution is a serious problem?

Thanks to Prince Andrew, Whitby and the company he co-founded in Waterloo, Ont., may be on their way.

Not that the eighth in line to the throne personally hooked up O2 Canada with potential distributors half a world away. But the Duke of York's five-year-old Pitch@Palace program to support entrepreneurs may have set the stage.

Peter Whitby wants to find a distribution partner in India for the air filtration masks his company makes. (Albert Leung/CBC)

"I've never participated in anything like that, and I've just met a director from BMO bank who's connecting me to someone in India — so it's clearly working," Whitby said in an interview after O2 Canada and another company were named the first winners of Pitch@Palace in Canada.

Pitch@Palace is in many ways an example of how the House of Windsor is trying to find relevance in a modern world. For a while now, members of the Royal Family have been establishing initiatives that aim to ease problems or improve conditions beyond palace walls — youth unemployment, environmental threats, mental health and so on.

That Andrew would focus on business is perhaps not that surprising, particularly given his past interest in the topic (although his time as the U.K. trade envoy courted considerable controversy). Andrew's current project focuses on supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, and creating international networks that startups can tap for support and mentorship.

Ben Sanders, CEO of Proof, will make a pitch for his Yukon-based company at a Pitch@Palace event in London later this year. (Albert Leung/CBC)

"I think it's particularly incredible that the Royal Family is finding a new way to kind of reinvent themselves by supporting entrepreneurs, the latest technology," Ben Sanders, the other Pitch@Palace winner named Tuesday night, said in an interview.

Sanders's Yukon-based startup, Proof, aims to help governments cut red tape by digitizing the approvals process. "We've already got support financially," Sanders said. "What Pitch@Palace will help us with is making connections outside of Canada to governments around the world."

And that's what Andrew wants.

"You've seen this evening some of the really brilliant innovation and entrepreneurial activity that is going on in Canada," he told the crowd of 200 at the Art Gallery of Ontario. "Our job now is to take businesses, help them grow, and take some into the global market if that is what they would wish to do."

O2 Canada and Proof move on to the international Pitch@Palace competition at St. James's Palace in London in December.

Their wins came after they and 22 other startups made their pitches to the business crowd that had been chosen by the program's host organization in Canada, the Rideau Hall Foundation, and BMO, which contributed $500,000 to the program.

Members of the audience at the Pitch@Palace event in Toronto vote via their smartphones after hearing pitches from 24 Canadian startups and entrepreneurs. (Albert Leung/CBC)

"What excites us about Pitch@Palace is that it's a platform that provides early stage businesses with a great degree of support and, potentially, international exposure," Catherine Roche, head of marketing and strategy for BMO Financial Group, said via email.

Still, can this kind of initiative really make a difference?

There isn't a lot of research on this so far, said Shari Hughson, director of the master of management innovation and entrepreneurship program in the Smith School of Business at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. But studies have found that it almost doubles the chances of an entrepreneur's success more than three years down the road. Of particular significance is developing a network.

"It is the network that is the most critical for entrepreneurs, because in order to gain capital, it is a relationship that needs to get built up," she said.

Prince Andrew watched as results came in electronically during audience voting at the Pitch@Palace event in Toronto. (Albert Leung/CBC)

And what about the royal involvement? How significant is that?

"Huge," said Hughson. "Just the fact that it has a royal celebrity attached to it." We give celebrities more credibility because they're famous, she said, "and that is great for these entrepreneurs."

"It is a great thing for Prince Andrew to be doing, because everybody who can support building a stronger entrepreneur ecosystem will dramatically help us improve our own economies."

Royals in Canada

Prince Andrew and his wife, Sarah, the Duchess of York, play tourist in Niagara Falls, Ont., on July 18, 1987. The couple later divorced, and many of Andrew's visits to Canada since then have been lower-profile than those he made with Sarah shortly after their marriage. (Tim Clark/The Canadian Press)

Andrew's time in Toronto for Pitch@Palace was part of a six-day visit to Canada, one of 30 or more trips he's made to the country since his first time here in 1976.

Some of those trips had a considerably higher profile — like that first trip with his parents, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, brother Edward and sister Anne when she competed at the Montreal Olympics, or with his then-wife Sarah in 1987 and 1989. This one was much more low-key.

Andrew arrived on May 23 in Nova Scotia, where he attended a ceremony to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Princess Louise Fusilliers.

Many of Andrew's trips to Canada have included a return to the school where he spent time in 1977, and this one was no exception: He was back at Lakefield College School near Peterborough, Ont., on Saturday for its Regatta Day.

The visit also took him to the kinds of places royal visits often go — in Toronto, he spent time at the Hospital for Sick Children and Ryerson University.

At Ryerson, business was back on the agenda as he visited the school's DMZ business incubator, where he met representatives of about 10 companies and met privately with leaders.

"He asked some extremely well-thought-out questions," DMZ executive director Abdullah Snobar said.

"It was good exposure for the companies. Hopefully, if one major thing can come out of it, it's going to be able to inspire them to continue what they're doing and stay resilient, but also inspire other young folks and other people to embrace the world of entrepreneurship."

Andrew wasn't the first royal to stop by the school in the past five years. His older brother Charles was there in 2014, and younger brother Edward visited two years later. Snobar hopes other members of the family might follow suit.

"Maybe we can bring on Prince William and Prince Harry at some point, as well."

How secret should a royal birth be?

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex's son Archie was born at a London hospital, but that location did not become public until nearly two weeks after his birth. ( Dominic Lipinski/Reuters)

In the last newsletter, we asked readers what they thought about secrecy surrounding where a royal birth takes place. For nearly two weeks after the May 6 arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's first child, the location of the birth was not publicly known.

The public release of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor's birth certificate on May 17 revealed Prince Harry and Meghan's son was born at the private Portland Hospital in London.

Several readers were fine with not knowing where he had been born, saying that as long as the child was healthy, the location of the birth didn't matter.

Others took a different view.

"Rather silly to keep it a secret, especially after the birth," said Sandra Murphy of Bible Hill, N.S.  "What does it matter? This is a bit much."

Canada recognizes Archie's birth

Speaking of Archie, recognition here in Canada of his birth means children in need at five schools will have the chance to have healthy breakfasts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the federal government will donate $100,000 to the Breakfast Club of Canada to mark Archie's arrival. The donation means the program will reach an additional 500 students daily, and provide more than 100,000 breakfasts over a school year.

It's a recognition in keeping with the charitable interests Harry and Meghan have shown. Before Archie's birth, they encouraged members of the public who might have considered sending them baby gifts to make donations instead to charities supporting children and parents in need.

Royal diplomacy coming up

Queen Elizabeth and U.S. President Donald Trump inspect the Guard at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, on July 13, 2018. Trump will meet the Queen again during a state visit to the United Kingdom from June 3 to 5. (Matt Dunham/Reuters)

Queen Elizabeth is nothing if not diplomatic in how she conducts her affairs, and there'll be another opportunity for royal diplomacy to be on full display next week.

U.S. President Donald Trump makes a long-anticipated — and controversial — state visit to the United Kingdom from June 3 to 5.

Protests are planned in London, and it appears there is a desire to keep some of the festivities out of the public realm. The official welcome will take place in the private gardens behind Buckingham Palace, rather than a more public venue where such ceremonies are more often held.

Most senior members of the Royal Family are expected to meet Trump at some point during the visit.

But it's been widely reported that Harry's wife, Meghan, will not. Her absence will avert a potentially awkward moment if she and Trump were to come face to face. Before marrying Harry, she had been highly and publicly critical of Trump.

Royally quotable

Queen Elizabeth visits a pop-up Sainsbury's on the site of one of the original stores to mark the 150th anniversary of the supermarket chain on May 22 in London, England. (Jeremy Selwyn/Getty Images)

"And you can't trick it? You can't cheat, then?"

— Queen Elizabeth gets an up-close look at technology she doesn't encounter in her day-to-day life: a self-service scanner at the grocery store. The Queen was shown a new till and weighing scale during a visit to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Sainsbury's chain.

Royal reads

  • Prince Charles and Camilla were back in Ireland recently — the Republic and Northern Ireland — as the Royal Family continues its efforts to reaffirm their commitment to an area that has had a troubled and controversial history.

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Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.


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