Blippar co-founder pitches for top job at Duke's venture

22 May 2020, 10:40 | Updated: 22 May 2020, 14:37

One of the co-founders of Blippar, the augmented reality start-up, is vying to replace the Duke of York's former private secretary at the helm of the venture he set up to help fast-growing companies.

Sky News understands that Jess Butcher is among the final candidates to become chief executive of the company, which has operated since its launch in 2014 as Pitch@Palace.

A decision about a successor to Amanda Thirsk is expected in the coming weeks, with several people, including Ms Butcher, in contention.

Ms Butcher is a well-known figure in London's technology scene, having helped to launch Blippar, a prominent British start-up that eventually went through a brief period in administration.

She has since founded a social video platform called Tick.

The process of recruiting her successor is being led by Johan Eliasch, the wealthy businessman who chairs Pitch.

Ms Thirsk's departure in April came three months after she reached a financial settlement to leave Buckingham Palace.

The Pitch@Palace project has faced an uncertain future since Prince Andrew's BBC interview last autumn about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier and convicted paedophile, who was found dead in his American prison cell last August.

The Duke has stepped back from involvement with Pitch, which has relocated from Buckingham Palace to a WeWork building in nearby Victoria.

Ms Thirsk had signalled that the venture would be relaunched under the name Pitch Connect, although that decision is understood to remain under review.

Pitch, which connects start-up companies to mentors and investors around the world, says it has helped nearly 1,000 start-ups since being set up in 2014.

It also claims to have created almost 6,000 jobs since its inception and generated more than £1.1bn of new economic activity.

A number of Pitch's corporate partners, including Barclays, KPMG and Standard Chartered, ended their relationships with the project as the furore over the Duke's interview grew.

Most of the directors of Pitch subsequently resigned, leaving only Ms Thirsk and Mr Eliasch on its board.

A slate of new directors is also likely to be recruited in the months ahead.

Events have been planned for this year in China, the Middle East and other parts of the world, although its schedule may have to be abandoned because of the coronavirus outbreak.

It is unclear where future events in London will be staged, with the most recent one having been held at a luxury London hotel.

A former banker, Ms Thirsk worked at Buckingham Palace for Prince Andrew from 2004 until this year, when she reached a settlement to terminate her role as his private secretary.

Ms Thirsk had played a key role in shaping his work after he was forced to step down as the UK trade envoy in 2011.

His decision to give up the title of special representative for trade and investment followed earlier controversies involving Epstein.

While Ms Thirsk was partly blamed for the duke's decision to conduct his November interview with the BBC, allies of the now-former royal aide praised her efforts to carve out a role for him that also benefited the UK economy.

Ms Butcher and Mr Eliasch both declined to comment.