HRH The Duke of York and the winners of the Huddersfield Pitch (l-r) Olga Kravchenko (Memento), Nat Martin (Spatialize) and Melanie Oldham (Bob's Business)

The University was chosen as a venue for the Pitch@Palace On Tour led by the University’s Chancellor, HRH The Duke of York

INNOVATIVE business ideas from cutting-edge areas such as cyber-security, artificial intelligence and virtual reality were paraded before His Royal Highness The Duke of York when the latest edition of his Pitch@Palace was staged at the University of Huddersfield.

There were 15 three-minute pitches from entrepreneurs, aiming to earn a place at the event’s 2018 finale, held at St James’s Palace, and at a “bootcamp” that provides invaluable mentoring and networking opportunities.

A colourful flourish was that as they spoke, the pitchers were flanked by two drummers from the Yorkshire Regiment, in red ceremonial uniforms.  If the three-minute mark was breached, the drums were sounded.  But most of the speakers got their message across in the allotted time.

There was a panel of judges, and the audience at the University’s Oastler Building also voted for their favoured pitches via a mobile phone app.  At the closing session, The Duke of York himself announced that the three top pitches were from Barnsley-based Bob’s Business, which provides cyber security training; Memento, which has developed a process for creating 4D virtual reality images by stitching together pictures from smartphones; and Spatialize, which has developed a ring – worn on the finger – that allows interaction with augmented reality technology.

The Duke of York launched Pitch@Palace in 2014, as part of his mission to harness entrepreneurship to boost the economy of the UK and the wider world.  Events have now been held in five continents and Pitch has toured the UK, with the University of Huddersfield – where the Duke is Chancellor – being the latest stopover.

In addition to the pitches from some of the UK’s most ambitious and promising entrepreneurs, there were also keynote speeches from leading figures in the business world and the master of ceremonies was Sir John O’Reilly, an engineer whose posts have included chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

He quizzed the participants after their pitches, ensuring that they had made what The Duke himself described as their “ask”.

In his introductory speech, His Royal Highness said: “I insist that each and every one of you pitching today has an ‘ask’.  You have to get used to the fact that you are always going to have to ask somebody for something.

“It is one of the things that I find our pitching entrepreneurs and companies find most difficult to come up with.”

It was not purely about securing investment, said The Duke, who explained that that Pitch@Palace is “all about finding really brilliant and innovative new businesses that are growing and scaling around the UK and around the world, giving them opportunities to find mentors and advisers.  We are offering an audience for you to makes pitches that will open up distribution networks and supply chains”.

Data, Intelligence, and The Future of Security

The theme of the latest Pitch@Palace is “Data, Intelligence, and The Future of Security” and the 15 pitches were grouped into categories that included 3D printing, the Internet of Things, cyber security and artificial intelligence.

The opening keynote speaker was mobile security specialist Professor Adam Beaumont, founder of the Leeds-based telecommunications company AQL and a board member of the large Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership.  He explained how he had ensured that Leeds was at the heart of internet traffic in the North of England, and he discussed key facets of cyber security.

The University of Huddersfield’s Director of Research and Enterprise, Professor Liz Towns-Andrews, spoke about the role of universities in the digital transformation of UK business, and said that the latest Pitch@Palace theme was aligned to the Government’s Industrial Strategy and its series of Grand Challenges.  She described how the University of Huddersfield had several research centres that specialised in the relevant fields and gave examples of breakthroughs in areas such as artificial intelligence.

There was also a keynote from Steven Roberts, who is Visiting Professor in Technology, Behaviours and Information Strategy at the University of Huddersfield and Strategic Transformation Director at Barclays Bank, where he has been a pioneer of major digital initiatives.  He sounded some warning notes about the possible impact of artificial intelligence on business.  Experts in the field needed better communication skills, he said, and he called for increased transparency.

The University of Huddersfield round of Pitch@Palace was introduced by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Tim Thornton.  He said that topics such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, 3D printing and cyber security were all areas of research strengths at Huddersfield and they demonstrated that Pitch@Palace was “an immensely relevant initiative, completely in touch with the priorities of the modern world”.

Speakers on the day (l-r) Adam Beaumont (Founder of AQL), Professor Liz Towns-Andrews (Director of Research & Enterprise of University of Huddersfield), Pitch@Palace Alumni, Paul Irwin (Director and Creator of TryLife) and Steven Roberts (Strategic Transformation Director of Barclays PLC)