#mwc12 – Telefónica to launch ‘Wayra’ start-up incubators across Europe

29 Feb 2012

MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS – A start-up trend that began in Latin America is working its way to Europe. Telecoms giant Telefónica plans to launch new ‘Wayra’ start-up incubators across Europe in the year ahead, including hubs in Dublin, London and Prague, in addition to existing start-up hubs in Madrid and Barcelona.

Designed with the intention of capturing early stage digital projects that could have the side effect of providing Telefónica with new talent and products to transform itself, the Wayra incubator movement began in Latin American countries like Brazil and Peru, and so far more than 6,000 projects have been received so far from start-ups.

The model, which involves creating new start-up zones, including workspace at O2 head offices, will see Telefónica take a 10pc stake in each start-up and provide it with financing of around €50,000. Each phase will see a number of start-ups given these facilities for six months.

The company is opening new incubator hubs in Dublin, London and Prague this year.

Investors and technology partners include Nokia, Tech City UK, SeedRocket and Inveready, to name a few.

Wayra’s Gonzalo Martin-Villa today addressed media and academics and said the model involves working closely with universities.

The range of start-up activity includes cloud, e-health, social media, e-commerce, social innovation, machine-to-machine, financial services and security.

A Silicon Valley in every country

Martin-Villa said the vision is to create a Silicon Valley in every country. “Projects need to have a Silicon Valley in local places, it’s important that countries can keep the talent they have and increase local opportunities.

“For Telefónica, we need to realise that not all innovation comes from inside the company and to be innovative we need to capture and understand business models and new technologies and languages and how they relate to each other.

“This is important because these are the products and services that Telefónica will be selling to clients in a couple of years.

“It is also about social responsibility, new companies lead to employment and generate growth,” Martin-Villa explained.

He pointed out that EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes has taken a special interest in the Wayra incubators and is keen to see the model arrive in Europe.

O2’s director of small and medium businesses Simon Devonshire said the key ingredient in Wayra’s arrival in Europe is passion. “It’s about creating Silicon Valleys all over the world. We believe that the Wayra academies are empowering for start-ups. We are looking forward to sharing it across our European footprint and we’ll be bring it to our UK, Ireland and Czech geographies.

“In the UK, we talk about how small businesses will ultimately save the economy. I run Telefónica’s small business division and I’m a stakeholder in six small businesses. I’m confident that I could take a building in Basingstoke and fill it with businesses – but that’s not the gig. We want to find the next Google, the next Facebook, we’re convinced we can help kick start the best businesses.

“Our markets serve 300m consumers, but that’s an unproven capability – you can’t just plug an entrepreneur into 300m people straight away but if they are relevant to businesses then surely that can happen.”

Exactly when these Wayra academies will arrive in Europe is the big question and Devonshire said it is his personal goal to have the UK’s Wayra academy up and running before the Olympics.

“This year we supported over 90 start-ups, next year if we are in 15 countries and do at least two phases a year, over 300 start-ups will be supported. We have been building relationships from the get-go and London venture capitalists are very excited about this. Deal flow is a major issue and investors are struggling to find start-ups that have the right credentials and backing. Equally, London recruitment agencies are enthused about the whole thing,” Devonshire said.

Read more on the Mobile World Congress 2012:

#mwc12 – Nokia reveals smartphone with 41-megapixel camera

#mwc12 – Facebook reveals one ‘Ringmark’ to unite them all on mobile

#mwc12 – Microsoft working on sub-US$200 price point for Windows Phones

#mwc12 – Wireless sharing tech to debut alongside HTC One in April

#mwc12 – Telefónica and Mozilla pioneer smartphones built on HTML 5

#mwc12 – Sony unveils new Android UI with Xperia P and U smartphones

#mwc12 – Telefónica shows off download speeds of 100Mbps via LTE

#mwc12 – Samsung unveils new Galaxy Beam and Tab 2 series

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years