Investing in the future - our approach to innovation

By Tracy Isacke, Head of Silicon Valley, Director Investments and Global Partnerships at Telefónica Digital.

While start-ups may look at established enterprises with envy, these large organisations face their own set of challenges. Without the nimbleness of youth, they can struggle to react quickly to market changes, and often lack innovation.

Overcoming this is all part of my role. Telefónica Digital’s sole purpose is finding forward-thinking digital businesses that could benefit Telefónica (O2’s parent company) and its customers. We look for start-ups that are fresh and disruptive (we set up Wayra in 2011 to seek out and support fresh-thinking start-ups) – but we’ll also acquire businesses if they’re close to our core strengths.

However, when a growing business offers something that complements or extends the Telefónica portfolio, we’ll invest and work with them. We provide a kick-start – from helping to build a new market for their offering to providing a distribution channel, and everything in between.

How we handle start-ups is core to our work at Telefónica Digital. For innovation to flourish, start-ups must remain free of heavyweight, corporate processes – as an investor we take a light-touch approach to avoid stifling innovation. It helps if the person leading the investment is a bit of a maverick and comfortable moving between the two different cultures, helping you to keep track of your investment.

A recent acquisition is TokBox, the video platform that lets users see and talk to each other online. It needed a partner that would invest and let it operate without being engulfed. And we see video as a key communications medium, close to the heart of what we do.

We’ve also recently built a partnership with Mozilla. We’ll be working with the group to bring low-cost smartphones that run on an open mobile platform to market. It’ll give customers more choice and will mean that apps can be downloaded straight from the web without needing to go to a specific app store.

If you’re on the lookout for investment opportunities, I’d recommend keeping an eye on machine-to-machine – an exciting area as we move to the Internet of Things.

To find out more, visit o2.co.uk/enterprise or telefonica.com/digital. You can also follow us on Twitter, @O2BusinessUK and @TEFDigital.