Digital literacy & innovating through startups is key to scaling up Britain

Global music artist, entrepreneur and philanthropist will.i.am joined His Royal Highness The Duke of York and Ronan Dunne (CEO of Telefonica UK) for Wayra UK and Wayra UnLtd’s demoDay, where the accelerators current cohort of startups presented their businesses to a room filled with investors.

The message from those speaking was simple; a total and uncompromising belief in entrepreneurship and technology literacy is needed if the UK is to rival other ecosystems in becoming an attractive proposition for digital startups globally.

Speaking on stage at the event, His Royal Highness The Duke of York said: “Entrepreneurs make the difference in us being a prosperous country. In the 21st century, we need to create many more of the types of people that think outside of the box and drive to be successful in businesses. Wayra and Telefonica are helping to do this by providing accommodation, facilities, mentoring and events like this to accelerate businesses into the real world.”

Wayra’s demoDay saw existing startups showcase their businesses for interest and offers of cash from potential investors and welcomed 26 new companies into the Wayra family. But the event had a dual purpose; to examine how the scaling up of startups can help fuel Britain’s economic growth.

‘Wayra doesn’t simply invest in and support startups’, said Gary Stewart, Director at Wayra UK, it’s contributing to the growth of the UK’s entrepreneurial economy but more than that, it’s helping Telefonica and other organisations innovate through startups.’

Gary cited how Wayra had ‘led the charge’ in Telefonica’s recent digital transformation, with 50 per cent of Wayra’s startups running trials with Telefonica using the digital products and services being accelerated.

Gary added, ‘Our startups are at the forefront of turning Telefonica into a digital telco and prove-point that corporate venturing can benefit not only those companies but also larger enterprises, the ecosystem and the country as a whole.’

Another way Telefonica’s digital accelerator is helping big business is by sharing insight into the adoption of lean startup ideologies. To date, Wayra UK portfolio has raised $28.6m, with the current cohort raising $10.4m of that total with only small teams and startup resource. Mentors that regularly assist those startups have said they’ve been astonished as to the learnings they’ve taken away and applied back into their businesses for greater efficiencies and savings.

“While the concept of operating lean is orthodoxy to the startup community, the methodology and learnings from this are still being incorporated into many larger businesses,” said Ben Maher, UK Advertising Director at Mashable and Wayra UK mentor.

“Many startups initially operate in a less structured and linear fashion, which is less conducive for a company of thousands of employees; however, I think it is more the lack of digital skills in these larger companies that is to blame. Digital can remedy a lot of the problems big companies have, and it’s startups who not only have digital elements to their businesses but have employees who’ve mastered technology.”

Ben’s sentiment resonated with what will.i.am discussed during a Q&A with Gary Stewart on the importance of technology literacy allowing more people to become part of the digital revolution, of which startups are taking a lead:

“I built the i.am STEAM programme that encourages kids to take an interest in digital skillsets and the results have been phenomenal. It’s changed their lives and in turn it will change the community forever when they go out in the world and either bring things to market as entrepreneurs or work for big companies as there’s a big hole for filling jobs.”

On contributing to the technology literacy of those in the UK, Telefónica Open Future – a platform that integrates all Telefónica’s investment vehicles and initiatives – also runs Think Big, which recently surpassed its Grand Coalition to the EU Commission on teaching young people in the UK ICT skills essential for their success.

On closing, Simon Devonshire, Director for Wayra Europe, said: “The power of technology can only be realised if people understand how to create it as opposed to simply consume it. Having a startup mentality partnered with digital skills is an extremely potent mix and one I hope more people acquire in the future to help scale up Britain.”