Telefonica set to accelerate UK start ups

London ‘ 07 March 2012 ‘ O2 parent Telefonica today announced the UK launch of its technology accelerator programme, Wayra. From today, budding technology entrepreneurs can submit their projects at www.wayra.org/en/wayra-uk-call-2012 with the best each receiving investments of up to ‘50,000 and access to a new state-of-the-art workspace unveiled today in London’s Tottenham Court Road. The launch of Wayra marks a multi million pound investment by Telefonica in UK-based start-ups over the next three years.

Wayra, which means ‘wind’ in Quechua, a language of the central Andes, is part of Telefonica’s new Digital unit and is set to become the world’s largest technology accelerator programme. Launched last year in Latin America and Spain, Wayra was created to find and nurture the best technology ideas and talent, aiming to become an accelerator for the development of future ‘Silicon Valleys’ in the countries where Telefonica is present.

Wayra is aimed at early stage technology start-ups and is open to entrepreneurs of all ages and backgrounds*. In addition to financing, up to 20 projects selected during a Wayra Week in May will also receive mentoring, access to technology expertise within Telefonica and O2 and use of a new special Wayra Academy in London which will officially open in May, providing access for the entrepreneurs to a network of Academies across Europe and Latin America.

Technology entrepreneurs can from today, until April 22, submit their ideas or projects by completing a form at www.wayra.org/en/wayra-uk-call-2012. Experts within Wayra, Telefonica and O2 will evaluate each submission and choose a shortlist who will be invited to take part in the Wayra Week. During Wayra Week the shortlisted entrepreneurs will be invited to pitch their ideas to an independent panel comprising representatives of Wayra, Telefonica/O2 and independent VCs and technology experts. Up to 20 of the best projects will be invited to move into the new London Wayra Academy and will each receive an investment of up to ‘50,000 in exchange for an approximate 10% stake in their business.

‘London is a global centre of innovation and through Wayra we hope to find the Facebooks and Zyngas of the future,’ said Simon Devonshire, Director of Wayra in Europe. ‘We believe Wayra is unique in not only providing entrepreneurs with access to a ready-made network of like-minded people across Europe and Latin America, but also in acting as a gateway to Telefonica’s 300 million customers worldwide.’

‘We have thousands of small business customers in the UK and we know that they are the formidable engine of the British economy with 80% of people in the UK working for a business of between 10 and 50 people’, said Ronan Dunne, UK Chief Executive of O2. ‘There’s amazing entrepreneurial spirit in the British small business community, and we want to help them succeed. What we can provide them is a place and time to bring that commitment and passion for an idea to life, together with our business experience, network and technical support. I truly believe this initiative is unique in the UK.’

Successful projects initially spend six months in the Wayra Academy, receiving help to accelerate their business and technical support to further develop their ideas. At the end of the six months, projects are either introduced to a growing network of venture capitalists for next stage funding, or they may stay another six months in the Academy. In exchange for initial financing Telefonica receives the right of first refusal on products but it does not require the entrepreneurs to give it exclusivity.

The London Wayra Academy will be a cutting edge workspace located just off Tottenham Court Road, providing the ideal space for entrepreneurs to network with each other and grow their businesses.

The UK becomes the ninth country in which Wayra is present and the London Academy will be the tenth. Launched by Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete, former Telefonica Latin America CEO and now CEO of Telefonica Europe, in April 2011 in response to the lack of available support for the growing number of innovative start ups in Latin America, Wayra has to date received over 6000 submissions and provided financing to 80 start ups. Wayra is a crucial element of Telefonica Digital’s strategy of identifying and working with the most innovative companies from start-up through to global multinational.

‘Launching in Europe is a natural move for Wayra. We have proven that the model works and we now want to create a global Entrepreneurship Network, with Europe being a fundamental part of this network,’ said Gonzalo Mart¡n-Villa, Global Director for Wayra. ‘If you are selected to be in the London Academy you are entering much more than that; you are becoming part of the Wayra global network, which can open doors and markets in Latin America for your start-up’.

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