Telefonica-O2 launches major tech start-up programme Wayra in UK

The initiative will incubate, seed fund and support new companies for six months

O2’s parent company Telefonica today launched the UK arm of its global initiative to accelerate start-ups with high potential.

Called Wayra, meaning ‘wind’, the incubator – which is part of Telefonica’s wider Think Big programme – will fund 350 European technology start-ups to the tune of between €50-75,000 by 2015.

The London-based UK ‘academy’ follows nine other global Wayra Academy launches and is the third to be announced in Europe, following Madrid and Barcelona. Bases in Dublin, Munich and Prague will complete the set this year.

Ambitious start-up entrepreneurs with ideas for technology-based businesses are being called upon to make their submissions from today and have until April 22 to put their nascent ventures forward. The open-plan 10,000 square foot space is set to go live with up to 20 new companies in May.

As well as office space, each company will gain from Telefonica’s wrap-around support for six months, including mentoring from entrepreneurs, investors and Telefonica’s Wayra team; legal, marketing, accounts, management, and training advice; and telecoms and technology infrastructure. After six months, the Wayra programme will facilitate introductions to angel and venture capital investors, as well as corporate partners from around the world.

In return, participating companies will relinquish 10% of the start-up company’s equity to Telefonica, effectively valuing each fledgling business at around €500,000.

Telefonica Europe’s chairman and chief executive José María Álvarez-Pallete said the initiative was inspired by seeing a ‘brain drain’ of talent to Silicon Valley from countries where Telefonica is most prominent, which has a material impact on the domestic economy, its own company’s levels of innovation, and the income of its future customer base.

“If we do nothing, the most talented people will emigrate to the US. Very promising companies that were initially developed in Europe have moved there. We’re seeing a brain drain of start-ups and entrepreneurs,” he said. “We’re looking for start-ups, ideas, technologies. We’ll nurture and take care of them, fund them and succeed.”

Director of Wayra in Europe, Simon Devonshire (pictured above), will spearhead the search for talented UK start-ups. He told Startups: “You could think of Telefonica as a large dinosaur, which operates in a big company way. But the contagious enthusiasm with which this has been met reflects the projects Wayra will support. There’s a positive energy being generated – and [start-ups that become part of Wayra] will be able to capitalise on it.”

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