Telefonica aims to build next Silicon Valley

MADRID -- Telefonica's Wayra project searches for the innovators outside of Silicon Valley and in their customer base.
Written by Jennifer Riggins, Contributor

MADRID -- Spain's Telefónica aims to keep up-and-coming innovators out of Silicon Valley and in Telefónica's world.

Through their new Wayra project, Spain's highest grossing company Telefónica SA searches for the next Mark Zuckerburg and Bill Gates in Telefónica's market. Wayra members spend six months cultivating their chosen candidates, through financing, business coaching, office space and networking. In the end, Telefónica decides if they want to purchase these companies or let other investors take the chance. In the end, Telefónica will celebrate a demo day event in which the entrepeneurs will present their products and services to venture capitalists and business angel investors, as potential first-round investors.

"We are living in an economic crisis, and we are in a disruptive moment talking about technology," said Hugo de los Santos, the senior manager of the Wayra project. "The actual process in which the operators in the world develop technology is hurting right now."

De los Santos continued to say, "It's not just about making dreams true. We are creating a network of entrepreneurs" under the Madrid-based company's influence, which mostly includes Spanish-speaking countries.

Anyone with "an innovation, business idea, solution, design or project" that addresses the digital and mobile world is eligible to apply on the Wayra Website. From the first-round applications, 30 projects will be chosen in each Telefónica country. There were more than 1,200 applicants to the Peruvian Wayra first round, which closed last week.

Each group of 30 semi-finalists will then present their ideas to a jury of IT professionals. The top ten in each country will be chosen to join the "Wayra Academy."

Wayra members are given six months and approximately $50,000 to turn their ideas into reality. Three mentors are assigned to advise each participant--a potential investor, a well-known motivational speaker, and a Telefónica executive. Santos said that, in an effort to create little Silicon Valleys in the target countries, they also provide "technologically-advanced" office spaces located in "innovative" regions of the target cities.

After these six months, Telefónica has the first shot at buying the products and services of these newly-formed companies at the current market value. If Telefónica turns the investment down, they still own a 10-percent holding in all Wayra-initiated businesses. Those unchosen businesses are then presented to and sold to outside investors.

"We only catch a small participation in the company, but they (the entrepreneurs) are in control," de los Santos said. If Telefónica passes on the purchase of any of these companies, "they can sell to whomever they want, including our competition--Vodafone, AT&T, whoever in the world. (Telefónica) is not asking for any exclusivity."

Currently, the Wayra project has begun in Spain, Argentina, Columbia, Mexico, Uruguay and Peru. Brazil, Venezuela and Chile should launch later this year. 2012 will see the Wayra project in the final Telefónica 02 mobile zones--the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany and the Czech Republic.

"It's a win-to-win system," de los Santos said.

The ideas from the 30 finalists from Peru--which include donor-recipient support networks, computerized mortgage negotiators, and custom-designed toys--are up on their Website.

Photo: Wayra.org

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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