Telefonica to put Europe at heart of tech innovation

The parent company of O2 is hoping to nurture and develop technological innovation in the UK and Europe by extending its Wayra programme to London
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

Telefonica, parent company of mobile operator O2, has extended its Wayra start-up accelerator programme to Europe, following the successful launch of the scheme in Latin America.

Jose-Maria Alvarez-Pallete Lopez, Telefonica

Telefonica's Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete Lopez has announced the launch of the Wayra start-up scheme in the UK. Image credit: Ben Woods

The company announced the expansion of the Wayra scheme at an event in London on Wednesday. In addition, the company has extended the reach of its Think Big programme, which aims to support European technology innovation.

The Wayra scheme will have its own shared working space in London from May, funded by Telefonica, with a similar collaborative ethos to start-up incubator Tech City.

What we are looking for is the start-ups, the ideas that are still not companies, and we want to nurture them.
– Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete Lopez, Telefonica

The UK Wayra launch and extension of Think Big to Europe is designed to help stem the pattern of European tech companies creating innovative services or products and then moving to the US to take advantage of a more nurturing ecosystem.

"At Telefonica we believe that doing just our business is not enough. We think that innovation [and] technology is part of the solution to the [global financial] crisis. Technology is part of the future," Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete Lopez, chief executive officer of Telefonica Europe, said. 

"Out of the list of the most innovative companies on Earth, there is no one single European company, and that is a concern," he added.

Wayra projects

Telefonica will select 20 projects to begin Wayra in the UK. The projects will receive financing, mentoring, and access to Telefonica and O2 technologists. Entrepreneurs can apply to be part of the programme from 7 March to 22 April. Selected projects will receive up to €50,000 (£40,000) for a 10-percent stake in the business.

Wayra is open to entrepreneurs of all ages and is aimed at early-stage technology start-ups. Selected projects will spend around six months based at the scheme's new UK headquarters in Tottenham Court Road, London, working alongside other selected projects.

The scheme began in 2007 in Latin America, where Telefonica said good uptake has led to a social network of "technology geeks" of more than 180,000 people.

Alvarez-Pallete Lopez described the launch as a call to action to help get the UK and Europe out of its current financial situation. Wayra is an open scheme, allowing other organisations to participate.

"Wayra is an ecosystem of technology. What we are looking for is the start-ups, the ideas that are still not companies, and we want to nurture them, identify them and take care of them," Alvarez-Pallete Lopez said.

The resulting companies will be free to retain control of their business and sell their products to any other companies, including Telefonica's rivals.

Following the launch of the London Wayra venue, Telefonica said it would be following this with similar centres in Dublin, Germany and the Czech Republic.

The extension of the Wayra programme forms a part of Telefonica's larger Think Big scheme, which aims to support and encourage young people's ideas for community projects.

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