5G and Beyond

Telefónica incubator Wayra turns ten

It's now ten years ago that Telefónica announced plans to launch a startup incubator and youth apprenticeship program across its European and Latin American footprint.

In the intervening decade, the Spanish telco's Wayra division has invested almost €50 million (US$60 million) in 800 startups and helped create more than 10,000 jobs. Telefónica also noted that the investment has appreciated by more than 70% over this period, while 75 startups have now exited the Wayra portfolio.

Irene Gómez, director of Connected Open Innovation, the Telefónica unit that integrates Wayra, said more than 250 startups have also been able to work directly with Telefónica, "thus achieving one of Wayra's main objectives, that startups can scale their businesses with Telefónica."

According to Gómez, the work with Telefónica has helped generate more than €285 million ($341.3 million) in revenue for these startups.

Average investment in each startup has increased from €40,000 ($48,000) in 2011 to a maximum of €250,000 ($299,415) today. In addition, Wayra pointed to its joint venture strategy with other venture capital funds, including Oxford Capital, Axon Partners, Downing Ventures, GP Bullhound, Point Nine, Elaia Partners and Ascension Ventures.

Putting wind in its sails

The initiative was born from Telefónica's desire to foster innovation and talent in the countries where it operates, after being continuously frustrated by having to go outside its Latin American and European territories – and specifically to the US – to purchase the newest technologies and apps to meet the service demands of its customers.

Wayra, which means "wind" in the Quechua language spoken in parts of Latin America, now has a presence in nine countries across Europe (Germany, Spain, UK) and Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru).

It operates a total of seven hubs, as well as newer initiatives such as the Wayra X digital hub; Wayra Builder, a corporate venture builder to create, together with other investors, innovative startups born from internal Telefónica technology projects; and Wayra Next Trend, to promote innovative trends and applications.

In addition, the Wayra Activation Program provides free access to new technologies through Telefónica's own platforms.

More recently, the Wayra 5G Tech Lab was opened in Munich, Germany, to provide a 5G standalone campus network for developers. Wayra indicated that there are plans to turn its other hubs into similar "technological laboratories" where entrepreneurs can test and validate new technologies.

Incubator rivals

Telefónica's European peers have of course adopted their own incubation and accelerator strategies.

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Deutsche Telekom's hubraum has been in operation since 2012, for example, while the Orange Fab acceleration program was established in 2013 and operates throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Vodafone also operates various initiatives such as its Innovation Labs, F-LANE virtual acceleration program, TechStarter and more.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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