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Inside Telefonica's Startup Incubator

London calling
Things are moving quickly. The London academy, which received more than 1,000 applications, opened its doors in June and has 19 of its 20 "pods" filled. Simon Devonshire, director of Wayra Europe, noted that the London academy opened just four months after it was given the green light, with the process of finding and securing a location, fitting out the offices and choosing initial startups all happening during that short time period. "It darned near killed me, but it's been the most amazing journey of my career," said Devonshire.

Ann Parker, Wayra Europe's head of operations, said three of the London startups secured additional external investment within three months of being in the academy. She also stressed the diversity of the fledgling companies, who are working on all manner of consumer and business-related applications (retail platforms, digital security, Wi-Fi access, multimedia messaging) and staffed by people of all ages and nationalities.

Elsewhere in Europe there are academies in Dublin and Munich, and the hunt is on the way for premises in Prague and Bratislava on continental Europe.

Synchronous relationship
Critical to Wayra's success is its corporate culture: The focus is very much on discovering, working with and learning from new talent. Eventually some of the startups may end up as Telefoncia group partners or provide applications that are used internally by the operator.

Martin-Villa hopes that the incubators will provide Telefonica staff with unique and beneficial insight. He says the startups are asking their Telefonica mentors whether they are doing the right thing and whether their ideas and developments are relevant and/or useful. In time, he wants to see that role reversed: He expects Telefonica staff to be seeking out the startups to ask what sort of services the operator should be providing to its customers.

Multiple disciplines, video highlights
The London Wayra office, just upstairs from the new offices housing Telefónica (UK) O2's Wi-Fi team, is populated by people with many different backgrounds and visions. And as the pictures below show, it has many of the trappings of hot-housing environments (a ping pong table, giant bean-bags, funky fridges, and so on).

Of the London hopefuls, a few stand out as having plans that fit the needs of modern communications service providers. One of those is Six3, a video messaging startup that is the brainchild of Tim Grimsditch.

He's developed the Six3 Video Messenger, a hosted service that, ultimately, will allow people to record and send public or private video messages of up to 63 seconds duration to and from any smartphone (any make, any operating system) over 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi connections. He already has a beta service, being put through its paces by 12,000 trialists, developed for Apple's iOS and is now working on Android capabilities. His idea has clearly resonated with people beyond Wayra: Grimsditch recently picked up a check for $10,000 from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), having won third prize in the IP equipment giant's British Innovation Gateway Awards.

Why 63 seconds? Grimsditch says that a minute is the optimum attention span for a video message and, well, there needed to be a limit on the length of each message. Why not 62 or 64 seconds? He liked the sound of 63 -- as good a reason as any!

Grimsditch and his London cohabitants share many things, not least the undivided attention of the Wayra team and it's clear from one relatively short visit that the likes of Simon Devonshire, Ann Parker and Wayra London Academy director Ashley Stockwell are dedicated to the success of the startups under their wing. There's a buzz, an air of excitement on Capper Street, and it's one that's not normally associated with a global telecom giant.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:19:07 PM
re: Inside Telefonica's Startup Incubator

Glad you had a chance to peek into this place, Ray. These carrier/startup incubators are interesting, and there's a good level of excitement and enthusiasm there.


I see the London guys know how to dress the part of hip incubator guys. I have to admit, i also like the Battle Zone triangle graphics for the pod numbers.

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