The Wayra Academy in Madrid
Mobile giant O2 has launched its Wayra technology accelerator programme in the UK, aiming to fund the brightest and best start-ups in the tech space.
Telefónica, O2's parent company, says it will be investing millions of pounds into the project and hopes to invest up to €50,000 in up to 20 different companies this year alone.
As well as the financial benefit, successful start-ups will receive access to technology expertise within Telefónica and O2. They will also have access to the Wayra Academy in London, a workspace located just of Tottenham Court Road that will offer networking opportunities, mentoring and technical advice, O2 said.
In exchange for the funding, Telefónica will receive a 10% stake in the successful businesses as well as the right to first refusal on any products that may emerge from the Wayra Academy initiative.
The project sounds like a cross between the government-backed Tech City initiative and Dragons' Den. After the shortlist is finalised the successful companies will be invited to Wayra Week, where the "entrepreneurs will be invited to pitch their ideas to an independent panel comprising representatives of Wayra, Telefónica/O2 and independent VCs and technology experts," Telefónica said.
The projects that get through this phase will receive funding. They will spend an initial six months in the Academy after which they will either remain there for another six months or look for VC funding.
Ronan Dunne, UK chief executive of O2, said the initiative was designed to help develop the entrepreneurial spirit and talent in the UK.
"We have thousands of small business customers in the UK and we know that they are the formidable engine of the British economy with 80% of people in the UK working for a business of between 10 and 50 people," he said in a statement.
"There's amazing entrepreneurial spirit in the British small business community, and we want to help them succeed. What we can provide them is a place and time to bring that commitment and passion for an idea to life, together with our business experience, network and technical support."
"London is a global centre of innovation and through Wayra we hope to find the Facebooks and Zyngas of the future," added Simon Devonshire, director of Wayra in Europe.
"We believe Wayra is unique in not only providing entrepreneurs with access to a ready-made network of like-minded people across Europe and Latin America, but also in acting as a gateway to Telefónica's 300 million customers worldwide," he said.
The Wayra initiative began in April 2011 across Latin America and Spain, Telefónica's primary market. The London Academy is the ninth in the series. So far 6,000 projects have been pitched at the company. The aim is to eventually build up a worldwide network of Telefónica-backed technology companies.
"Launching in Europe is a natural move for Wayra. We have proven that the model works and we now want to create a global Entrepreneurship Network, with Europe being a fundamental part of this network," said Gonzalo Martín-Villa, Global Director for Wayra.
"If you are selected to be in the London Academy you are entering much more than that; you are becoming part of the Wayra global network, which can open doors and markets in Latin America for your start-up," he said.
Wayra means "wind" in Quechua, a language spoken in the central Andes, Telefónica explained. Start-ups can submit their projects to Wayra from today via the website. The deadline for submissions is 22nd April.