Beers with Wayra
Running accelerators has become a bit of a trend in the corporate world. Alongside multinationals like Microsoft, Volkswagen and Nike, the ailing telecom sector has taken a fancy to the idea of supporting startups by setting up incubator programs. One of them, Wayra, which is owned by the Spanish Telefónica is currently touring Europe to promote its global academies.
The motives of the corporates are obvious: besides surrounding themselves with the sexy image of the startup scene, they hope to drive innovations back into their core businesses and, naturally, generate return on investment.
Started in 2011, Wayra, who are running 12 accelerators in Europe and Latin America with the 13th scheduled to open in Prague in spring this year, have been gathering a portfolio of 180 startups from the digital sector. The Prague addition is meant to function as a gateway to Central and Eastern Europe – the choice of location based on the fact that Telefónica is present in the Czech capital with an O2 head office.
Wayra offer digital startups office space and an average investment of 40.000 euros for 5 to 10 percent of shares, with startups staying on the program for six to nine months. In that, Wayra may not be very different from other accelerators that have been popping up around Europe.
Wayra claim to make it up as they go. Photo: Heisenberg Media http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8215/8364422794_f47b9cf7e7_b.jpgWhy should startups in CEE apply for Wayra’s academy?
“Forgive me if it sounds like joining a cult, but Wayra is a little like joining a family. Collaboration is very important for us. Moreover, you become part of something bigger. You get access to Telefónica’s global network, its 300 million customers – and its expertise. This is also why we base our academies in cities, where Telefónica or O2 have their head offices, like Munich or Prague,“ Wayra’s Head of European Operations, Ann Parker tells inventures.eu.
At the temptingly named “Startup Beers with Wayra” hosted by STARTeurope in Vienna’s techie central, sektor5, last night, Parker introduced Wayra’s academy and discussed the status quo of accelerators in Europe and beyond with “local heroes” Oliver Holle of SpeedInvest and Markus Wagner of i5 invest.
“2013 will see the death of a lot of accelerators”
“2013 will see the death of a lot of accelerators,” Holle predicts gloomily. This, he says, would include corporate run ones that lack real business models. The outlook for Wayra, he believes, is better, “because of their global scale and the synergetic value digital startups create for Telefónica”.
“If I had the chance to join Wayra as a digital startup, I probably would,” Wagner continues the praise. Indeed, the accelerator, as Parker emphasises, seems to hold a special place within Telefónica’s corporate structure – its founder, José María Álvarez-Pallete, is now the company’s chief operating officer.
So, has Wayra paid off so far for Telefónica?
“It’s still too early to be talking of success stories. Out of 180 startups 170 are still in operations. We’ll be able to tell you more next year. But there are investments by Telefónica’s VCs coming up,” Parker says.
Emphasising that the budget for Wayra Europe is similar to what she would spend in her former job in consumer marketing at O2 in a day, Parker makes an interesting point: “It’s not so much about the money. It’s also about bringing about a cultural change within the corporation. Innovations have dried out in the telco sector, so we need to change that.”
Are incubators successful because of the startups in them or is it the other way round?
“You could argue that the startups with the best ideas and teams would succeed anyway,” Parker tells us. However, she believes that, “Wayra hopefully helps them get there faster and with more sustainable success. Moreover, I think it’s important that startups can build a ‘legacy’, every scene needs its heroes.”
One of them, Andreas Klinger, comments that he would join an accelerator like that of Wayra, “because people who run startups are risk takers and need guidance and expertise.” He adds, “getting money is the easy part. Doing the right things is the hard part.”
In the end, everyone agrees: it’s up to the startups to decide, which accelerator might be of most helpto them – oh the choices. And then you have to get accepted to one. Although Wayra claim that their “rules are not yet written”, Parker says, “We do have one rule: the startups that apply to us, should be genuine businesses and not just an app or a feature.”
Applications for Wayra’s global accelerators are open until January 21 at: www.wayra.org/en/joinus
Digital startups can apply for any of the 13 Wayra academies (in Prague, Munich, London, Dublin, Madrid, Barcelona, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Lima, Santiago, Bogota, Caracas) and expect an answer by March.
Wayra continue their promotion tour throughout Europe this and next week.
Join them for free beers tonight at the Spot in Bratislava (http://www.eventbrite.com/org/3084867968?s=11774220) or one of the following locations: