It was like being in a creative hub surrounded by would-be Mark Zuckerbergs as I wandered around Telefónica’s new London Wayra Academy aimed at nurturing and supporting new digital talent.
Young, geeky individuals, some of whom once shared accommodation at university and colleges and spawned the embryo of a great digital idea, were now being guided through the reality of developing a successful business.
Sixteen companies whittled down from over 1,000 applicants were chosen by Telefónica to work from the new swanky premises based in Shropshire House, central London, which officially opened two weeks ago. These fledgling digital firms had not only been given £30,000 each in start-up capital to help fund their project, but would also be supported for up to six months by mentors and given crucial advice from senior business figures.
The Academy hopes that with the right help and guidance, these new companies will grow and eventually have the potential to offer vital employment opportunities.
So what’s in it for Telefónica? Well, it gets first refusal on products developed by the start-ups, but it has not tied them into exclusivity contracts and is actively seeking outside investors to help provide further funding. So there’s a genuine opportunity for these start-ups to benefit from the wealth of business experience offered by Telefónica.
This London Wayra Academy joins the nine other academies already operating in Madrid, Barcelona, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Peru and Brazil. O2 CEO Ronan Dunne spoke about ‘digital natives’ at the launch of the London Academy, emphasising the importance of developing and retaining digital talent in the UK. He said: ‘Growth in Europe is predicated on nurturing the skills and talent of future generations. As a digital services business, our success depends on identifying and backing great ideas and unleashing the positive potential of young people and technology.’
Dunne told an audience at the launch event that he wanted to harness young digital talent to bring both economic and social benefits to the country. He said: ‘We hope this will help to stimulate the economy with both imaginative and innovative ideas – we want to develop, nurture and keep the talent.’ The Wayra initiative is part of Telefónica’s ‘Think Big’ campaign, which is about generating fresh ideas and looking at a problem differently, using technology to make improvements.
One of the companies being helped by Telefónica is Night Zoo Keeper, a website-based teaching tool for schoolchildren. Co-founder Paul Hutson explained the purpose of the site: ‘We are looking to make the internet a creative experience for children. It is about bringing creativity to education.’ The ex-primary school teacher added: ‘Most of the team met at university. We then went off and pursued different careers before deciding to come back together and give this idea a real go. We were very excited to have been chosen by Telefónica from so many applicants. Having access to the business expertise and being at the Academy for six months is amazing. We just hope to have taken the business strides we need to be successful by the end of the six months. The Academy programme is just fantastic and it’s great to be working in an environment where there’s so much creativity.’
London mayor Boris Johnson, who officially opened the multimillion-pound Academy, said: ‘The Wayra Academy is a fantastic initiative that will harness precisely the kind of creativity and entrepreneurship we need to create jobs and drive economic growth.‘Home to some of the finest minds in innovation and design, London’s digital sector has huge potential to create jobs for Londoners and grow the capital’s economy.
‘This is why we must do everything we can to help people who want to start their own businesses turn their ideas into reality. I wish all those who come through the Academy’s doors the very best of luck as they nurture their ideas into fully-fledged companies with the potential to offer vital employment opportunities for Londoners and a huge boost to our economy.’
Claire Darley, head of small and medium businesses sales at Telefónica UK, said: ‘The range of talent here is very exciting and incubating small businesses in this environment will help them a lot. I’m very excited to be involved in this project.’
Editor: Shujaul Azam