Telefonica getting 'healthy return' on start-up investments, says Wayra UK director

Simon Devonshire: director, Wayra Europe
Simon Devonshire: director, Wayra Europe

Telefonica is set to see a strong return on its cash investments into the European arm of Wayra, its start-up accelerator programme, according to Simon Devonshire, the company's director.

Speaking to Marketing at The Marketing Society’s annual conference, Devonshire said the accelerator was still in the red due to operating costs, but Wayra had seen fewer losses than expected.

He said: "Our motivation is financial. Wayra Europe is already destined to deliver a healthy return on cash investments in start-ups. We’ve had very few losses, far fewer than I expected.

"With regard to operating costs that’s always going to be a difficult one – eventually. It’s my expectation that return on investment will cover operating costs completely, and not just the cash investment."

Devonshire runs Wayra in Europe, but the nine-month accelerator programme is active in 12 countries in total, including in Latin America. Wayra was launched in 2011 by Telefonica’s European chief executive, José María Álvarez-Pallete, as a way to bring innovation and digital talent into the business.

According to the latest available results filed with Companies House, for May to December 2012, Wayra UK made an operating loss of £871,992. It put £754,975 of "long-term investments" into new start-ups.

According to Devonshire, Wayra has invested €8m in European startups to date, in return for an approximate 10% stake in the business.

Typically, Wayra will offer around £40,000 in cash, plus services, to each start-up – meaning most will need to have secured some initial funding elsewhere. As yet, Wayra has not seen any start-ups acquired but Devonshire said that milestone was "on the horizon".

Wayra’s future

Given Telefonica is currently mulling the sale of O2 in the UK, Wayra’s future is up in the air. The programme is wholly owned by Telefonica but acts as a separate entity.

Devonshire was unable to comment on what might happen to Wayra in Europe if O2 is sold, but said Ronan Dunne, O2's chief executive officer, is one of the programme’s "biggest advocates".

Devonshire said: "It would be down to the new owners and their appetite for doing this."

"Wayra is a separate entity [from O2] but it would make a lot of sense to have as part of any conversation about the future of O2. Wayra is so wedded to O2."

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