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Telefónica Backing Blockchain Startups to Create the Next Wave

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The Daily Chain met with the managing director of Telefónica’s accelerator, Wayra, to discuss how blockchain can be the next “it”

Since the days of Microsoft starting in Bill Gates’ Albuquerque garage, startups have become integral to the ever-evolving technological landscape. They have forced their way, from the ground up, into positions of power and influence, and have shaped our daily lives forever. 

There is almost no one on this earth that has not had some interaction with Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and a bevy of other billion-dollar companies that began life as a tiny operation with a big dream. 

These companies have been launched by new technologies, and helped bring those technologies to the fore. In the case of blockchain, it is nothing different – according to billion-dollar Spanish multinational telecommunications company Telefónica, anyway. 

Telefónica has launched a startup accelerator called Wayra in the hopes of not missing the next technological innovation boat. They welcome startups, working on all sorts of things, including AI and Blockchain, in the understanding that ‘the next big thing’ could be sitting right beneath their noses. 

The Daily Chain traveled to Soho, London, to meet with Gary Stewart, the Managing Director of Wayra UK, to discuss how the telecommunications company is attempting not to miss out again.

Stewart explained that even the motivation behind the creation of Wayra stemmed back to Telefónica’s inability to spot an up and coming trend from a little startup called Whatsapp.

“Wayra was founded by Telefónica’s current CEO [José María Álvarez-Pallete López], and the idea was that it was clear that companies, like Whatsapp, which Telefónica had not taken very seriously, saw the company losing millions of dollars to a business that they didn’t even know existed! The same thing with Skype, entire business lines being wiped out by startups using technology in a way large corporates had not seen,” Stewart told The Daily Chain.

“The idea was, you could buy the companies later on, but then that was going to be really expensive. How many people have $22 billion to buy Whatsapp?” Stewart mused. “Or you can work with them at a lot earlier stage.” 

Wayra, as an accelerator, works much like any other would, however, with the added advantage of being an already well-established corporation with ties across the world.

“The way we think we differentiate from other accelerators is… of course every company needs to get money from one of two sources – investors being one – so we focus on really good relationships with all the investors. Secondly, we help the companies scale by using Telefónica’s platform, and that is where we really differentiate,” added Stewart.

“If you are a startup, especially in an early-stage company, usually you won’t know how to speak to corporates, and if you do speak to them the likelihood is that they want to work with you is limited. Whereas if you are from a dedicated program, like Wayra, that is the entire reason for its existence.” 

“In that sense, what we have been able to do is help companies raise about $270 million from third-party investors, which shows us that we are not the only crazy ones!”

Wayra now opens the doors to a number of startups, doing a number of exciting things, with technologies that are still quite nascent but brimming with potential. With these doors open, Telefónica can look inside and keep a much closer eye on what will be the next “It” thing. 

“Telefónica, but not just us, know the general idea is that people still don’t know what “It” is going to be – whatever it is. But that we need to be better positioned than in the past,” said the accelerator’s managing director.

“If you look at different companies, like Microsoft who lost out on maybe mobile, but they won on cloud. Telefónica missed out on the internet, but it has to make sure it does not miss out on whatever comes next. It shows, like with Microsoft, you can create a Renaissance in your business if you are successfully positioned in whatever the next thing is.”

Wayra has several blockchain-based businesses under their wings, but they are also working with other technologies that are perhaps further along in their development. 

“In differentiating between AI and the Blockchain, AI seems to be more than a technology, it seems to be very specific verticals and applications already – healthcare being one that the UK government is seen as important,” explained Stewart.

“I think blockchain is still early in its developmental path, but what Telefónica wants to understand is… It is not likely that we are going to be the ones to come up with whatever “It” is, but let’s make sure that we are paying attention to what the startups are saying it could be.”

“A lot of times what happens is the startups will come, and we will say to them: ‘How can this be relevant to Telephonica’? Part of it is screening, but also part of it is to get ideas.”

“For us right now, especially in startups, we don’t know what “It” is and we know we are not likely to be the ones who create “It”, but we want to be close to people who might be creating “It” – especially if they can tell how “It” can be relevant to us!”

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