Mobile operator Telefónica, which runs O2, has launched an academy in the UK aimed at finding and developing start-ups.
Called Wayra, the academy will be based in central London near Tottenham Court Road, and is an extension of a programme that Telefónica started in Spain and Latin America last year. The UK academy is the programme's tenth, and will open officially in May.
"We are looking for start-ups and ideas. We want to identify them, nurture them, fund them and to help them succeed," said José María Álvarez-Pallete, chairman and CEO of Telefónica Europe, at the launch today.
The three-year, multi-million-pound programme is open to all UK technology entrepreneurs aged 18 and up, and the closing date for applications is 22 April.
By submitting their ideas on the Wayra website, budding entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to receive investment of up to €50,000 (£42,000) for their project and access to the new central London workspace. Telefónica and O2 will also supply business support, such as legal, marketing and training expertise, and access to the Wayra mentoring network, which will include venture capitalists (VCs) and former entrepreneurs.
In return, Telefónica will take a 10 percent stake in the start-up business.
The UK Wayra academy aims to choose 20 projects to move into the London academy initially, where the entrepreneurs will spend six months creating their businesses.
Once the six months are up, projects may stay at the academy for a further six months, or introduce their start-up business to venture capitalists for next stage funding.
While Telefónica will not ask entrepreneurs for exclusive access to their start-up, it will require them to give the mobile operator the right of first refusal.
Telefónica stressed that it would concentrate only on new start-ups.
"We are just focusing on early stage projects. Our business is to make them grow. It's important that they [entrepreneurs] keep control of what happens to the business. But entrepreneurs make the decision themselves [about whether or not they keep growing or aim to be bought out by larger companies]," said Gonzalo Martín-Villa, global director for Wayra.
In its other academies around the world, Wayra has so far invested in 80 start-ups after receiving more than 6,000 project submissions.
It plans to open more academies in Europe (Dublin, Munich and Prague) by the end of this year, and hopes to fund 350 European technology start-ups by 2015.
More information on how to apply for Wayra can be found here.
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