Wayra whittles entrepreneurs' competition down to 20 finalists
WAYRA ACADEMY Dublin is preparing to open its doors to a new influx of budding entrepreneurs.
The 20 finalists going to the last stage of the Telefónica competition have been announced, and “Wayra week” – when entrepreneurs make their pitch to a judging panel – will take place from September 4th.
Announced earlier this year, the Dublin academy is one of 13 Wayra academies around the world. The initiative started in Latin America in 2010 and now has bases in 11 countries from Chile and Peru to Germany and Britain.
Some 12,000 submissions have been received by the programme to date. The Irish academy has attracted much local interest, with 335 submissions to its first programme. To put that in context, Barcelona’s call for submissions attracted just over 320 submissions, Germany had 268.
London did get about 1,000 but, when taken in the context of overall population, the Irish academy is running at about three times that level of interest.
“I think it’s a huge statement for innovation and entrepreneurship,” said director Karl Aherne.
“Overall it says most about the people that we have in this ecosystem, the fact that we have Google and LinkedIn, the fact that we’re building up a whole new set of experiences from these new digital companies, the fact that universities are starting to focus on innovation. We’re leveraging all those positive things.”
The submissions list has been whittled down to 20 and the judging panel will cut that down further – to up to 10 projects. Those chosen will get €50,000 each in funding to help get the company off the ground, and, equally importantly, a spot in the Wayra academy in O2 Ireland’s building on St John Rogerson’s Quay in Dublin for about six months.
While they are there, the companies will have access to expert advice and support to help move the business become a viable business start-up.
The entries vary, from SuperQuest, a game to help you discover your “superpower” and how you can use it to live a better life, to Woopie, a digital publishing platform. Also in the mix is social gambling firm BragBet and Beats Medical, billed as a “revolutionary technology solution to Parkinson’s disease”.
Telefónica has drafted in a number of figures from the technology industry to form the judging panel. Among them is Microsoft Ireland’s Paul Rellis, Cubic Telecom’s Pat Phelan and Kernel Capital’s Orla Rimmington. Barry O’Neill, chief executive of StoryToys and Games Ireland chairman, has also been invited, along with Facebook’s EMEA director of sales Rick Kelly, entrepreneur and investor Marcelo Ballona and Bloom Equity’s Conor Stanley.
Telefónica Ireland is represented by its marketing and innovation director, Eugene Mitchell.
Some definite themes have emerged from the submissions Wayra attracted. E-learning is one, with potential projects such as ThoughtBox and LearnUpon competing for funding this year.
Aherne says e-health has also been a focus of the submissions.
In the past, Telefónica took a 10 per cent stake in start-ups in return for the €50,000 funding. However, to open the field up for venture capital funds to invest, it has changed that equity stake to a convertible bond, as the equity stake set an effective €500,000 valuation cap for the businesses.
The convertible bond can be exercised if a company successfully gets to access venture funding at a later stage – but the precise equity stake is not predetermined.
Aherne hopes the academy will become a hub used by entrepreneurs and accelerator programmes, not just the Wayra projects.
“It will take a long time, but I want Wayra to be that central piece and I think it can be. We want this to become resource for other incubators too, so if we have a good speaker or an interesting event, we’ll open it up to those accelerators too . . . The more we get involved with other accelerators, the better for Ireland.”
The ultimate aim of the Wayra project, which is part of Telefónica’s Think Big initiative, is to cultivate innovation. As a bonus, the project could generate ideas that Telefónica itself could use in the future. Successful projects may also earn it some money down the line in return for the investment.
The programme hopes to play a part in driving growth in the economy, Aherne says, with potential entrepreneurs coming out of the high-profile tech firms that have set up in Ireland over the past few years.
“The next wave will be people coming out of Google, LinkedIn and Facebook, who have been there for five or six years and now want to start their own business. Ireland is going to benefit hugely from more of those people coming out and setting up their own businesses.”