Plug and Play Spain and Banco Santander join forces to launch fintech accelerator program

Plug and Play Spain and Banco Santander will launch a startup accelerator program for fintech companies. Applications are currently open and the program will start in February 2016.

plug and play santander

Plug and Play Spain, the Valencia-based branch of the Silicon Valley accelerator, has just announced the launch of a fintech program with the participation of Banco Santander.

The program, which is currently accepting applications, will start in February 2016 and is aimed at financial technology companies at different stages of development. “We’re not necessarily looking for early stage startups that need to be accelerated”, Plug and Play’s Juan Luis Hortelano told me. “The idea is that the startups selected can take advantage of the Santander connection and also of PnP’s Silicon Valley demo day”.

This is not the first fintech vertical launched by the US accelerator. In previous occasions it has partnered with Deutsche Bank, Citi or Capital One for similar programs. Santander was already a partner of Plug and Play in the US.

The fintech startups chosen by Plug and Play Spain will coexist with the rest of the companies in the batch, but will be able to attend specific mentoring sessions and workshops from industry personnel. The companies will stay in Valencia throughout the program -which lasts 4 months- and will also be allowed to stay at Santander’s offices in Madrid.

In a statement, Plug and Play says that “chosen projects will be eligible to receive funding from PnP and participate in pilot programs with Santander”. Asked about this, Hortelano told me that their intention is to “financially support participating fintech startups that are at a pre-seed or seed stage”. With more mature companies, the accelerator is open to negotiating specific terms and conditions. “For example, advisory shares for those that are mature if we can help them in their US expansion or to find the right partners”, he said.

Santander, in theory, won’t invest in the companies.

Banco Santander’s startup investments

As head of Santander UK, Ana Patricia Botín launched Santander InnoVentures, a London-based $100 million fund to invest in fintech startups. So far, the bank has invested in iZettle, Cyanogen, MyCheck, Ripple and Kabbage.

Following the death of his father, Ana Patricia Botín took over the global institution and has pushed hard to install a digital-first mentality in the bank.

“I think of digital as a means to an end: How do I service and get more loyal customers: how do I achieve operational excellence and how do I change my culture?”, she recently said in an interview with the Financial Times. “Those are my three building blocks and if you think about it, digital comes into it in every single one of them.”

Ms Botín also said that she considers Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon as the companies that pose a bigger threat to the bank’s business. “These big four guys, they are worth more than us, they have more cash and they have less regulation”.

Besides investing in the aforementioned companies, Santander has also backed money-losing machine Monitise and launched a €24 million incubator with the help of the UK company.

The bank has yet to invest in a Spanish fintech startup.

Barcelona’s MWC launches mVenturesBCN to attract top accelerators and invest in early stage startups

Mobile World Capital has launched mVenturesBCN, a public initiative that aims to attract top international accelerators and invest in early stage startups.

mventuresbcn

Mobile World Capital, the public Catalan initiative that aims to expose Barcelona as a startup and entrepreneurship hub, is taking its participation in the local scene to a new level. The MWC foundation announced last week the launch of mVenturesBCN, an investment and accelerator entity that will invest up to €15 million in the launch of 110 startups over the next three years.

mVenturesBCN, which is not yet a proper investment firm (Sociedad de Capital Riesgo or SCR in Spain), will receive support from the Spanish Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism, Barcelona’s city council, the Generalitat of Catalonia and Fira Barcelona. These supporters will provide the first €8 million.

It appears as if mVenturesBCN will be fully focused on attracting top talent to Barcelona in various ways.

First, through three international accelerator programs that will set up shop in the Catalan capital over the next few months. In various statements, mVenturesBCN does not say who the partners will be. These three programs and the resulting joint ventures with mVenturesBCN will be responsible for accelerating 90 startups over the next three years.

These Spanish and international companies will have be based in Barcelona throughout the program and, although they won’t have to remain in the city when it finishes, they’ll probably be encouraged to do so.

The other main aspect about mVenturesBCN will be what they call ‘technological transfer program’, which will work with universities and research centres to convert technology assets into business realities. According to a post on MWC, this program aims to create 20 digitally-based companies, “arising from the development of research lines at universities and R&D centres during the following three years”.

Given the fact that MWC puts together every year one of the biggest startup events in Spain, 4YFN, it seems pretty clear that mVenturesBCN’s startups will also have access to all the investors and corporates that come to Barcelona for the conference.

Alex Valls, director of 4YFN, will lead mVenturesBCN.

The fact that the public sector gets involved in the funding of startups is nothing new to Spanish entrepreneurs, but the fact that they’re doing it with the collaboration of international accelerators (will TechStars be one of them?) and universities, makes it unique and interesting at the same time.

SeedRocket’s mentors launch Toubkal Partners, an independent investment vehicle with €500,000 in hand

Eight SeedRocket mentors launch Toubkal Partners, an independent investment vehicle with close ties to the Spanish startup accelerator.

seedrocket_toubkal

Eight mentors associated to Spanish startup accelerator SeedRocket got together last year to launch Toubkal Partners, a new investment vehicle that has been now unveiled and that plans to invest up to €500,000 over the next three years.

Although Toubkal is independent of SeedRocket -which does not have a fund associated to itself and doesn’t invest directly in the startups that go through its program- its ties to SeedRocket are perfectly clear, starting with its members.

  • David Baratech – Ulabox & Trovit
  • Enrique Dominguez – Restalo & ParkingDoor
  • Marcos Ferran
  • Marek Fodor – Atrapalo & Kantox
  • Sacha Fuentes – Offerum
  • Juan Margenat – Smartbox & Marfeel
  • Jesús Monleon – SeedRocket & Offerum
  • Raúl Puente – Trovit

“We are all from SeedRocket but there’s not an institutional relationship with the accelerator”, Kantox’s chairman Marek Fodor told us in a phone conversation. “The projects that we back don’t necessarily have to come from SeedRocket”.

Since last year Toubkal has invested in Novicap, TheThings.IO, Endado (all from SeedRocket), Iristrace (Plug and Play Spain) and QaShops. A mix of industries (fintech, ecommerce, IoT) that according to Fodor clearly defines the fund’s investment strategy.

“We want to find a good balance between hot sectors and others that are more traditional, have a clearer path towards monetisation and, in theory, are less risky”, says Fodor.

In a statement, Juan Margenat (co-founder and CEO of Marfeel) says that one of the defining characteristics of Toubkal is how quickly investment decisions will be made and the hands-on approach of the backers. “We will never invest in startups where we can’t add value”, he says.

All eight mentors combine for more than 70 investments in companies like Trovit (acquired by NEXT Co.), Ducksboard (acquired by New Relic) or Glamourum. It should be noted that SeedRocket also has strong ties with other notable business angels and Venture Capital firms like François Derbaix, Luis Cabiedes (Cabiedes & Partners), Iñaki Arrola (Vitamina K) or Carlos Blanco.

Banco Santander and struggling Monitise launch €24M fintech incubator

Banco Santander has announced the launch of a fintech joint venture with Monitise to build and invest in promising fintech startups. Easier said than done?

santander monitise

Here’s how the story goes: in December of last year, Banco Santander (along with Telefonica and MasterCard) announced a €46 million investment in British payments startup Monitise. At the time of the deal, and we’re confident this is still the case, Monitise was the company providing the technology behind Yaap, the Madrid-based startup created by Santander, La Caixa and Telefonica.

Monitise was once considered one of the most promising fintech startups to come out of London, but the company has been bleeding money over the past few years (it’s shares are down 80% YoY) and even put it itself up for sale in January and announced that its founder and co-CEO, Alastair Lukis, would be leaving the company. After failing to receive a good enough offer, Monitise abandoned plans to sell off.

After all this drama, Santander announced yesterday that it would launch a joint venture builder to “invest in, build and scale fintech businesses”. In essence, it’s a new corporate incubator for fintech startups with up to €28 million to invest, which will be equally provided by both partners. This new initiative will be lead by Santander’s global head of R&D innovation, Julio Faura, and Alastair Lukis, who is back in the game after being ousted as co-CEO in March.

In a statement released by both companies, Santander claims that startups created (or invested in) as part of this initiative will get access to Monitise’s technology and to Santander’s large network of clients and services. Monitise will also receive a “multi-million pound upfront license” and, hopefully, an increase in clients “by providing services to companies” in the joint venture.

For Monitise, which is not in good shape, it seems like a win-win scenario.

Santander, the biggest bank in Europe per market capitalization, has been quite active over the past few quarters in the startup space -especially since Ana Patricia Botín was named president following the death of her father-, signing partnerships with P2P platform Funding Circle, launching a $100 million fintech fund and also investing in financial services startups like iZettle or MyCheck.

However, this joint venture represents Santander’s first foray into the accelerator/incubator world, which the company hopes it will allow them to find and invest in interesting and relevant fintech startups before they are large enough to compete with some of the bank’s core businesses.

Easier said than done.

Early stage and successful fintech startups don’t usually want a bank as an investor, especially when they’re small and scrappy, but Santander is hopeful that it can find the right approach and use Monitise to bring talent and startups under its umbrella.

How Menorca Millennials helped startups draw back in order to make a better jump

Last week we paid a visit to the beautiful island of Menorca to be part of Menorca Millennials, a ‘de-acceleration’ program for startups from all over the world. This is what participating teams and organizers told us about the experience.

menorca millennials

The peaceful island of Menorca isn’t necessarily the place where you would expect to meet some of the biggest names of the tech industry. Yet, this is what happened this weekend, which was the pinnacle of startup retreat Menorca Millennials. Here’s a look back at what happened during its 20-day-long program.

The brainchild of Ricard Garriga and Marcos Martin, Menorca Millennials was designed as a new take on startup programs. Its goal was to give entrepreneurs a chance to escape their day-to-day and focus on their next big idea in a distraction-free and relaxing environment. “We don’t pretend to be another accelerator program, we are a de-accelerator”, Garriga said.

Its application criteria were pretty high, with a strong preference for entrepreneurs who had raised a significant investment with a previous company, had a technical background, spoke English fluently, had lived abroad for at least 6 months, had a solution which could impact a billion people and were ‘sustainably-minded.’

Menorca Millennials Showcase

While this selection filter may have seemed too ambitious, Menorca Millennials did find candidates that fit the bill, as we discovered during the showcase it held in Menorca last Sunday. Unlike a typical demo day, it didn’t rely on long PowerPoint presentations. Instead of trying to cover every aspect of their business, entrepreneurs were encouraged to use their 3-minute slot to tell personal stories that might leave attendees wanting to know more. The 20 participating startups were the following:

  • Cross-cultural communication enabling platform Babelverse, which will soon launch its new website and API;
  • Bitcoin startup BTCPoint, which developed an API to support Bitcoin operations from standard ATMs;
  • Carbon Checkout, which entices consumers to make carbon offset contributions when doing online purchases;
  • Eyetok, which takes advantage of the fact that “everyone is a walking webcam” to enable live real-time broadcast;
  • FuVeX, a spin-off from the Public University of Navarre which is developing a highly efficient drone which combines the capabilities of planes and helicopters;
  • Hermosura, whose online games will help families and friends interact;
  • HomeSwipe, a home rental platform with a Tinder-like user interface;
  • Upcoming peer-to-peer lending aggregator LendMatic;
  • HTML5 development company Ludei, which makes it very easy for companies to create apps;
  • Crowdsourced parcel collection service Packagepeer;
  • Health startup Plataforma Saúde, which offers instant mobile-based check-ups;
  • PlayBar, which teaches math with a gamified approach;
  • PoaPower, which brings off-the-grid energy to Africa;
  • PulpCar, which wants to make the process of buying a used car less uncertain and stressful;
  • Tiempy, whose social media management dashboard is adapted to newbies;
  • Trappit, a B2B travel booking optimization solution;
  • Stampery, which applies blockchain to document certification;
  • Remedy, whose mobile app instantly puts patients in touch with doctors;
  • Watly, which uses solar energy to bring Wi-Fi, clean water and power wherever they are needed;
  • Zillians, creator of smart food dispenser and health monitor for cats CatFi, currently accepting pre-orders.

These teams had been previously selected among more than 300 applicants. They were also joined on stage by special guest Slashe, a French advertising agency with an interactive TV channel project called Slashtag.

It is worth mentioning that the event’s venue was quite unique, as the showcase took place on the seafront of Menorca’s Isla del Lazareto, whose name describes its former purpose. As a matter of fact, its ‘lazaretto’ was a quarantine station used to triage and isolate maritime travellers before allowing them (or not) onto Menorca’s main island and preserve it from contagious diseases. Despite this gloomy past, it makes for a scenic location, which also reflects Menorca Millennials’ initial inspiration to create somewhat of a “quarantine program” for entrepreneurs.

Nomad startups

menorca millennials

The boat trip to the island and back was the opportunity for attendees like me to chat with the startups, and one of the first things I noticed was their geographic diversity. While quite a few came from Spain and particularly from Barcelona, which is where most of the Menorca Millennials team is from, there were also founders from several other countries, such as Denmark, France, UK, US, Argentina, Brazil and even Taiwan. As for Spanish participants, at least a few of them were actually based in San Francisco, such as Ludei’s founder Eneko Knorr, who moved to the US in 2011 and had previously sold his hosting company Hostalia to Telefonica-owned Acens in 2007.

In addition, 3 startups were alumni of government-supported program Start-Up Chile: Babelverse, Tiempy and Carbon Checkout, whose founders had heard about Menorca Millennials through Garriga’s employer, YouNoodle, which also collaborates with Start-Up Chile. This connection aside, the fact that both programs share participants isn’t too surprising; their profile makes them a good fit for founders who are willing to travel with their startup. In the words of Marcos Martin: “Menorca Millennials targets the next generation of entrepreneurs. With a laptop and a wifi connection these digital nomads are changing the world, from anywhere in the world.”

One startup that truly embodies this mentality is Babelverse, whose founders fully embrace the title of ‘glomad.’ Having worked on their project in many different locations around the world, including Greece, Chile, Romania, and now Spain, they will soon return to London to participate in the MassChallenge UK program.

Millennial is a state of mind

Despite the diversity of projects and origins, all startups shared a certain je ne sais quoi that reflected the “millennial” spirit. While the term refers to individuals born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, it also describes the state of mind of this generation, which arguably has a different relationship with technology than previous ones.

Several of the startups were taking this into account, with products that matched the preferences of younger users. For instance, HomeSwipe’s founders knew that the traditional way of seeking a rental apartment was outdated and frustrating, and decided to build mobile-only, Tinder-like apps. As for live broadcast startup Eyetok, it offers brands a way to connect with millennials in their own terms.

While Menorca Millennials participants often shared the same ethos, their age and personal situation varied. On one hand, quite a few of them were parents and had come to Menorca with their families. The most telling example was Carbon Checkout, led by husband and wife Colby and Brycelaine Self, who came to the island with their three kids in tow… including their one-month old baby. On the other hand, a handful of startups had at least one teenager in their team.

Interestingly, the youngest participants had little to envy to their older peers. Some of them had already been awarded for their merits, such as Stampery’s 19-year-old CTO Luis Iván Cuende, winner of the 2011 HackNow programming competition for underage European hackers. The Menorca Millennials group also included two Thiel Fellows: Noor Siddiqui from Remedy and Jason Marmon from HomeSwipe. Both have received a $100,000 grant from the Thiel Foundation in exchange for skipping college during the 2 years of the program.

The participating startups themselves were also at different stages of their lives. As a matter of fact, some were still considering changing product pivots or even name changes (Pulpcar) based on feedback they had received at Menorca Millennials. On the contrary, other teams were already further along when they joined the program. For instance, Trappit had already raised almost $800k before going to Menorca.

This was perhaps unsurprising, since organizers preferentially seeking second-time entrepreneurs. Still, it was noteworthy to see someone like Eneko Knorr join the program as participant, rather than as a mentor. “We will soon start looking for new funding and it made sense for Ludei,” he explained, while pointing out the “really good level” of his fellows.

Human impact

The 20-day program was the opportunity for participants to learn from guest speakers such as Microsoft Spain’s HR director Blanca Gómez, London-based investor Itxaso del Palacio, Grupo Prisa’s Chief Revenue Officer Antonio Alonso Salterain and Startup NEXT director Mike Grandinetti. They also heard how Kantox founders Antonio Rami and Philippe Gelis managed to raise a series B round for their fintech startup, while former Desigual CEO Manel Adell told the story of how the brand went from 70M€ to 700M€ in revenue.

Another of those speakers was executive coach and entrepreneur Verne Harnish, who is also an advisor to Menorca Millennials. Commenting on the pitches after the showcase, he highlighted that many of the projects were going after big problems, such as health and access to basic resources. He also noted that they were bringing back a human-centric approach to a sector that might have gone too digital. However, they were still very much aligned with the latest trends in technology, such as the blockchain.

Brazilian entrepreneur Tales Gomes was particularly happy to have had a chance to interact with Harnish, whose books he had read before coming to Menorca. His social impact startup Plataforma Saúde is a good illustration of Harnish’s comment. Born during Startup Weekend Rio Favela, it ambitions to bring access to primary healthcare to low-income populations, thanks to a combination of hardware and software. Its main service is a set of exams that identify the degree of risk of chronic noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension.

Other startups addressed pressing environmental issues, such as Carbon Checkout, whose project encourages people to compensate their carbon footprint. This was a good fit for Menorca, which deliberately avoided mass urbanization, and was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1993.

The island effect

menorca millennials

Menorca’s preserved nature and beautiful landscapes have many fans, 23 of whom Garriga and Martin have managed to enroll as founding partners of Menorca Millennials. While we can’t name them all, the list includes many high-profile names, such as Di-Ann Eisnor from Google-owned Waze, Javier Martinez from the Atletico de Madrid club, Jerry Engel from Berkeley University, Wotif’s former CEO Sam Friend and Dan Hoffman from M5 Networks; each of whom has a personal connection with the island. For instance, Fon’s founder Martin Varsavsky owns a rural property in the municipality of Alaior, where he welcomed Menorca Millennials’ participants and guests for a cocktail dinner last Saturday.

“I used to do the Menorca TechTalks, a gathering of around 70 entrepreneurs from all over the world,” he recalled. “We did that 3 or 4 years, but then we had our young children [and stopped], because the true organizer of this was my wife Nina. So when we heard of Menorca Millennials we decided to collaborate. It sounded to me like the millennials here are the people who are going to be guests in the Menorca TechTalks later on, since we are going after people who are more established. I loved the idea of having sort of a younger version of the TechTalks.”

The Menorca Millennials program has been attracting attention in the island, with daily coverage in the local media. However, locals weren’t simply bystanders, and three Menorca-based companies had been invited to join the program. Shot planning app Photopills was one of these “local rockstars” alongside voice-based mood detection startup Biloop and Socialvane, whose software helps companies makes sense of social big data. According to its co-founder, Germán Marquès, both groups benefited from their interactions: “The good thing is that we were also able to recommend places and so on, so it was really an exchange.”

Entrepreneurs undoubtedly had a good time in Menorca, which Eyetok’s co-founder Oskar Vidal Larsson describes as “an idyllic place.” He isn’t quite sure that “deceleration” is the best way to describe the whole experience. “It was more about drawing back in order to make a better jump,” he says. Either way, his perception on the program was very positive. In general, all of the entrepreneurs we talked to in Menorca only had good things to say about the program, except some minor teething problems.

This is quite an achievement, considering the sacrifice that taking 20 days away from their office meant for them – although it was precisely the point of the program. “It’s pretty amazing. For the first time in the past six months I’ve had time to think. In the office it’s like being on a treadmill, with no time to think and breathe,” CatFi’s co-founder Mark Sung told us. This helped him focus on the future of his pet feeder company: “It has influenced our marketing strategy, and we have decided to reach out to veterinarians because of feedback we have received during the one-on-one sessions.”

Scouting talent

From an investor’s perspective, the Menorca Millennials program was much more of an accelerator than a decelerator, Martin noted with a smile during the showcase. In the words of founding partner and president of VectorCuatro Borja Escalada, “investors have their work done; what would normally take months and lots of filtering, Menorca Millennials did it for them.”

It was quite clear that many attendees had come to Menorca to find deal flow for their investments and programs. For example TechCrunch staff member Sam O’Keefe was on the lookout for teams who could participate in Disrupt’s Startup Battlefield, while Charlie Taibi represented Draper University, which offers an immersive residential training program to young entrepreneurs.

What’s next

It is crucial for Menorca Millennials to result in new funding for its alumni; not only because it is part of their expectations, but also because the program’s sustainability depends on it. Its business model indeed relies on ‘selling’ future investors some of the discounts it has been granted, in order to generate liquidity that can be used to make the program possible.

As a result, its team will actively help them seek funding: “Our value proposition to investors is to bring them the best deal flow. Martin and I will soon go on a roadshow to represent the startups vis-à-vis investors. We have gotten to know them from living together for 20 days, so we have qualitative information to share, but we are also bringing along a video pitch from each startup,” Garriga said.

Although they will seek out business angels and VC firms in their network, it is entirely possible that Menorca Millennials’ founding partners themselves will lead some of the funding rounds or at least contribute to them. Most negotiations were still under wraps at this stage, but we were able to confirm that some entrepreneurs had been invited back to Martin Varsavsky’s house for further discussions, while others had received invitations to spend some time in the US to get introduced to their prospective hosts’ contact network.

In the meantime, one thing is for sure: there will be another edition of Menorca Millennials next year, and everyone we talked to seemed to be looking forward to it. According to Garriga, it will also have a wider reach: “Our goal is to extend the training side to more people, and let startups that are not attending live at least part of the experience,” he concluded.

Hot Hotels joins Techstars Boston: Q&A with chairman Joe Haslam

Spanish startup Hot Hotels has joined Techstars accelerator program. In this interview, chairman Joe Has explains why they made the decision to join an accelerator at this stage.

 

techstars

Only a handful of Spanish startups have been through Techstars, one of the most well known and respected accelerators in the world.

Started in Colorado by David Cohen, Brad Feld, David Brown and Jared Polis in 2006, the program has expanded quite aggressively over the past few years and it currently has 9 programs in the US and Europe, as well as partnerships with corporates to run specific programs focused on verticals like sports, robotics or fintech.

Shuttlecloud, Proximus and Novicap were the three first Spanish companies to join Techstars, in New York and London, respectively.

The latest one to join the program is Malaga-based Hot Hotels, the mobile hotel booking startup led by Conor O’Connor.

Hot Hotels, which has raised more than €1 million from Axon Partners Group and other investors, is currently part of Techstars Boston summer batch and will be in the city until September 1st, when the program ends.

To know more about the application process and why a startup with significant revenues and €1 million in funding decided to join an accelerator at this stage, we sat down with Hot Hotels chairman Joe Has.

This is an edited version of our conversation.

From my understanding, 2014 was a good year for Hot Hotels and to date you’ve raised more than €1m. Why join an accelerator and TechStars now, at this stage?

Almost every time we have spoken with a US VC they have included the question “when are you coming to the US?”. If you are a serious company, then you are expected to have a presence there.

We looked at opening an office but that´s no guarantee of anything except an increased burn rate. With Techstars we get to adjust our pitch for a US environment and also the access to whomever we want to see. It’s not easy to get into Techstars and particularly Techstars Boston. But once you are in, almost everyone will take your meeting request.

How important do you expect the US market to be for Hot in the near future?

Hot is a technology company more than it is a travel company. The value of the company is in the platform we have created and Boston is the home of travel technology e.g. Kayak, ITA Software, Trip Advisor etc. For instance, we do some really clever regression analysis to determine our pricing which is perhaps not fully appreciated in Spain. Also we have over three years of mobile first, mobile only booking data that many companies would love to get their hands on.

How do you see yourselves competing against the likes of Hotel Tonight or Groupon (Blink)?

As Martin Varsavsky once wrote, most startups don´t compete against other startups. Instead we all compete against indifference. Our competition is getting our customers to make a booking over something else (like diving home or not travelling).

Hotel Tonight was great to break ground but Booking Now (from Booking.com) has been even better for us as it has clarified for everyone the great opportunity that is in mobile. Even Amazon does hotel booking now.

techstars_hot_hotels

Since you’ve raised quite some capital prior to joining TechStars, I’m assuming the valuation of their investment is lower than that of Axon’s and others. Is this the case? If so, did you think twice about it?

Joining Techstars did give rise to valuation issues, but by using a US subsidiary we can separate these for the moment. We expect to do a Series A round later in the year with a U.S. investor. Once this is done at a higher valuation, then everybody wins when the cap table is cleaned up.

So there is a risk to the founders but we have deliberately kept the valuation low so that the hurdle rate is not too steep for future rounds.

What was the application process like? Any tips for startups that might consider joining TechStars?

Step one is always to find the decision maker. Then find out more about what makes that person tick. Were his/her parents Irish? No way! Does he/she speak Spanish? No me digs! Does he/she play poker? Texas Hold ‘Em!

The Skype calls need to transmit a unique selling proposition as much as the business model of your company. This will get you on the short list. Then to get an offer you have to show you know exactly who and what TechStars is. The history, the objectives, the requirements. You need to show you know exactly what you are applying for and that you will hit the ground right from day one.

In September of last year you dropped the last minute restriction and moved to seven day bookings. What’s been the reaction to those changes from a marketing and business point of view?

The big thing is we get lots more price watching. Starting seven days out and checking every day until the night customers are looking for. We also notice that some customers start as seven days out bookers but then become same day bookers once they see how painless the whole process is. Conor O´Connor, the CEO of Hot, insisted that we build from day one to have full calendar availability. He knew that last minute wouldn’t just mean same day forever.

FIWARE: how the EU and giants like Telefonica or IBM are wasting €100 million and entrepreneurs’ time

Private and publicly funded FIWARE has become a waste of entrepreneurs’ time, creating more headaches than solving problems. We’ve talked to developers about this.

fiware telefonica

The European Union and a consortium of multinationals like Telefonica, Thales or IBM launched FIWARE in 2014, a set of open source and API-enabled tools for developers interested in building “smart applications in multiple vertical sectors”.

The project, which was launched with much fanfare and a €100 million budget, was criticised by many in the industry, as it was -and still is- viewed as a waste of public money and a somewhat useless effort from giants like Telefonica.

As Mike Butcher put it in this article from March of last year, “FIWARE produces prototypes based on largely dead technologies which go nowhere. It does not create value, economic development or successful startups and entrepreneurs”, he argued. “It all looks like a simple front for Telefonica and the EU to look like they are ‘doing something’”.

And indeed, it appears like FIWARE is turning out to be a waste of public money and entrepreneur’s time.

There are various faces to the FIWARE initiative. The main one is FIWARE, the set of APIs that are there for developers to use to create prototypes of “smart city” apps. These applications can be developed at FIWARE’s various hackathons (with prizes that range from €56K to €145K) and winning participants will receive feedback from experts in the field and other developers that also use the platform.

Then there’s also FIWARE Lab (“a non-commercial sandbox environment where innovation and experimentation based on FIWARE technologies take place”), FIWARE Ops (“a collection of tools that eases the deployment, setup and operation of FIWARE instances by Platform Providers”), FIWARE Accelerate (an €80 million acceleration program that aims to “promote the take up of FIWARE technologies among solution integrators and app developers”) and FIWARE Mundus (“a program designed to bring coverage to this effort engaging local ICT players and other players from different parts of the world”).

One of FIWARE’s main components is its acceleration program, which is the result of partnerships with various European accelerators. One of the best examples is IMPACT Accelerator, a program launched by Barcelona-based ISDI, Buongiorno, Teknologiudviking ApS and Madrid-based Venture Capital firm Seaya Ventures.

Startups chosen by IMPACT must use FIWARE in some shape or form to develop their own products and services, and will receive a €100,000 investment in return -no startup equity is given up- and help from its vast group of mentors.

While various developers we have talked to claim that IMPACT and its mentors have been useful, when FIWARE gets in the middle, it all breaks down.

FIWARE: a waste of startup’s time

According to a couple of developers who wish to remain anonymous and who have participated in various FIWARE-related projects, “it’s all a waste of time”.

The problems with the initiative are vast and start with the lack of concrete and useful explanations from FIWARE’s advocates. “I recently attended one of their talks and FIWARE’s very own developers were not able to respond to most of our questions”, a source says.

Most say that FIWARE’s documentation is far from complete and help from their evangelists is not what they expected. “Most of the answers to our questions are far from useful”, one source says. “IMPACT’s organizers don’t understand FIWARE and their own devs don’t sit down with us very often. Instead they ask us to go to events where they will explain how it all works, but this is a waste of time”.

These same sources claim that the worst of all is that IMPACT and other accelerators “force teams to use a set of APIs and tools that don’t add any value to our projects. It’s a distraction and a way to lose focus”.

We have talked to multiple developers and startups and nobody has met anyone who has successfully used FIWARE to their own benefit. “There’s no community behind it, it has no history and it doesn’t solve any problem that startups might have in their day to day operations”, another source says. “The open source movement doesn’t need these kind of efforts when there are things like Hadoop that already work very well and have a strong community behind them”.

Many see FIWARE as a way for Telefonica and others (like the accelerators) to promote themselves and justify vast and lucrative budgets. I’ve also argued numerous times that firms like Seaya Ventures and others must have joined the game to improve their deal flow, with very little knowledge of how FIWARE works and how it impacts startups.

What seems clear is that very few people are benefitting from this and FIWARE’s public-private initiative is creating more headaches than solving actual problems. “Instead of forcing us to use FIWARE, I wish we’d have the freedom of choosing how to use our time”, a source says.

As we said at the time, most startups applied to IMPACT to get €100,000 of free capital. What they probably didn’t know is how much of a pain it’d be to use FIWARE. A waste of time, a waste of money and a waste of public (EU) and private (Telefonica, IBM, etc) resources.

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These are the seven startups in Plug and Play Spain’s sixth accelerator batch

We take a quick look at the seven startups participating in Plug and Play’s sixth accelerator batch, which is currently underway.

plug and play spain

Plug and Play Spain’s sixth accelerator program is underway, with seven startups that will refine and develop their products over the next few months in preparation for the program’s Expo Day, which will take place in Valencia in June.

Plug and Play Spain was launched in 2012 and so far it has invested in 46 startups that have raised €6 million in follow-on funding. Three of those 46 companies have been acquired, with notable exits like Ducksboard’s acquisition by New Relic, Lonely Planet buying TouristEye or Quolaw (vLex).

These are the seven startups chosen by Plug and Play:

  • Graphext: a platform for creating and exploring vertical knowledge networks from digital feeds, helping users find expertise in public conversations.

  • Luraki: mobile app that connects local farmers with consumers. Via the app users will be able to find the closest producers and info on where to buy their products.

  • Netbeast: the startup is currently developing Xway, a kind of router that allows apps to be installed in order to automate processes.

  • Relendo: marketplace to rent any kind of stuff from others, from cameras to bicycles.

  • Runator: app that allows importing users’ running data from multiple applications in a social environment.

  • Shipeer: an alternative to traditional courier companies, allowing users to ship and deliver stuff by relying on other traveling users.

  • Comprea: app to buy groceries from local stores. Think of Instacart but applied to the Spanish market.

Wayra CEE to close in March: more to shut down in the next few months?

Wayra CEE, Telefonica’s startup accelerator for Central and Eastern European countries, is set to close in March. Wayra Ireland also is also shutting down.

wayra telefonica

Last week we learned that one of Wayra’s best performing programs, Ireland, was shutting down at the end of May. In various statements Telefonica claimed that the decision was made following the sale of O2 to EE and that affected startups would continue to receive support from Wayra in London and Madrid.

Wayra CEE (based in Prague and aimed at startups from Central East Europe) is the next one to close, as confirmed by Wayra in a statement published on its website on February 6th. The closure will take place at the end of March -when the current program finishes- and the telco says that the reason behind it is “to focus on the strategic regions in which Telefonica operates”. Which makes sense given the fact that Telefonica’s subsidiary in the Czech Republic was sold last year to PPF.

Novobrief has talked to sources close to the company and these claim that more Wayra academies are set to close in the near future, as the company tries to focus its efforts on a limited number of markets where Telefonica has a strong presence.

These same sources say that Wayra’s programs in Spain, London and Germany are safe for now. Outside of Europe, Wayra has programs in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela.

Novobrief has also learned that the selection of a new global CEO for Wayra will not happen until these consolidation efforts are completed, under the direction of Javier Placer and the Open Future umbrella.

From a strategic standpoint it’s reasonable for Telefonica to close academies in those markets where the multinational can’t provide hands-on and local support. However, two big questions continue to hang over Wayra’s future: what program will be the next one to close? And most importantly, who’s going to be in charge of leading the next chapter in Wayra’s career following these significant changes?

More changes at Telefonica: Wayra Ireland to shut down on May 31st

Wayra Ireland is shutting down. The Irish branch of the Telefonica-owned accelerator will be closing at the end of May, when the current acceleration program ends.

wayra ireland

Wayra Ireland is shutting down. The Irish branch of the Telefonica-owned accelerator will be closing at the end of May, when the current acceleration program ends. Telefonica has confirmed the news.

Although no official figures have been released, we understand that Wayra Ireland was one of the best performing programs within the accelerator, having accepted at least 30 startups that went on to raise more than €10 million in funding.

It seems that the shut down of Wayra Ireland is related to Telefonica selling O2 (which included its Irish subsidiary), as the Spanish telco wants to have all Wayra programs in close proximity to one of their operating business units.

Novobrief also understands that all startups that have been accelerated by the Irish program will continue to receive support from Wayra London and Madrid’s global offices.

This announcement takes place following significant changes at the corporate accelerator.

As we reported last week, Alierta’s man Javier Placer is now running Telefonica Open Future SL, a new division that oversees Wayra and other startup-related initiatives from the telco. Sources close to Wayra have previously told Novobrief that Placer was not Martín Pallete’s (one of Wayra’s biggest supporters at Telefonica and its COO) choice for the leadership role, pointing to internal problems at the company and decisions that were made based on politics instead of what could be best for the future of the accelerator.

Gonzalo Martín Villa, who served as global CEO of Wayra for more than three years, stepped down from his position in late December.

It’s worth noting that other sources within the company have told us that the decision to shut down Wayra Ireland might not be as related to the O2 deal as Telefonica claims.

If that’s the case: are there more drastic changes in the horizon for one of the leading corporate accelerators in the world?

UPDATE: Wayra is also shutting down its CEE (Central Eastern Europe) program.