Big changes at Telefonica. Following weeks of rumours about the future of Wayra, the Spanish telco giant announced on Friday a significant restructuring of the company’s innovation sections, with the transformation of Telefonica Digital Venture Capital SL in Telefonica Open Future SL, a new division that will group all areas associated to entrepreneurship and startups.
Luis Solana Madariaga, former president of Telefonica between 1983 and 1989, will be the chairman of the board, while Javier Placer will be person in charge of running Open Future’s day to day operations.
In a large corporation such as Telefonica, Placer’s selection as the leader of Open Future is an interesting one. Placer is the nephew of Telefonica’s current president, César Alierta. The two were accused in the late 90s of pocketing €1.8 million in the insider trading case of Tabacalera. Alierta and Placer were charged with use of internal information, but they were later exonerated and the case was never reopened.
Placer’s background is in investment banking and he joined Telefonica to help in the development of Amérigo, an early stage and growth fund aimed at Latin American and Spanish startups that is managed by various Venture Capital firms, such as Kibo Ventures.
Sources close to the company have described the choice of Placer as “surprising”, and one that responds to internal politics more than to the real needs of a multinational that has been at the forefront of internal and corporate innovation over the past few years.
Other sources have claimed that Placer’s selection signals that Alierta has won this particular battle, adding that José María Álvarez Pallete (Telefónica’s COO, a key person in the development of Wayra and one of the leading candidates to replace Alierta when he retires) had different plans for Open Future. Some say that Javier Santiso, founder of Talentum Start-Ups or Amérigo, was Pallete’s candidate for the position.
Open Future and Wayra
It’s not easy to describe what Open Future is. In a blog post published in late December, Telefonica says that “Open Future is a global and open program designed to connect entrepreneurs, startups, investors and public and private institutions”.
The fact of the matter is that many divisions that were previously independent at Telefonica fall now under the leadership of Placer and Open Future’s umbrella. For example:
- Telco Open Fund
- Telefonica Venture Capital (a fund managed by the telco that has invested more than €70 million to date)
- Wayra accelerator
- Talentum Start-Ups
- Think Big
Wayra will be one of the most interesting sections to watch going forward. The accelerator founded by Carlos Domingo in 2011 has become a true giant in the space, having backed more than 425 startups and with 14 different academies all around the world.
Various sources close to the company have told Novobrief that Wayra’s main objective to date was educating the company internally; promoting innovation, startups and entrepreneurship in a multinational that until then didn’t have any of these in its list of priorities.
These same sources claim that this particular objective was achieved and that it’s now time for Wayra to mature and to be “less about PR and more about producing tangible results”. “Wayra is a long term bet and this doesn’t fit in well with a company like Telefónica”, sources say.
Rumours about Wayra’s future started flying when Gonzalo Martín Villa, its CEO for more than three years, announced that he was leaving the accelerator and joining a different section within the company. This took place in December and since then very little has been publicly said about Wayra’s future. Some sources say that Telefonica has even considered shutting the accelerator down, although this seems highly unlikely at the moment.
Despite the fact that the accelerator has been critized by many since its inception -mostly due to its ties with Telefonica-, most entrepreneurs and investors consulted by Novobrief had good things to say about the program and its influence in the ecosystem and in the development of similar initiatives by other corporates.
However, with Martín Villa no longer at the helm and with Carlos Domingo now at Etihad Etisalat (Mobily), clouds hang over Wayra’s future. The selection of Martín Villa’s replacement -whenever that happens- might say a lot about the destiny of one of the leading corporate accelerators in the world.