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Telefónica Expands Wayra Accelerator Network To Asia Via Tie-Up With China’s VIV Incubator

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Telefónica’s global network of 14 Wayra Academies, which each incubate a yearly crop of tech startups in the hopes of spotting the next big thing so their carrier overlord doesn’t have to, has gained a new addition to that tally — via a partnership with Chinese incubator Virtue Inno Valley (VIV).

In a press release announcing the partnership today, the pair said they will share resources and “opportunities” to promote each others’ businesses in China and on a global scale. This will include establishing a Coordination Committee to oversee joint actions that will include Wayra and VIV staff.

It’s the thirteenth country Wayra has reached into, and its first foray into Asia. To date, the Academy network’s focus has coincided with Telefónica’s global market strengths, by being concentrated on Latin America and Western Europe.

But today’s partnership with VIV, which is backed by Beijing’s Tsinghua University, expands the reach of the Wayra network into a whole new global region — via a tie-up with an incubator that apparently plays a significant role in telecoms, media & technology (TMT) startup acceleration in China.

According to data shared by the pair, the vast majority (80-90%) of Chinese entrepreneurial projects in the TMT sector will go through the selection pool of VIV. They added that the Tsinghua TMT alumni has included “all key members of the Chinese angel investment community, covering the majority of TMT related entrepreneurial projects in China”.

VIV’s links with “top Chinese OTTs” such as Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu and Sohu — and also the Chinese government — are also lauded. 

The Wayra-VIV partnership does not appear to involve any rebranding — so it doesn’t look as if VIV will become ‘Wayra China’ (except, colloquially perhaps). But VIV will become a member of the Wayra Global Alliance and, consequently, get access to Wayra’s global network of academies — giving VIV startups a route out to international markets and the possibility for their products to reach Telefónica’s 320M customer base, which spans 24 global countries.

Chinese technology companies can and do build huge user-bases for their products at home — in recent times, in the messaging space, a strong example would be Tencent’s Weixin/WeChat platform (which had some 270M monthly active users as of Q3 last year).

However, translating such domestic success into significant international traction has tended to be more difficult for Chinese tech companies — ergo, the Wayra link may offer some help for regional startups to bridge the gap between success in their home market and building a substantial user-base in the rest of the world, via access to international market mentoring and other resources, including non-Chinese investors.

“Selected Chinese TMT start-ups accelerated by Virtue Inno Valley will have the opportunity to go international through the Wayra global network, including extensive international mentor, partnership and investor resources,” noted Gonzalo Martin-Villa, CEO of Wayra, in a statement.

On the flip side, from Wayra’s point of view, access to the massive Chinese Internet user market is clearly a huge draw — especially as it’s a region where the incubator network lacks its own boots on the ground.

“The Wayra Global Alliance is born with the vision to create a great international network of innovation detection and reduce the gap of investment and commercial opportunities between geographical regions through technology. Thus, we are very happy to extend our global footprint to China through our alliance with Virtue Inno Valley, which provides us with immediate access to early stage innovations emerging from the largest TMT market in the world with 1.4 billion population and already more than 800 million mobile internet users,” added Martin-Villa.

“In the past years, we have consolidated operations in Europe and Latin America, and extending the Wayra network to Asia is a great step for us to create something remarkable in the start-up industry.”