Spanish giant Telefonica seeks innovative Israeli hi-tech start-ups

Spanish telecommunications giant Telefonica is currently looking for Israeli start-ups with disruptive technologies in various fields such as digital health, education, smart home and mobility, through its innovation division, Wayra X. .

These sectors may seem remote from the interests of a large telecommunications company – one of the largest in Europe and among the top 10 in the world with around 350 million customers – but Luisa Rubio, director of Wayra X, declared to Times of Israel in an interview by videoconference from Madrid that the division had been created with the mission of “looking beyond Telefonica’s core business” and opening up to innovation in other areas and other countries.

Israel’s tech ecosystem, she said, was one of the first to turn to Wayra X because of its “strong entrepreneurial spirit” and application of “technology to concrete problems”.

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The Investment Center, established in late 2020 as part of Telefonica’s Innovation Division to support early-stage digital-focused start-ups, Wayra made its first investment in an Israeli start-up during its first year of operation. Wayra X has participated in a $2 million pre-seed investment in Upword, a Tel Aviv company that has developed an AI-powered reading summary and productivity tool. This investment is one of the few start-ups supported by Wayra X for less than two years.

While Wayra operated as an accelerator program – working with more than 800 start-ups in 30 countries, generating approximately $300 million in revenue since the innovation arm was established – Wayra X was created to take Telefonica on B2C (business-to-consumer) “mass markets” in areas such as “5G, e-health, e-learning, smart home, entertainment, mobility and the future of work “.

Through its seven hubs located in 10 countries, including Brazil, Germany, the UK, Mexico and Spain, Wayra X is aimed at entrepreneurs and businesses hoping to solve complex challenges “and improve the people’s lives by integrating cutting-edge technology into their daily lives.

Telefonica’s Wayra X investment hub in Madrid. (Credit: Courtesy)

Rubio said that in B2C markets, “Innovation and technology are not always obvious; there are a lot of marketplaces with interfaces, for example, but no real technology”.

Wayra X wants to “have a real impact on end customers,” she said.

With Upword, Rubio said, “it’s true that it’s a different area of ​​investment, but education is a goal in itself for Telefonica and a key area for us in the scouting phase.”

Formerly known as Erudite, Upword was founded in 2020 as an AI-powered platform to create short summaries or summaries of long texts to improve reading and productivity. The platform is currently in private beta, but potential users can already join the waitlist and access the company’s free extension on Google’s Chrome browser.

Upword claims that its tool can summarize texts up to 80%, but offers much more than that.

Upword co-founder and CEO Roee Barak told the Times of Israel that while the company is “building the world’s best synthesis tool” as its flagship product, its long-term ambition is to “build the next generation of personal knowledge technologies.”

To do this, the company leverages “state-of-the-art technology in the areas of NLP [traitement du langage naturel] and machine learning to help people capture, learn, read, consume and manage their knowledge throughout their daily lives,” Barak said, adding that it serves to optimize “what we do with our personal knowledge “.

The main problem that Upword tackles is that of
“excess information, [différents] content formats and new ways of consuming content and knowledge,” he explained. “These are crucial questions for knowledge workers who are students, lawyers, doctors, analysts, journalists, marketing professionals and so many others,” he said. “It’s our market. »

Barak also pointed to Upword’s collaboration elements between AI and humans, where the tool “saves a lot of time and effort, extracting key parts of content and generating outlines” of text and tests before the user intervenes.

Users can “add their own notes and rephrase or paraphrase what the AI ​​has extracted, and eventually it turns into something new. It is therefore a collaboration between notes and summaries powered by AI and the work of the user to create a new summary or a new essay, likely to be published, shared and worked on in collaboration with others. other people,” he said.

The work is then indexed and saved in the user’s library on the platform for future access and use. The idea, Barak added, is to positively impact “people’s productivity with their own knowledge, helping them grow, acquire knowledge and use it.”

Rubio said Upword is more “than just an educational tool for students, it’s for everyone. We like that it has added value and is a tool for everyday use”.

Telefonica customers “expect surprises and new solutions they don’t even know they have,” she explained.

“We always keep in mind that we are a telecommunications company, but we also want to offer other things to our customers in areas such as games, entertainment, health and education,” Rubio added. .

Such solutions can be implemented for the benefit of customers and/or used internally by Telefonica’s more than 110,000 employees worldwide. Wayra X also helps companies it supports do business directly with Telefonica, Rubio said.

1651597036 39 Spanish giant Telefonica seeks innovative Israeli hi tech start ups

Telefonica’s headquarters in Madrid, Spain, January 1, 2022. (JJFarquitectos via iStock by Getty Images)

The Wayra X manager recently wrapped up a four-day trip to Israel, where she met with tech entrepreneurs and players in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as the hub seeks to deepen its relationship with Israel and stay connected with those brand new businesses.

Rubio said he works closely with Start-Up Nation Central, a nonprofit that connects businesses, governments and global ecosystems with Israel, and has partnered with the Azrieli College of Engineering in Jerusalem (JCE) as part of an innovation competition that will see Israeli students fly to Madrid next month for the South Summit 2022, an innovation conference for entrepreneurs and investors.

These collaborations aim to identify new ideas and companies to invest in.

“Currently, we are looking to detect new areas for new divisions, such as the metaverse,” Rubio said in reference to the world of interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, work and play, using a range of devices. such as virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses and smartphone apps. A number of Israeli companies are already operating in this area.

“Israel is one of the most competitive ecosystems in the world, it is on the same level as the United States… but smaller, with the ease of contact and the most interesting quality of start-ups,” assured Rubio.

To access premium offers, she acknowledges that Wayra X and Telefonica will have to “move quickly and not behave like traditional companies”.

“The speed of the ecosystem [israélien] is amazing,” she said with a laugh, adding that she had heard of deals that were done in 72 hours.

“We have to adapt the way we work,” Rubio said. Wayra X wants to add two or three Israeli start-ups to its investment portfolio by the end of the year, she concluded.

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Spanish giant Telefonica seeks innovative Israeli hi-tech start-ups

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