Q&A with Irene Gómez, director, Telefónica Connected Open Innovation

Chema Alonso, chief digital commercial officer of Spain-headquartered telecommunications firm Telefónica, said: “In its almost 100 years of history, Telefónica has been always in constant change, adapting itself to new business models and technologies and always aiming to fulfil our customers’ needs.

“The Connected Open Innovation area, with the new units that Irene has set up – Fast Track and Venture Builder, our company is better prepared to the challenges our society is facing, allowing Telefonica to offer more digital products through digital channels and enhancing its leading position within the industry.

“At Telefónica, we believe it is people that give purpose to technology, and creating quality connections is our reason for being. Connections that bring us together. Connections that are secure and put you in control. Connections that encourage openness and leave no one behind. Open Innovation plays a key role in this mission.”

1. Any highlights from the past year?

In the last year, Telefónica’s open innovation initiatives are better prepared through the creation of two new units which will support Telefónica’s strategy: Venture Studio (our internal Venture Builder initiative) and Fast Track Funnel (our internal initiative to boost startups products in the B2C segment); in addition to Wayra (our micro-CVC programme, focused on business development), Open Future (our network of incubation spaces with public partners) and the Activation Programmes (our initiative aiming to bring our platforms and technology closer to the startups).

2. What are the plans for the year ahead?

In 2020 we will expand our Venture Builder activities and support our portfolio startups during the covid-19 crisis. Also, Telefonica is having a key role in supporting the governments in its footprint by the creation of smartphone apps to help control and monitor covid-19 positive cases.

3. Could you mention some milestones achieved at your unit so far?

Throughout a redefinition of our innovation strategy, following a company-wide restructuration, today we are better prepared to help Telefónica overcome the challenges being faced by the telecommunications’ industry. In 2019, the Open Innovation division created a new Venture Builder unit, which launched Deeder, its first company.

Moreover, a new Fast Track unit was created. It aims to speedy prototype integrations with B2C startups solutions to boost potential collaborations for the consumer segment.

4. Please mention some pain points and opportunities you have encountered in corporate venturing.

The main challenge is driving innovation into the corporation. After more than nine years of working with startups, we have been able to build simpler interfaces for them to work with Telefónica Group: a more agile corporate mindset, smoother and quicker processes and more open platforms.

5. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry? 

There are no shortcuts for this: what corporations have as a unique value proposition is business development opportunities for the innovators. I believe all the corporations doing CVC should focus on working with their investees and bringing them value in the form of business.

6. For colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time? 

Despite living immersed in a digital world, art and creating with my own hands always has fascinated me. Before CVC I have spent many years connecting my personal creative process with the way I developed my work as a product manager in areas such as cybersecurity and AI applied to the user experience (Aura).

7. Strategic and Leadership measures:

– Examples of corporate acquisitions of portfolio or venture-backed companies:
Smart Protection, Devo, Carto, Countercraft, etc. We have a portfolio of over 500 companies.

– Business unit partnerships and development with portfolio companies:
More than 130 of those 500 startups are working with Telefónica’s global business units and operating businesses throughout 14 different countries.

– Public leadership positions:
We are present in different corporate venture capital and open innovation conferences throughout the year (4YFN, MWC, South Summit, Web Summit, Slush, DLD, etc.).

– Awards:
Corporate Startup Stars by Startup Europe Partnership (SEP), an initiative of the European Commission: 3rd Best European Corporation in engaging with startups; 1st Corporate Accelerator; 3rd Edition of the ADEFAM Prices: Entity most supportive of entrepreneurship.

– Team expansion and recent promotions:
In January 2020, Irene Gómez joined the Innovation team as Connected Open Innovation Director. In 2020, the Connected Open Innovation team expanded, including over 15 new full-time equivalents in two new units: Venture Studio and Fast Track Funnel.