Telefónica and Orange grow European startups

European operator groups Telefónica and Orange have thrown their weight behind a project led by the European Commission to help the region’s technology startups to grow into global internet firms. The EC said it plans to “take on Silicon Valley” with the launch of two initiatives; an acceleration programme called the Startup Europe Partnership and a think tank called the European Digital Forum.

The operator groups are founding partners of the initiatives and are joined by European banking groups BBVA and European Investment Bank, academic institutions Cambridge University, IE Business School and Humboldt University, as well as think tank the Lisbon Council, innovation charity Nesta and US-based entrepreneurial foundation the Mind the Bridge Foundation.

The Startup Europe Partnership aims to help startups to “break through their national glass ceiling” and grow globally, according to the EC. The initiative will be led by Mind the Bridge and Nesta.

“Few startups have been able to scale up in Europe and reach a pan-European size,” the EC said in a statement. “The SEP will build bridges between Europe’s startup, corporate and investment communities to help EU startups raise funds and beat language barriers to reach maturity as global champions.”

The Partnership will establish events designed to introduce startups to corporations in an effort to encourage enterprises to invest in them. It will also encourage the sharing of best practices among startups to foster collaboration and better understand other European markets.

The European Digital Forum aims to give entrepreneurs a stronger voice on policy issues. It will hold an annual Digital Forum to enable startups to meet politicians and policy makers and it  will also produce an annual Digital Economy Index to assess and analyse the condition of Europe’s digital sector. It will be led by the Lisbon Council in collaboration with Nesta.

“These bright new initiatives reflect our approach on open innovation and our commitment to support startups in becoming European leaders,” said Orange chairman and CEO Stephane Richard. “Therefore, we also seek to contribute to economic growth in Europe, encourage job creation and help future talent.”

Telefónica’s chief operating officer José María Álvarez-Pallete added that the operator aims to encourage investment and growth among startups by narrowing the gap between them and global corporations.

“Our vision is that European corporations – big and small – can work together with universities to transform society and the economy in all areas of digital innovation to achieve growth in digital skills and entrepreneurship in a sustainable way,” he said. “These two initiatives will play a major role in helping this important evolution.”

Despite setting up its European startup incubator Wayra in March 2012, Telefónica has struggled to generate traction among its own innovative services in the region of late.

The operator canned its O2 Wallet service in the UK earlier this month as well as its VoIP service Jajah. In August last year, the operator group also retired its RCS prototype Tu Me, in favour of a version that is not bound to smartphones, and prior to that, in July 2013 pulled its consumer health services offering in the UK just four months after launch.

The group’s involvement in the two EC initiatives could suggest it is hoping to lean on other industry stakeholders to bring innovative services to the market.

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