26 – 100 in alphabetical order: Miguel Arias, Telefónica

Miguel Arias joined Spain-based telecoms group Telefónica as its global entrepreneurship director in early 2018 from Spain-based technology company Carto, one of Telefónica’s portfolio companies, where he was chief operations officer.

In this role, Arias manages all aspects of the operator’s entrepreneurship spaces, including 11 Spain and Latin America-focused accelerator network Wayra’s open innovation hubs and 50 Open Future corporate venturing initiative spaces around the world.

Gonzalo Martín-Villa, Telefónica’s chief innovation officer, said in his nomination of Arias: “As a leader in the telecoms industry, Telefonica has a commitment to its customer to meet its needs and adapt to new technologies in a fast-changing world. We are fully convinced that Telefónica cannot do this on its own, and we have been leading open innovation in our industry since long time ago.

“Under Miguel Arias’s management Telefónica has stepped up its game. We have built simpler interfaces and become more flexible and agile when working with startups and external talent. Miguel has brought an innovative and entrepreneurial vision to our activity, being able to take innovation into our core business and make startups and Telefónica talk the same language.”

Arias is crafting a new chapter in Telefónica’s open innovation strategy by identifying and instigating technologies that complement internal research and development (R&D) while devising an enhanced network within the global entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Arias told Mobile Insights that the telco had learnt that startups “are key partners to accelerate our business” in strategic areas of interest.

He added: “In a digital world evolving at breakneck speed, clients now expect innovation and customer service. That is why we are enabling a smooth interface between startups and a big telco like Telefónica.”

Arias leads the new stage in Telefónica’s open innovation strategy through Wayra Open Innovation Hubs in 10 countries and 50 Open Future partnerships around the world. Wayra is a business acceleration platform that facilitates entrepreneurs, startups, investors and public and private partners to connect across the globe to seize innovation and business opportunities and to complement internal R&D.

Telefónica has been dedicated to an open innovation scheme over the past seven years, and Arias acknowledged that it was not always smooth sailing for the operator. “We are proud to admit that, like any good entrepreneur, we have made some mistakes.”

That said, Arias ensured he and his team learn from trials and errors and Telefónica has modified its strategy over the course of time to concentrate its efforts on later-stage startups to bring in deals that “bring innovation to Telefónica but also expose our technology to the wider ecosystem”.

Telefónica’s approach integrates the group’s open innovation, entrepreneurship and investment programs through an international platform. In doing so, it welcomes and fosters external involvement from those who want to devise their own investment and entrepreneurial plans and are introduced to corporates in the process.

More than 750 startups have benefited from Telefónica’s investment and about 1,700 have been accelerated and 100 companies have entered partnerships or do joint business with the telco. The Telefónica Open Innovation scheme covers 16 countries so far and more than €160m ($180m) have been committed.

Telefónica seeks to team up with innovative startups in areas including cybersecurity, video, virtual reality and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, cloud and big data. Arias explained that Telefónica had also been inspired to implement a tactic similar to that of a startup for its own business.

Arias said: “I feel organisations can learn to unlearn, which is something startups do all the time. The more we listen to customers and test our assumptions and ideas as quickly as possible with reality, we will become learning machines and we will be able to find new systems and products to solve our customers’ needs.”

Arias holds a master of science degree in civil engineering from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and an MBA from IE Business School. In his pursuit to enhance the Spanish entrepreneurial ecosystem, he co-founded Chamberi Valley, a networking initiative for scaleups based in Madrid. He shares his experiences as an entrepreneurship professor at the IE Business School and ISDI.