Opportunities and challenges: Wayra’s Country Manager Bruno Moraes looks back on 2020

Bruno Moraes

Working with start-ups, Wayra offers innovative solutions to Telefónica’s customers. They have access to 350 million connections across the world, and they offer a unique interface between entrepreneurs and their network of corporates, governments and partners in the 15 countries that Telefónica operates. Over the last seven years, Wayra UK has invested in and supported more than 200 companies to help scale the global start-up ecosystem. We spoke to Wayra’s UK Country Manager Bruno Moraes to find out what 2020 was like for them, discuss the impact of the pandemic and look forward to the rest of 2021.

Before taking on his current role, Bruno had served as a mentor for Wayra from March 2018 to February 2019. With a track record of success as an entrepreneur, executive and management consultant, Bruno became UK Country Manager in January last year right before the pandemic really hit here in the UK. Explaining what his job entails Bruno says:

“I’m the Country Manager and I’m managing the UK hub. A big part of my day is helping the teams that are scouting for solutions, and then deciding which startups we’re going to invest in. I speak with founders and challenge owners from the business to understand the space where they are looking for solutions, and then find the right solutions. We also run vertical programs with partners, other than Telefónica, to support them in their innovation journey and their interface with startups. I work with those partners to make sure that we are developing and delivering the best possible program that add value to the partners, usually corporate, sometimes public organizations as well, and to the startups.”

When it comes to vetting potential investment opportunities, the key thing that Bruno looks for is the potential fit with Telefónica. He expands:

“The most important criteria for us is what we call fit between Telefónica and the startups that can develop into a real business opportunity. Most often its startups whose products Telefónica is going to sell to their customers, but in some cases, its startups from which Telefónica will buy a product. In a few cases, we have startups that will buy from Telefónica. It could be any of those three; selling to, buying from or selling through Telefónica.”

The global pandemic has caused disruption for everyone in 2020 but its impact hasn’t always been negative. For Wayra, the pandemic caused two main challenges; one for the company directly and one for its portfolio.

“A lot of what we do is to promote the connection between startups and Telefónica or other partners. This is of course more challenging in this environment. People are still interacting but it’s in a more formal and more pre-planned way so there is less space for networking and for serendipity, and this plays an important role in what we do. Also there is, of course in our business, a strong focus in reacting or adapting to the situation. Sometimes, in some companies, in a crisis situation, innovation is relegated to a second priority. This has been one of the challenges regarding partnerships with other corporates.”

“We did a survey and about 25% of our portfolio is suffering quite substantially from the pandemic.”

There have been opportunities that have arisen over the past few months too. Bruno comments:

“We were able to bring together our startups and connections, and mentors and coaches, which we would normally not do because they’re not based here. We could expand our network in that sense. last year we invested in startups from many different geographies and countries because it was as easy to meet them digitally as it was to meet a local startup. Overall, the balance of the year has been positive. We’ve found and started investing in really amazing startups. We’re very happy with our progress last year.”

Wayra has spent time supporting and helping its portfolio to ensure that they are able to make it through the pandemic too.

“We did a survey and about 25% of our portfolio is suffering quite substantially from the pandemic. 25% actually is actually seeing opportunities arise in this situation; they either were very well positioned to help, or they pivoted and are benefiting. They’re growing more than they were expected to grow before. Then we have half of our portfolio who is neither growing more but also not growing substantially less. They could protect themselves and shield themselves from most of the impact. I think overall, against at least my expectations earlier this year when all this started, it’s actually better than I expected.”

With a vaccine now being rolled out in the UK and a light at the end of the tunnel finally emerging, Wayra is optimistic about 2021 and the possibilities it will bring. Bruno shares:

“The priority for 2021 is to increase the focus on more mature startup. We see in many cases that those startups can develop and capture the business opportunities with Telefonica much faster than early stage startups. We have a specific offer targeted to those startups, not only companies that are in the UK, but also startups that want to come to the UK and are already well established elsewhere. One of the priorities is to continue driving focus into more mature startups.”

Find out more about Wayra by visiting https://www.wayra.uk.

By UKBAA 11 Feb 2021