Embracing uncertainty: My turbulent first year at wayra Germany

January 25, 2021
4 min read
2020 is over. "Finally," many people might say, but I would also say "unfortunately", because 2020 was an incredibly successful year for wayra Germany, Telefónica's Open Innovation Hub. The last twelve months were extraordinary and challenging in every respect: From my start as Managing Director of wayra Germany in January to managing the Corona impact on our Munich space from March, and my parental leave in the last two months of the year.

Embracing uncertainty: My turbulent first year at wayra Germany

Numerous stations and impressions - and most recently a rest from a distance from the working world - have given me a lot to think about. Now that I have been back at work for a week and I look back at the past year: what has changed and what can we learn from it? For me, it's clearly the new need to deal honestly and flexibly with uncertainty. What exactly do I mean by that?

Let's take a look back at the beginning of 2020.

 

The magic and uncertainty of new beginnings

 

In January 2020, I started as the new Managing Director of wayra Germany, having previously spent three years building and leading the startup I co-founded, Airgreets. A big and certainly no ordinary step out of the startup world into a new intermediary position between corporate and startups. As an open innovation hub, wayra Germany connects technology-oriented startups with Telefónica's business units to bring promising innovations to the telecommunications company. At the time, it was a completely new task for me, but one I was well qualified to handle. My time as the co-founder and CFO of Airgreets and, before that, as an employee of Deutsche Telekom gave me an understanding of both sides' mindsets and motivations. I understand what is most important to both startups and large companies and how I can best promote their collaboration. While startups focus on validating their business model and generating revenue, corporates look for innovations to cut costs or open up new revenue streams. Consequently, I was full of energy as I took on this new professional challenge and all the new uncertainties that would come with it.

 

The pandemic threatens the heart of the Munich startup scene

 

At that time, I couldn't have imagined the challenges we would all face just shortly afterwards. In March, the situation changed abruptly due to the lockdown - every event was canceled, and all of our employees, startup teams, and partners in Telefónica's business units suddenly had to work from home. After just three months, my role and function had changed entirely yet again: I had now become the crisis manager for the startups in our ecosystem as the lockdown had primarily hit the most critical strategic hub of the wayra concept: our Munich startup space.

 

On over 1,000 square meters, wayra Germany offers a free office in downtown Munich for over 70 startups that have the potential to work with Telefónica - a space for networking and communication that in recent years has become the heart of the Munich startup scene. So, right at the beginning of the crisis, I had the responsibility to deal with the increased infection in the Munich startup space. While Telefónica and many of the resident startups were already fully digital and well prepared for remote work, the vibrant on-site community disappeared. This was a massive drawback because no one could easily and informally exchange ideas with other founders from one day to the next. At the same time, I could not justify exposing the people in our office to increased infection risk. Therefore, I decided to close the office as ofMarch 15.

 

This decision was by no means easy for me, and not everyone in the team and among the founders could initially understand the drastic step.

Accordingly, we subsequently had a lot to do with motivating the teams under these extraordinary conditions, cushioning their uncertainties as best as we could, and maintaining communication. Among other things, we offered workshops on liquidity protection and guaranteed all startups that contracts and payouts would not be affected by Corona. We also set up a crisis fund to invest in startups that were hit hard by Corona but have great potential for success. Our partner startups coped with the situation differently, and some even had to fight for survival. Therefore, we continuously reconsidered and adjusted our crisis strategy throughout the year, occasionally allowing founders back in to the Munich office under tight security measures.

 

An exceptional situation requires flexible solutions

 

The deliberations and adjustments are still not complete and probably won't be for the foreseeable future. But if 2020 has taught me one thing, it's that new and ongoing uncertainties are no reason to despair.Instead, they offer new challenges again and again. And with every day and growing experience, we can address them with better and more flexible solutions.. For us at wayra, the Corona pandemic presented many difficulties.And while we did not always manage to find the optimal solution right away, we can look back with pride on the past year and our achievements and successes with Telefónica and innovative startups.

 

In 2020, we signed contracts with 14 new startups, increasing our total number of collaborations with promising startups to 30. As the largest project, Telefónica successfully launched an AI-powered platform for internal staffing and skills management called "Beyond" together with the startup Cobrainer, in which we also invested. Besides, wayra Germany was ranked 2nd in the "Core Business Innovation - Service" category and 1st in the "Commercial Success" category in the"Corporations on the Trail of Startups 2020" study conducted by Infront Consulting and the business magazine Capital - with the latter award in particular accurately reflecting our strategy and vision. Moreover, our preparations for a new "Tech Lab" in the Munich Space have continued to progress successfully. Starting in March 2021, startups will have access to a private 5G network to test or develop their prototypes, free of charge. At the same time, we will offer the opportunity to present innovative products to other founders and companies in a showcase, thus further boosting the shared exchange of knowledge and collaborations. Both Telefónica and Telefónica customers will be coming in and out of the 5G Lab in the future. In the best-case scenario, they will also be able to purchase these technologies from the startups.

 

A new year full of uncertainties and opportunities

 

After all, there are many reasons to approach the new year with optimism and motivation. To this end, above all, we have set our sights on an increased focus on our Venture Development Program: Through contracts with Telefónica, we bring more revenue to startups and help save costs on Telefónica's side - or increase revenue by reselling startup technology. After returning from two months of parental leave, I now feel a similar sense of optimism as I did exactly one year ago. The difference is that after last year's experiences, I'm much more relaxed and confident about the new uncertainties of the upcoming weeks and months—something we should all take with us from 2020.

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About wayra

Wayra Germany is the open innovation hub of the telecommunications group Telefónica. As an early-stage-investment-arm, Wayra scales technology-oriented start-ups and pursues a „venture-client“ model in which the parent company Telefónica acts as a customer for the start-ups’ products. With the Wayra-as-a-Service program, the corporate venture provider supports Telefónica as well as other groups in their cooperation with young companies.
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