Telefonica and Orange step up efforts to support Europe’s digital economy

It’s not all wealthy men at Davos this week; there were some women as well. It was widely reported that only 17 per cent of delegates to the World Economic Forum in Davos this year are women. That’s a shockingly sad statistic – especially as the organisers have introduced a quota that insists the biggest companies send at least one woman for every four men.

One of the high profile women delegates was Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission and a force to be reckoned with when it comes to setting the agenda for Europe’s digital future. You can bet she wasn’t impressed with the pathetically low ratio of women to men.

No surprise that she was at the centre of two new initiatives launched at Davos – a digital economy think-tanks and a start-up accelerator forum.

“Europe needs thriving startups and global internet companies to become a global growth centre again,” said Commissioner Kroes. “Politicians don’t create jobs, entrepreneurs do. We’re going to support that mindset and push European start-ups beyond their comfort zone. And then we’re going to get out of the way. Sometimes the best thing a political leader can do is get out of the way.”

The European Digital Forum is a digital economy think tank led by The Lisbon Council (a Brussels-based think tank), which seeks to encourage joint projects in key areas of digital innovation. It aims to create a debate amongst companies, start-ups and any other relevant organisations in the digital economy, focused on the practical issues that directly affect the evolution and growth of Europe’s digital economy.

In addition, the Forum will produce an annual European Digital Economy Index, providing a ranking of European countries’ digital readiness and start-up environment. Other founding partners are BBVA and the European Investment Bank.

The StartUp Europe Partnership, which is being led by Mind the Bridge (an Italian and US non-profit) and the UK’s NESTAinnovation foundation, is an extension of the European Commission’s Startup Europe initiative – tasked with building a network of entrepreneurs and innovators. The Partnership will bring together some of the leading players of Europe’s entrepreneur and innovation industries, offering the opportunity for large companies, start-ups and universities to connect and build networks.

The Startup Europe Partnership is the first European initiative aimed at helping start-ups scale up to compete and raise funds at international and global level. It is one of the six actions for web entrepreneurs defined in the European Commission’s “Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan”. Other founding Partners include BBVA with the institutional support of the European Investment Bank Group, Cambridge University, IE Business School and Humboldt University.

“Boosting Europe’s digital competitiveness needs policies that spur investment and kick-start growth, but at the same time we need to encourage and support innovation-driven entrepreneurship,” said José María Álvarez-Pallete, COO of Telefónica. “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.”

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

Both telcos are already heavily involved in start-up projects in Europe and beyond.

Telefonica runs its Wayra start-up incubator, which has invested in around 300 businesses and established 13 academies to date; its Talentum programme helps the creation of start-ups as well as enabling them to grow; and its Think Big programme has funded nearly 9,000 projects across Europe, directly involving over 10,000 young people.

Orange is a major contributor to the Future Internet Public-Private Partnership, a European research programme aiming to accelerate the development and adoption of new Internet technologies in Europe; it runs its Orange Fab start-up accelerator; and is a shareholder in Iris Capital, a risk capital company to help innovative entrepreneurs.

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