A couple of weeks ago, Telefónica announced the launch of Wayra, a program that will support the creation of high-tech IT companies in Latin America and Spain. Basically, Wayra is a business incubator, although it wants to be more than that and calls itself a business “accelerator”. (Future) entrepreneurs can submit their projects, even if they’re only at an idea stage, and the 30 teams with the most promising ideas will be given the opportunity to present in front of a jury which will then narrow the selection down to 10 projects (this occurs on a country level). The first three countries are Colombia, Mexico and Spain, and the goal is to have this initiative running in eight countries by the end of this year. This will bring the number of supported projects to 80 by the end of 2011.

Every project will get access to Telefónicas top-notch technological infrastructure, and in addition will receive financing of $30k to $70k during the first six months and will obtain all the necessary support needed to establish and build a successful company (office space, mentoring, day-to-day management, technical support from Telefónicas R&D department, etc.). Wayra will also help the most interesting of these projects to obtain additional financing after the initial six-month period.

The idea behind this project is to facilitate the creation of global tech companies out of Latin America and Spain, which, despite some great successes like MercadoLibre, is still very difficult. Many potential founders move to tech hubs like Silicon Valley, New York, London or Berlin because they can’t find the necessary environments needed to create and grow an international company in their home countries. Access to capital is difficult (especially finding “smart money”), it’s hard to find skilled employees and the overall environment (legal, etc.) is often not supportive of entrepreneurship.

Wayra’s mission is to plant the seed from which local “Silicon Valleys” can emerge over time in the target countries, enabling talented individuals to pursue their dreams without having to leave their home country and fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in the region. A great initiative, I am looking forward to seeing the first projects emerging from the program.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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