Spanish telecoms firm Telefonica said it would invest 68 million euros ($86 million) in venture capital funds in a move to grow its digital division and distance itself from the struggling economy of its home country.
Telefonica, which already supports start-ups through an international network of 12 hubs, said it would launch the funds initially in Spain, Chile, Brazil, Colombia and Chile, where it has received funding from governments and institutions.
The network of funds, collectively named Amerigo, will manage projects worth a total of around 1 billion euros and is promoted by Telefonica Digital, based in London.
The firm said in July it expected revenues at Telefonica Digital to rise by 20 percent a year to reach 5 billion euros by 2015.
“We have long understood that to succeed we need to understand … the digital innovation ecosystem, recognising that great ideas can come from anywhere,” Matthew Key, chairman and chief executive of Telefonica digital said in a statement.
The company hopes to win some of the market dominated by the likes of Facebook and Google through its digital unit, which provides services including mobile advertising and online payment systems.
The former monopoly, struggling with a dismal home market and which suspended its dividend payments this year for the first time since the Spanish civil war 70 years ago, is also keen to loosen its link to the Spanish state and avoid the risk of further credit ratings cuts if Spain itself is downgraded.
Telefonica, which boasts a large presence in Latin America and across Europe in countries including Britain, Germany and the Czech Republic, said Amerigo would seek investment opportunities “outside of the main centres of venture capital activity, such as Silicon Valley and London”.
Technology start-ups are one of the only bright spots in Telefonica’s home market of Spain, where the unemployment rate stands at almost 25 percent.
France Telecom and advertising agency Publicis
announced late last year that they were putting 150 million euros in to create a venture capital fund to invest in promising internet start-ups in Europe.
Outside investors were expected to round out the fund contributions to reach roughly 300 million euros. ($1 = 0.7947 euros)
(Reporting by Robert Hetz, Writing by Clare Kane; Editing by Julien Toyer and Helen Massy-Beresford)
Photo: A man talks on his cell phone outside Telefonica headquarters in Madrid July 29, 2010. REUTERS/Susana Vera