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Wayra partners with UK government for Latin American scaleup project

Two scaleups from three Latin American countries – Argentina, Chile and Uruguay – will be selected by a project that will help the growing firms expand overseas into the UK market

Startup accelerator Wayra has partnered with the UK government to identify and support technology scaleups from a number of Latin American countries looking to expand their operations into the UK.

The initial work of the Scaleup UK 2021 project will focus on mapping around 50 scaleups from Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, which it defines as “SMEs with the potential to expand their operations internationally to at least two countries”.

Once the mapping is complete, a report will be created to serve as a source of information and contacts for the UK government and its embassies in the region, as well as a platform for the scaleups to gain visibility and find opportunities.

In the second phase of the project, scheduled for January 2021, 10 of the 50 or so mapped scaleups will be selected by a jury of local and UK experts to take part in a demo day, where they will be asked to present their expansion plans and why they see the UK as an ideal market for their business.

“We want the world’s best entrepreneurs to expand their businesses into the UK, where they will find one of the world’s most innovative and dynamic economies. The UK tech industry, in particular, has been showing amazing numbers, attracting more capital investments than any other European market,” said British ambassador to Argentina, Mark Kent.

“We know that Argentina has a particularly creative and thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, and we are proud that Argentine companies of different sizes have chosen to operate in the UK as a way to expand globally.”

The two winning scaleups will be placed in a programme to help them “soft-land” their business in the British market, which will include meetings with UK government figures and business agendas organised by Wayra.

“The UK is open to support innovative businesses wishing to expand into new markets,” said Joanna Crellin, the UK commissioner for trade and investment in Latin America. “I am delighted that we are collaborating with Wayra to enable two scaleups from Argentina, Chile or Uruguay to come to the UK. Latin America is known for its creativity and we are here to help the region’s most promising tech scaleups speed up their growth and achieve success.”

Wayra, which is involved in running a number of accelerator programmes, was established in 2011 as the innovation arm of Spanish multinational telecoms company Telefónica, and currently operates 11 innovation hubs in 10 countries.

While it is unclear if the scaleup firms will work with Telefónica going forward, 35% of Wayra Hispam’s – the Latin American arm of Wayra – 150-strong startup portfolio has gone on to work with the telecoms giant, and 194 startups at Wayra UK have entered 149 trials or contracts with the company between them.

“We want the world’s best entrepreneurs to expand their businesses into the UK, where they will find one of the world’s most innovative and dynamic economies”
Mark Kent, British ambassador to Argentina

In 2019, Wayra UK partnered with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to help run its Cyber Accelerator, as well as with global health company Novartis to launch an accelerator for health technology startups.

The year before, Wayra partnered with the University of Edinburgh to launch an accelerator for Scottish startups working on artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies.

“We are very keen to implement this agreement with the UK government and offer scaleups from the region the possibility of expanding into a highly dynamic market like the UK, providing valuable recognition to local innovative talent,” said Agustín Rotondo, regional director at Wayra Hispam.

Trying times for startups

In October 2020, market analysis conducted by coworking and innovation space company Plexal and UK database for fast-growth companies Beauhurst found a record number of technology startups collapsed in September, meaning a total of 1,067 had filed for administration, liquidation or dissolution since the country’s national lockdown began on 23 March.

According to Henry Whorwood, head of research and consultancy at Beauhurst, the number of startups that collapsed in September was unprecedented.

“While the number of filings has naturally grown as the number of high-growth UK businesses increases, our data clearly shows a sustained reduction in these companies filing for administration, liquidation or dissolution as a result of the government’s financial support schemes for small businesses,” he said at the time.

“The sudden spike that follows, however, signals that the impact of these schemes is waning. The coming months could be crucial for the future of the UK startup community.”

The analysis further found that since the UK went into lockdown, high-growth startups have raised £5.37bn in investment, but most of this has been directed to already-established firms – just £458m went to first-time fundraisers, representing a 55% year-on-year decrease.

This trend has been present since the start of the pandemic, with previous research by Plexal and Beauhurst from May showing that only £52m of just over £1bn raised at that point was going to early-stage startups and entrepreneurs who had never raised money before.

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