Operator group Telefonica this afternoon announced a technology start-up incubator programme in London as part of its Telefonica Digital innovation organisation.

The Wayra Academy – named after “changing wind” in the South American native Quechua language – will offer entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their projects and Telefonica will then select the 20 it believes have the most potential. The winning projects will have the chance to make use of the Wayra Academy offices and receive both financial and business support.

Speaking at the launch, Telefonica Europe chairman and CEO Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete (pictured) said the current economic situation means technology talent is moving abroad. “We need to do something. If we do not, we will need to buy technology for Europe from somewhere else,” he said. “What we really want is to create an ecosystem of start-ups in the places we are operating so we don’t have to buy technology in other places,” he added.

As well as office space, the successful projects – which can cover anything from cloud to networking systems and apps to location based services – will receive support from Telefonica Digital and entrepreneurs around admin, legal advice, training and advertising. They will also receive investment from Telefonica Digital of up to EUR50,000, for which Telefonica will secure an initial 10 percent stake in the companies.

After the initial six months, the process will start again and the Wayra businesses will be helped to set up in other offices, with director of Wayra in Europe, Simon Devonshire, saying East London’s Tech City is a likely destination.

Start-ups interested in taking part can submit their pitches at uk.wayra.org until 22 April and the first round of projects will move into the Wayra Academy office soon after.

Telefonica has been operating Wayra Academies in Latin America since April last year and recently added similar facilities in Madrid and Barcelona. It now intends to start Wayra Academies in its European markets, starting with London and followed by the Czech Republic, Germany and Ireland.

The Wayra Academies are part of Telefonica’s Think Big initiative which includes the Talentum summer job and apprenticeship scheme and the Amerigo venture capital fund.

Telefonica Digital was announced in September 2011 as the Spanish-headquartered operator group reorganised its business. The London-based division – headed by former Telefonica Europe boss Matthew Key – is intended to help the group exploit new business opportunities through “innovation, strengthening the product and service portfolio and maximising the advantages of its large customer base.”