Already a satisfied customer of Israeli tech, Spanish mobile giant Telefónica is expanding its footprint in the Holy Land – and the Holy City, teaming up with Jerusalem-based VLX Ventures (Van Leer Xenia Ventures) to invest in Israeli start-ups.
Telefónica has had a presence in Israel since 2010 and a team focused primarily on R&D for all of Telefónica’s “future communication” products, the company said. Since then, Telefónica has also intensified its local partnership activity in Israel. In July 2013, Telefónica joined with the Chief Scientist’s office to seek out new opportunities for collaboration with Israeli start-ups.
Telefónica will be looking at investments in companies with tech “reflecting the modern global telecommunications landscape,” the company said, including video, cloud computing, big data, Internet of things, smart homes, and wearable technology.
Telefónica is not new here. The company has already been working on developing wearable technology at its own Israel R&D center. Last year, Telefónica announced that it will work with LG, Samsung and Sony Mobile to integrate its services in the wearables being developed by those companies. That integration, said Gil Cohen, CEO of Telefónica Digital Labs Israel, is based on Telefónica’s Tu Go technology, developed in Israel.
Tu Go allows users to receive or make phone calls on any device using Wi-fi or a GSM cell connection. A Telefónica Tu Go user can choose to answer a call dialed into their regular cellphone number on their smartphone, or on any other smart device. It’s similar to the kind of service users can get with apps like Skype, which can make calls to any device, but only by using Wi-fi, and only via an app. Tu Go integrates any-device-app capabilities into its cell network, allowing users to take advantage of all of Telefónica’s services, and enabling users to answer calls anywhere, regardless of network quality, the company said.
From there, it’s just a small jump to integrating the tech into the smart watches, rings, hats, bracelets, jewelry, and other devices being developed by manufacturers, which will include cell, Bluetooth, and Wi-fi connections. “The Tu Go technology we developed and are continuing to work on here will be a significant part of the wearables that manufacturers are working on,” said Cohen. “With our Tu Go technology, anyone will be able to take their personal phone number with them anywhere, connecting them to the world via a wearable device.”
And that’s just to start, said Doron Shpasser, head of Investments and Partnerships at Telefónica in Israel. “As a digital telco, Telefónica invests in many forward-thinking companies around the globe, and as a country packed full of world-leading talent and innovative companies, Israel is the perfect place for us to increase our investment potential. We are constantly evaluating advanced technologies, and this partnership with VLX Ventures allows us to strengthen potential collaborations with young Israeli technology companies operating in areas that are of interest to Telefonica.”
VLX Ventures, led by Ori Choshen and based in Jerusalem, is considered one of the more successful incubators in Israel. Established in mid-2013, 75% of the companies it invested in have gotten follow-up funding, and established companies that have emerged from the incubator raised more than $130 million.
“Joining forces with Telefónica is strategic for Israeli start-ups and supplies them with the highest level of professional support, funding, and a partnership with a leading strategic global company,” says Ori Choshen, CEO of VLX Ventures, “Our goal is to put together several joint investments every year and to continue to expand our collaboration from year to year. Collaborating with a significant player such as Telefónica provides young companies with the opportunity, from the early development stages, for professional cooperation with a strategic partner that can invest in their promotion and development, and is a potential giant client for the solutions they are developing.”