Spanish communications giant Telefónica, the parent company of O2, has launched an academy to boost UK technology start-ups.
The initiative, dubbed Wayra, has already been established in Spain and Latin America, and is a 'technology accelerator programme' aimed at developing the best start-ups.
Technology entrepreneurs over the age of 18 can apply to the UK Wayra academy from now until 22 April, and shortlisted candidates will be invited to pitch their ideas to an independent panel.
The academy will then select 20 of the best projects, each of which will receive an investment of up to €50,000 (£42,000). The entrepreneurs will have access to technology experts and a workspace based in central London near Tottenham Court Road. In return, Telefónica will take a 10 per cent stake in the selected start-ups.
Telefónica says it not does require exclusivity from the start-ups, but it expects to receive first refusal on products in exchange for the initial financing.
After an initial six-month period in which the entrepreneurs will be supported in developing their ideas, the projects could stay at the academy for a further six months, or gain next-stage funding from venture capitalists.
"London is a global centre of innovation, and through Wayra we hope to find the Facebooks and Zyngas of the future," said Simon Devonshire, director of Wayra for European countries.
The launch of the academy comes at a vital time for the UK economy as it will be at the centre of global attention due to the 2012 Olympic Games.
Ronan Dunne, UK chief executive of O2, says small businesses in the UK play a vital role in the British economy.
"We have thousands of small business customers in the UK, and we know they are the formidable engine of the British economy, with 80 per cent of people in the UK working for a business of between 10 and 50 people.
"There's an amazing entrepreneurial spirit in the small business community, and we want to help it succeed. What we can provide is a place and time to bring that commitment and passion for an idea to life, together with our business experience, network and technical support," he said.
The Wayra UK academy follows a similar initiative – the UK government's East London Tech City initiative – which aims to find the top digital start-ups in East London.