As a child it was clear to me: when I grew up I would be an astronaut. She was drawn to seeing the Earth from a vantage point, floating in zero gravity and moving in all directions. Because if something characterizes Irene Gómez (Granada, 1980), global director of the Telefónica Open Innovation area, it is her restless spirit.
One of those people who radiate energy without exuding nervousness, who look to the future face to face, try everything and end up having a 3600 vision of life. Like in space, but with our feet on Earth.
When you are by his side everything is calm. “Deep down I am very quiet and shy. That does not mean that he is also very curious. It is what makes me passionate about discovering things that are not from my day to day. I guess that's why I wanted to be an astronaut,” she comments.
Irene's trajectory is like an impressionist painting. Up close, it's all vibrant brushstrokes. Only when you take perspective do you discover a serene and unitary image. She studied telecommunications engineering, but she didn't see herself glued to a computer for a lifetime. “I never visualized my future as a closed plan. I wanted to see myself doing different things, things that I wasn't even imagining at the time. But, above all, things that would excite me, that would amuse me. That's the key: have fun doing what I do,” she explains. With such an open roadmap, it is not surprising that he has held positions in sales, product development, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence... "More than outlining my career, I have dedicated myself to experimenting and challenging myself."
The verb to draw is not accidental. Irene is passionate about fine arts. As a good amateur painter, it is easy to come across her in a young art gallery looking for inspiration. “I try to capture ideas through drawing. It's those moments that I reserve for myself. Which are not many, because I am the mother of two children, ages 4 and 8, so a good part of my day outside of work revolves around them, ”she says. Far from defining herself as a superwoman mother, one of those with great planning and a family that does not go off script, she acknowledges that reconciliation at home is not always easy. But it's a matter of two. “We face the challenges of each day together – father and mother – combining as best we can. In the end, there are two of us at home and they are our children”.
Just as in real life there are colours, shades and brushstrokes of different textures, Irene Gómez's work environment is defined by diversity. “If we want to design a world that represents us all, it must be diverse. I am lucky to lead a team where we practically have parity, there are young and old employees and we come from different countries. That cultural variety enriches the projects,” she points out. Those who work with her recognize that she knows how to get the best out of each team member and that she is one of those bosses 'whose team you want to be on'.
Despite his youth, he has embarked on numerous initiatives at Telefónica. He knows what it's like to start a project from scratch, be guided by instinct and leave his skin to move something forward. An experience that he now values in Telefónica's Open Innovation, the link between the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the leading telecommunications company. This commitment of the Spanish technology to entrepreneurship started 16 years ago. Gómez took the baton two years ago, at a crucial moment for the takeoff of startups linked to technologies and services. In 2022 alone, they have invested more than 20 million euros in more than 30 startups and funds through Wayra and Telefónica Ventures.
Undertaking is not easy. But entrepreneurs are the engine of the new economy, hence the need to have impulses such as those that arise from the Open Innovation department led by Gómez. “In our day to day we learn through the eyes of startups how difficult it is to start a business. Also, the agility of entrepreneurs to make mistakes and get back up. I am fortunate to be involved in one of the most exciting projects of my entire life, with a lot to learn, because the dynamics of a large corporation are totally different from that of entrepreneurship”.
Since 2018, Telefónica Ventures' investments have had a return of 2.2 times and the portfolio has increased in value 3 times. Wayra, which has invested in more than 850 startups since 2011, also achieves a return close to double that invested as corporate venture capital. “We are not just looking for money. We want there to be business. We help companies grow by connecting them with Telefónica and we already have more than 400 active startups in our portfolio”, she declares. An ecosystem of startups that goes through Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil and several Latin American countries.
This innovation and collaboration is already a reality in numerous projects. This is the case of Solar 360, a company that installs solar panels for self-consumption, which integrates the technology of the startup Ezzing Solar. “Another is Climatetrade, focused on offsetting the carbon footprint by offering transparency and traceability through blockchain technology,” he explains. In addition, companies from very diverse sectors (health, education, finance, insurance...) find in Wayra an experienced ally to develop their open innovation strategy.
The vertigo of large numbers often causes human profiles in large corporations to be diluted. It is not your case. “When they ask me about my references, I always say that they are the people I have around me. My colleagues inspire me, especially when they come from different disciplines”. In his team we find everything from technology experts and engineers, to financial, marketing or communication profiles.
“Many times we see great ideas, with a lot of potential, that don't go ahead because they don't have the right team. If they are not excited and do not work in harmony, with a common goal, no matter how good ideas you have, you will not get very far. At least, that's how I understand work ”, she concludes.
The company, in the end, is not far from the crew of a spaceship. The one that Irene thought of piloting through outer space and that now navigates through our atmosphere drawing the world of tomorrow.