A man speaks by a mobile next to Telefonica's tower in Barcelona January 30, 2013.
A man speaks by a mobile next to Telefonica's tower in Barcelona January 30, 2013. Reuters / Albert Gea

Spain's Telefonica, Europe's third-largest telecoms company, aims to increase investments in Israel's high-tech sector this year, including in e-health and other consumer-facing business, a senior official said.

Luisa Rubio, who heads Telefonica's innovation arm WayraX, has already made one investment in Israel - Upword, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to create faster, more efficient summaries from notes.

She said WayraX, which invests small amounts in early-stage funding, is considering investing in two more Israeli startups, with a decision expected in the coming weeks.

"We have already executed the first one and hopefully, at the end of the year we will have another four or five companies coming from Israel," Rubio said in an interview with Reuters after visiting the country last week. "Israel will be one of our most relevant markets in terms of executing new investments."

WayraX has taken stakes in 12 companies since it began at the end of 2020 and has a plan to reach 20 by the end of 2022, she said. Wayra, which is a decade old, has invested in some 800 companies, and Telfonica Ventures buys into more mature growth-stage companies.

Since its investments are early stage, WayraX only invests up to 250,000 euros ($263,500.00) per round.

"The value we bring to the table is not financial, it's being a strategic partner to help those entrepreneurs expand their operations all over our footprint - and to do business potentially with Telefonica in the future," Rubio said.

Electronic health and the ability of customers to connect to doctors online is a focus for Telefonica and a major area for investments in Israel, although Rubio also cited consumer activities such as buying groceries.

"We know we have to move really fast (on investment decisions) because I have never seen an ecosystem as dynamic as Israel," Rubio said.

She noted that Wayra was also looking to boost investments in Miami as a hub to bridge Europe with Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America.

($1 = 0.9488 euros)