December 4, 2017


- Velocity Health programme building on two years of success accelerating digital start-ups in healthcare

- Our 2018 challenge seeks start-ups using technology to help support disease and illness prevention, with a focus on utilising Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

- We’re offering two start-ups up to £68K investment in funding and acceleration services

Merck Sharp & Dohme Ltd (MSD), a global healthcare company, and Wayra UK, the accelerator that is part of Telefónica Open Future_, are teaming up again to offer two start-ups up to £68K as part of the Velocity Health programme.

This will be the third year that MSD and Wayra have run Velocity Health, which aims to accelerate start-ups so that they can meet the healthcare challenges facing the NHS.

This year, the partners are seeking start-ups who can help with the following challenge:

– how technology can help support disease and illness prevention, with a particular focus on start-ups utilising Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning.

Velocity Health was set up in 2015 to invest in digital innovation in healthcare to address the challenges outlined in the NHS Five Year Forward View1 and in line with the recommendations outlined in the Life Sciences Strategy2. Previous programmes focused on prevention in healthcare with an emphasis on diabetes prevention and cancer prevention.

Dr Junaid Bajwa, Director of Healthcare Services at MSD, said: “As a company, MSD is deeply committed to scientific discovery, working in partnership with the healthcare system and scaling innovation. Velocity Health 2018 aims to build on the achievements of the previous two years of Velocity Health and work with start-ups that truly complement the future of healthcare delivery. The NHS has made digital excellence the cornerstone of its future model and we must embrace this if we are to have a healthcare system fit for the 21st Century.”

Gary Stewart, Director of Wayra UK and Telefónica Open Future_ (UK), said: “Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and machine learning are changing our lives in ways never previously thought possible, and it makes sense for us to seek brilliant entrepreneurs who can harness the power of data to improve the NHS and healthcare services globally, potentially transforming the lives of billions.”

Wayra UK and MSD believe that innovation can come from anywhere and are committed to help to identify, develop, promote and scale UK-based start-ups by leveraging Telefónica’s global resources and MSD’s health and data expertise to be a part of this new exciting era of health tech to support the NHS in providing a health system ready for our digital age.

In both the NHS Five Year Forward View and the Life Sciences Strategy, the NHS recognises the potential of technology to bring fundamental changes to healthcare delivery in the UK. Whether it is in further strengthening the science base, clinical trials capability or the creation of an environment that enables biotech and medtech companies to thrive and grow (e.g. in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, genomics and diagnostics) or to better support population health (e.g. through empowering healthcare professionals, and empowering patients), Velocity Health 2018 wants to continue to support the UK and the NHS in their continued mission of being a pioneer in healthcare.

Two start-ups will be chosen to take up a 10-month accelerator programme where a network of mentors, coaches and investors will nurture the entrepreneurial talent and technological expertise of each business to enable the development of innovative products and services to help deliver savings and efficiencies to the healthcare system.

Up to a total of £68K will be offered in investment to each start-up, which will include 50 per cent funds and the rest made up of dedicated acceleration services such as access to a network of mentors, coaches and investors. This will also include office space within Wayra UK’s new acceleration facility in Central London, potential access to Telefónica’s customer base of more than 300 million people, and MSD and Wayra’s local and global networks.

Applications open on Dec 4 with the deadline for applications on Jan 4. Finals will be taking place on Jan 12. Interested entrepreneurs can apply at:

The 2018 programme begins in February.

Notes to editors


For more than a century, MSD, a leading global biopharmaceutical company, has been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and vaccines for the world’s most challenging diseases. MSD is a trade name of Merck & Co., Inc., with headquarters in Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A. Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to health care through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. Today, MSD continues to be at the forefront of research to advance the prevention and treatment of diseases that threaten people and communities around the world – including cancer, cardio-metabolic diseases, emerging animal diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and infectious diseases including HIV and Ebola. For more information, visit and connect with us on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

Wayra UK

Wayra UK is part of Telefónica Open Future_, the open innovation programme that integrates the different initiatives of the whole Telefónica Group related to entrepreneurship and innovation.

Wayra UK gives direct funding, acceleration and pre-acceleration services (such as co-working space, connectivity services, mentoring, access to Wayra UK’s network and knowhow, training in entrepreneurship and business skills) to selected start-ups. Since its launch in 2012, Wayra UK start-ups have raised approximately $150m in third-party investment.

Wayra UK has partnered with some of the world’s leading organisations to invest in a number of verticals that help generate growth, create positive societal impact and fuel innovation across a number of industries.

These include Velocity Health with Merck Sharp & Dohme Limited (MSD), a global healthcare company transforming healthcare; Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), through the GCHQ Cyber Accelerator; our Wayra Fair By Design programme, which seeks to alleviate the poverty premium; and the Intelligent Mobility Accelerator, a partnership with the Transport Systems Catapult.

Wayra UK also works alongside local and regional partners to reinvigorate entrepreneurial ecosystems, energise local economies and democratise entrepreneurship.


Telefónica Open Future_

Telefónica Open Future_ is Telefónica´s global platform designed to connect the company to entrepreneurs, start-ups, investors and public and private partners around the world to capture innovation and business opportunities. Its goal is to support talent at all stages of growth through a comprehensive model for acceleration that is designed to connect talent with organisations, investors and companies.

The programme incorporates all of Telefónica Group’s open innovation, entrepreneurship and investment initiatives (Think Big, Talentum, Crowdworking, Wayra, Amérigo and Telefónica Ventures) through a global network that is open to participation by external partners that wish to develop their own entrepreneurial and investment strategies, and connect to large corporates.

To date, more than 51,000 proposals have been analysed, over 1,600 start-ups have been accelerated, and over 700 invested in. Telefónica Open Future_ is present in 17 countries and has committed to investment, with its partners, a total of 445 million euros.

More info:


1. NHS Five Year Forward View. Available at: ( [Last accessed: November 2017]

2. Life Sciences Industrial Strategy. Available at: ( [Last accessed: November 2017]

3. The UK’s Life Sciences Industrial Strategy: Digital Health Implications. Available at: ( [Last accessed: November 2017]

4. Sharing patient data would open door to next-generation NHS using ‘artificial intelligence’, Government told. Available at: ( [Last accessed: November 2017]


Norval Scott, Head of PR and Communications, Wayra UK and Telefónica Open Future_ (UK): e: m: +44 (0) 7860 760 841

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