Must-know Spaniards building the metaverse ecosystem

Updated: 4 days ago

While the rest of the media world has been busy analyzing the sudden departure of the legendary Sheryl Sandberg from her 14 year tenure as COO at Meta, the Spanish media has mostly focused on celebrating her successor: Javier Olivan from Aragón, Spain.

From the top left: Edgar Martín-Blas Méndez, Javier Olivan, Marta de Pablos Álvaro, Patricia M. Val, Yaiza Rubio Viñuela, Pedro Lozano Alcolea and Héctor Paz.

"Congratulations Javier Olivan, congratulations Meta, the talent of Spain again shows that it is at the forefront of the world. The new digital world is an opportunity for the best. Great companies are made by great people."

"Javier, in his new responsibility, COO of Meta, is the force of innovation and the passion to connect present and future in a new era where the most valuable connections are human ones."

- José María Álvarez-Pallete, Chairman & CEO, Telefónica, wrote on LinkedIn, (translated from Spanish).

With his 93,464 followers his words certainly matter. More importantly, Meta's metaverse is being built on Telefónica's infrastructure. That is huge.

Headquartered in Madrid, the company is one of the largest telephone operators and mobile network providers in the world. It is Spain’s largest operator, offering 5G coverage to over 80% of the population.

I'm not saying that Spaniards are the best people in the world to build the metaverse. But I am agreeing with this statement that the most valuable connections are human connections, meaning IRL, in real life, in person, face-to-face, physically present, you get my point here.

Most of Spain is still learning how to do things online or rather "por Internet", as they say. The normal way of doing things is still very much in physical form. Like wanting to meet over a coffee, sitting down at a real table, although that is less time-efficient. Or still preferring to pay with cash although that means taking the time to fish up the small coins from your wallet to give the exact amount, while chit-chatting with the infinitely patient and kind cashier.

I always argue that Spanish people are really good at doing life and, as an extension of that, you could say that they are masters at expressing emotions and the overall humanness of it all. Creativity, passion, humility and playfulness should be useful traits for any person having a say in what is to become of our future digital world - or more accurately worlds, plural.

Here are 7 key Spanish people to know about before you join the metaverse conversation in Spain, be it online, offline, as you, or as the avatar you:

1. Javier Olivan, the next COO of Meta, California, the US. Relocating to Madrid?

Image: Screenshot from Meta announcement video March 2022

He might still remain physically located at the HQ in California -a long way from his native town in the Pyrenees in the autonomous region Aragón - but his virtual presence (obvious pun intended;) is very much felt throughout Spain and making many Spaniards very proud, especially the tech talent. And who knows, maybe he will be relocating to Madrid in 2022?

Although it is said that he will have a less public role than Sheryl Sandberg had, it seems likely that at least Madrid will enjoy some IRL performances from him in the future, as he did make this video announcement in March 2022:

"I believe Spain can be at the forefront of European tech and is already building strong tech hubs with plenty of entrepreneurial and tech talent throughout the country. This is why we are putting Spain at the heart of our company's future, with a significant investment in people and infrastructure."

"We are recruiting up to 2,000 people in the country over the next five years and opening the world’s first remote work, start-up and events space in Madrid."

As he made it abundantly clear that Spain will play a large part of the mysterious future for Meta, it is likely that global news outlets will be watching his every move to find out any clues about the next business model replacing, at least partly, the massive generation of ad revenue under Sandberg's reins.

2. Edgar Martín-Blas Méndez, Co-Founder & CEO, Virtual Voyagers, Madrid

Image: Screenshot from TV show made by Radiotelevisión Española.

When virtual reality (VR) became a thing in 2015, he created Virtual Voyagers, a global pioneer at the time, working with some of the most valued brands in the world (Ferrari, Disney, Movistar, Inditex, Mastercard are just a few examples).

The team has received a plethora of distinguished prizes, recognized as one of the top extended reality (xr) creation companies worldwide. And not surprisingly, they have already been working together with Meta on projects like Horizon Venues, a platform for broadcasting live events, responsible for recording concerts in 360 degrees.

3. Marta de Pablos Álvaro, Head of New Business at Vodafone, Madrid

Marta de Pablos Álvaro, Head of New Business at Vodafone. Screenshot from TV show by Radiotelevisión Española.

Her name has frequently surfaced in Spanish media during the first half of 2022 as an expert of what kind of metaverse is to be built in the near future, especially from Vodafone Spain where she has been for 10 years in many strategic roles within 5G.

And if you are wanting to practice your Spanish she appears in this first book in Spanish taking on the complex task of explaining what the metaverse will mean for our day-to-day life: "Metaversos. La gran revolución inmersiva", written by Óscar Peña de San Antonio.

4 & 5. Pedro Lozano Alcolea & Héctor Paz, Co-Founders Imascono, Aragón

Image: Meshed screenshots from LinkedIn feed.

Looking at their massive following they are greatly admired for their achievements building Imascano from the region of Aragon (if you have been paying attention that is also the natal home of another famous Spaniard recently promoted by Mr Zuckerberg himself.)

"It is not easy to make a name in the technology industry while being outside Madrid or Barcelona. Thanks to our tenacity, humility, teamwork, trust from big customers and our continued commitment to innovation, we continue to reach milestones that we could hardly imagine", comments Pedro Lozano Alcolea in a LinkedIn post, (translated).

Lately they are most known for giving the tennis legend Rafael Nadal eternal life as an avatar. He really embodies the Spanish resilience and the art of being humble in all situations, just like these two founders it seems.

They started the company together in 2011, first as a project with the mission ‘Design and technology applied to the textile sector’, thanks to their first innovative product at an international level: T-shirts enabled with Augmented Reality (AR).

Since then they have contributed with their expertise to many sectors beyond textiles, working with global brands like Telefonica, Walt Disney and Coca-Cola.

6. Patricia M. Val, Co-founder & CEO of Futura Space, Barcelona

Image: Montage from Instagram* + LinkedIn photo.

Based in Barcelona, she is reinventing fashion and digital couture design and just like Marta de Pablos Álvaro, she stands out as a woman getting a seat at more and more of the expert panels in Spain, giving her view on upcoming XR experiences.

With their Space creator, her team wants you to be able to explore the future of fashion, among other virtual spaces.

“In the same way that tools like WordPress were designed so that you could create web pages without knowing how to code, we have designed ‘Space Creator’ to allow people who do not have any technical knowledge to create their own virtual space", she comments in an interview at MWC22.

"Right now we have the whole team focused on our Spacecreator SaaS, a web3d builder", she tells us in a DM. (Launch date not known.)

For the fashionistas out there, she comments that "Users will be able to interact with the cloth and change colors, textures, view brand info, etc."

7. Yaiza Rubio Viñuela, Chief Metaverse Officer at Telefónica Group

Although mentioned last in this list, she might be the most important person to recognize. The appointment of Yaiza Rubio Viñuela as Chief Metaverse Officer, Telefónica Group, was announced in March 2022. As Meta will use Telefónica’s infrastructure in Spain to roll out its metaverse, she will be having A LOT of power behind the scenes.

Her role? No biggie;) Just "To bring together all the Telefónica Group’s initiatives around the metaverse to continue to enter with determination into this new paradigm", as it is described in the announcement.

Leading up to this new role, she worked as a Cyber Security analyst at Telefonica and is a well-known, international speaker on that subject.

In a recent video interview with SACYR in Spanish, she mentions a new collaboration with the world famous chef Ferran Adrià and claims with great excitement that:

"You will be able to use your sense of smell in the metaverse".

That just 10x my personal interest for the metaverse right there. (my sense of smell is almost superhuman).

Spain's extensive 5G network is crucial for the metaverse to be truly inclusive

Spain's 5G network plays a pivotal role in building the metaverse. As stated in this article, "Spanish operators have been accelerating 5G deployments during 2021 and all carriers already offer 5G in the country’s main urban areas as well as in medium-sized cities."

Extracts from the article: "Telefónica currently offers 5G coverage to over 80% of the Spanish population. The telco already offers its 5G service in over 1,250 municipalities across the country. During the first half of 2021, the deployment of 5G has focused on completing coverage in the cities deployed last year and reaching cities with more than 20,000 inhabitants."

"All the provincial capitals and autonomous cities, 100% of the cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants and 98% of those with more than 20,000 inhabitants, as well as small towns in all the autonomous communities already have 5G, the Spanish telco said."

María Benjumea, president South Summit and José María Álvarez-Pallete, Chairman Telefónica.

“The metaverse will be the most profound change the Internet has undergone since its birth. Now it is time to give a concrete purpose to all this technology, because it is people who give meaning to technology and not the other way around", emphasized José María Álvarez-Pallete, Chairman Telefónica, at South Summit, June 2022.

In his talk with María Benjumea, president South Summit, he said that Telefónica will continue to play an essential role in this evolution of the Internet towards the metaverse because new experiences will be possible thanks to the telcos’ networks and added:

“None of this can exist without the super connectivity provided by 5G and fibre networks, and with key technologies such as Edge Computing, the cloud and of course cybersecurity, essential for the new digital world”.

With the extensive 5G network already in place in Spain, it will be theoretically possible for nearly all of the 47 million+ inhabitants to explore the metaverse in the near future. The actual onboarding of the Spanish population into this extended reality, apart from the true enthusiasts and early adopters, will probably take some time though. There are still many, many small businesses in Spain going through the digital transition, as it is referred to here.

That said, when it comes to giving meaning and authentic human emotion to the metaverse, making sure it is a place for more inclusion in the world, these mentioned profiles can play a pivotal role. After all, the quality of our future virtual world(s) depends on the perspectives of the people building it, sometimes far away from the big cities.

EDIT October 3 2022:

A great underdog story with Metaverse written all over it. Telefonica just acquired the 25-people Augmented Reality studio Imascono, based in Zaragoza, Aragón region. Probably only the first of more acquisitions to come to win the global B2B Metaverse space.

"We will put Zaragoza and Spain in the metaverse hurricane!, Héctor Paz said at the announcement event.

By Caroline Lagergren, founder of Expand To Spain