Martín Varsavsky (born in Buenos Aires in 1960) is an Argentine entrepreneur based in Spain who founded several companies worldwide, including Urban Capital, Medicorp Sciences, Viatel, Jazztel, EINSTEINet, Ya.com, Eolia and FON. This serial entrepreneur condition made Forbes Magazine describe him as Young, Rich & Restless back in 1999.
Early life and education
Born to Carlos Varsavsky and Silvia Waisman-Diamond, Varsavsky attended primary school at the New Model School and the Colegio Nicolás Avellaneda high school.
At the age of 16, he moved with his family to the United States as a refugee supported and assisted by B'nai B'rith, following the forced disappearance of his cousin, David Horacio Varsavsky. In 1981 he obtained a BA at the New York University, in 1983 he earned an MA in International Affairs from Columbia University and in 1985 an MBA at Columbia Business School.
In 1984, at the age of 24 and still in college, Varsavsky created Urban Capital Corporation, a real estate company in New York that was one of the early developers of loft apartments. Urban Capital Corporation purchased industrial buildings and recycled them into residential apartments and offices, developing up to 50 thousand square meters in the SoHo and Tribeca neighborhoods of New York City.
In 1986, together with Argentine scientist Claudio Cuello and César Milstein (Medical Science Nobel Prize), Varsavsky founded Medicorp Sciences, a biotechnology company in which he is still a shareholder. Based in Montreal, Medicorp Sciences development the first HIV and PSA tests.
In 1991, Varsavsky founded the telecommunications company Viatel in Colorado, which operated a call-back service, as an alternative traditional long-distance operators, similar to Econophone. Viatel later became an alternative telecommunications service provider in France, Belgium, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. In 1994, Viatel made an initial public offering, and in 1998 Varsavsky sold his Viatel shares. After the dot-com bubble burst in 2000-2001, Viatel Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May 2001. Investors, both shareholders and bondholders, lost between 1.5 and 2 billion US dollars. Since then, the smaller restart of Viatel, based in London, operates a fibre optic circuit, connecting 51 points from Western Europe to cities on the East Coast of the United States.
In July 1995, Varsavsky moved to Madrid, Spain. From 1999 to 2011 he taught courses on entrepreneurship at IE Business School (formerly Instituto de Empresa) in Spain. In 1997, Varsavsky founded Jazztel, an alternative telecommunications access provider in the Iberian Peninsula. Headquartered in Madrid and with its own infrastructure, the company became a telecommunications operator offering bandwidth for residential and commercial customers, competing with Telefónica. Jazztel PLC went public (IPO) in December 1999.
In 1999, he created Ya.com Internet Factory, a Spanish internet services/DSL provider that also included the Spanish language online travel agency Viajar.com (later sold to Bravofly Rumbo Group. Ya.com was owned by Jazztel (70%), Varsavsky (10%) and the company's' staff (20%). It was sold in 2000 to T-Online International, Deutsche Telekom's Internet subsidiary for 800 million dollars.
In 2000, Varsavsky created EINSTEINet AG, an application service provider (ASP) in Germany. Einsteinet was a company built on the premise that most applications were going to migrate from people's PCs to the internet. EINSTEINet did not materialize, and the company was sold saving the employees jobs but providing no financial returns.
He launched the company Fon in Madrid at the end of 2005, which provides international WiFi services using user-generated infrastructure. Fon is backed by equity investors Google, Skype, Index Ventures and Sequoia Capital. In 2012, the network reached over 7 million WiFi hotspots in several countries.
Varsavsky has written articles on business and international relations for El País, Newsweek, El Mundo (Spain), and The Huffington Post, and is a frequent speaker at conferences. Varsavsky is also a blogger and contributor to the LinkedIn Influencers Program, where he writes and gives talks on entrepreneurship and technology. In 2012 Varsavsky began teaching entrepreneurship at Columbia University in New York City.
Currently, Varsavsky also acts as an investment partner in early-stage companies including Gspace, Joost, Menéame, Netvibes, Plazes, Technorati, vpod.tv, Wikio, XING, Dopplr, sevenload, Vuze, Tumblr, Hipertextual, Busuu, rdio, Spotnik, 23andMe, MUBI, Sonico.com, fring, Result and Index Ventures. Outside of telecommunications, he is the majority shareholder of the wind park El Moralejo (a renewable energy generator) and Proesa, owner of the fashion labels Sybilla and Jocomomola.
Awards and recognition
- World Technology (2006)
- Pickering, Columbia University (2003)
- Spanish Entrepreneur of the Year, iBest (2000)
- Global Leader for Tomorrow, World Economic Forum (2000)
- European Entrepreneur of the Year, ECTA (1999)
- European Entrepreneur in Telecommunications (1998)
- Entrepreneur of the Year, New York City (1995)
Varsavsky is founder and president of the Varsavsky Foundation, which works to improve educational conditions in several countries. The foundation promotes the education portals Educ.ar in Argentina and educarchile.cl in Chile, aiming to democratize and modernize the educational systems in both countries.
He is also founder and president of the Safe Democracy Foundation, devoted to contributing to debates in international affairs. The foundation’s goal is to promote fair, transparent and safe democracy.
The Safe Democracy Foundation and the Club of Madrid organized the Atocha Workshop in March 2005 and the international Summit on Terrorism, Democracy and Security. The Secretary General of the United Nations and several heads of State met in Madrid to analyze how democracies should protect themselves against terrorism in a more effective way, without compromising the spirit and safeguards of democracy.
Varsavsky is on the Board of Trustees of the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation and the OneVoice Movement.
Varsavsky married Nina Wiegand on July 22, 2009, in Hawaii. He has six children.