Raising Cultural Capital in Turkey: A Message for Prime Minister Erdogan
Jonathan Ortmans @jortmans
Nov 12, 2010
I depart this beautiful city by the sea, Istanbul, on a warm “pastirma summer” evening bullish on the future for entrepreneurs. Over the past couple of days in this ancient, culturally rich gateway between the East and the West, each stop for my participation in Global Entrepreneurship Week/Turkey, I have become more humble to the awakening of a new generation of Turkish entrepreneurs.
Last Saturday, the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) announced during the Entrepreneurship Congress in Ankara the results of an Entrepreneurship Survey. This survey of Turkish entrepreneurs revealed that 35 percent of respondents see the tense political environment in Turkey as the biggest risk threatening the economy, and 24 percent said their major difficulties stem from unnecessarily strict regulations and frustrating bureaucratic processes.
But in my conversations with recent founders of startup companies and students planning to start a company who I met with at the Turkish Young Businessmen and Industrialists Association (TUGIAD), the anecdotal evidence told a different story. Murat Talu whose five year old startup Intengo has doubled in size every year, told me he had figured out how to navigate government grants helping with as much as 40% of startup costs, tech parks to reduce payroll and other help to establish his firm. Rather, Talu saw the biggest challenge as one not of red tape and politics, but of a needed sea change in culture. I told Mr. Talu I had good news for Turkey’s leaders and Prime Minister. I had already seen the seeds of a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosphere emerging in Istanbul.
For example, at the podium this afternoon, I took this picture of a student gathering I addressed at Bahçeşehir University which is a strikingly beautiful campus on the sea with a perfect ambiance for entrepreneurs. They had gathered for a new nationwide business idea competition called “Techno Idea” sponsored by Turkcell, Turkey’s first and largest GSM operator. Following a packed SpeedNetworking event kindly put together by Turkey’s “science of networks” guru, F. Ertugrul Belen, I asked how many planned to start a company, almost every hand went up.
Secondly, last night before addressing Bilgi University students at an event sponsored by BilgiMBA and Pozitix, I visited with bloggers and angel investors at the University’s dramatic refurbished brick power plant building which felt as alive for digital and tech entrepreneurs as Boston or Stanford.
And earlier in the day when I spoke at an event on women’s entrepreneurship organized in the fabulous incubator space where Kagider (the Women’s Entrepreneurship Association) is based, I saw a sense of drive and community among the women entrepreneurs that left me with a sense they would be unstoppable in achieving their goals.
On the science and engineering side, those gathered at Sabancı University’s entrepreneurship events focused on moving innovations into the marketplace with science entrepreneurs on hand. The seminar was moderated by Professor Dilek Çetindamar and included Professor Burçin Bozkaya, owner of Visiothink, Aytül Erçil, a professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering & founder of Isra Vistek, Emre Özlü, an academic in industrial engineering & co-Founder of Maxima and Yusuf Menceloglu, Professor of Material Science and Engineering & Founder of Nanomattr.
And the entrepreneurial spirit was not just being unleashed in the technology space. The students at Özyeğin University’s exciting Business Plan Competition with its tough jury composed of Endeavour entrepreneurs and university experts in business and engineering, covered many areas but the winners Ali Yağız Yemişçi and Fethi Sercan Aydın, won with a plan to launch ‘Basketbol Okulu’, a basketball school for 5-15 year olds by 2012.
Even the media seemed hooked on entrepreneurs here catching the energy flow around town. In one afternoon alone, together with Endeavor Turkey Board Member Murat Ozyegin I joined a 45 minute show live on Turkish CNBC-e and did an interview with reporters for print press, Bloomberg and CNBC news. And on November 5th, the launch of GEW Turkey by TOBB and Endeavor Turkey representatives was covered by all leading newspapers and broadcasted on TV channels.
Turkey offers a sophisticated platform for entrepreneurs. It has a diversified industrial base, a relatively stable political and economic environment, a critical mass of willing early adopters, a very considerable talent pool, a strong domestic market and underserved neighboring markets. It also has lots of second generation entrepreneurs and strong families that were built on a previous era of entrepreneurial pioneers to help support and finance future startups. Turkey has the potential to become a model for all Muslim countries as it grapples with quickly absorbing the renaissance underway for entrepreneurship in this region.
During last April’s Washington, DC Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship in which I participated, Prime Minister Erdogan from Turkey offered to host the next Global Summit on Entrepreneurship in Istanbul. He was not present during Global Entrepreneurship Week/Turkey this year. He should have been. He would have been pleased with the bottoms up energy helping to sustain his interest in putting entrepreneurship center stage in his foreign policy and most importantly the region’s economic future.