GIP Turkey Recap: Our Recommendations and Tips

First day in Istanbul at the Blue Mosque.  Photo courtesy of Sarah Sung '15.

First day in Istanbul at the Blue Mosque. Photo courtesy of Sarah Sung ’15.

Sitting back in a classroom on Columbia’s campus, it’s nice to think how only two weeks ago a group of us were cutting across Istanbul as we headed from one meeting to the next. We recently presented our findings and recommendations that we will soon be incorporating into a paper to share with the stakeholders we met during our week in Istanbul. It was not only an exciting opportunity to have visited the city and meet with these business leaders, but even more exciting to know that we also have the chance to potentially help shape the future of Turkey’s startup ecosystem through our recommendations.

Here are some of the major takeaways we had:

  • The government is clearly doing a lot in a top-down approach to incentivize greater activity in this space including providing tax-free funding for VCs raising capital, and funding for universities to create incubators and teknoparks. While these are all great initiatives, there seems to be a lack of understanding the effectiveness of these programs.Moreover, after speaking to deserving entrepreneurs, many do not qualify for the government programs and find them to be only great on paper and not beneficial. To initially address this issue, many of us believe that the government should use metrics to assess what programs actually have impact and have created successful startups.
  • Mentorship is lacking in Turkey’s startup ecosystem. There are not yet enough success stories to encourage entrepreneurship in the country, but more importantly, there are not enough successful entrepreneurs to mentor the next generation. One recommendation is to pair up successful Turkish-American entrepreneurs with those in Turkey. (Even Columbia University has thought of organizing this, but more of these connections need to happen.)
  • There needs to be more women in entrepreneurship. We learned a staggering statistic that only 10% of the country’s entrepreneurs are women. From both speaking to women entrepreneurs and research, women feel like they face additional hurdles because of a cultural resistance to women in the workforce. One recommendation is to encourage more women at a younger age to learn STEM subjects. Another would be to teach entrepreneurship to girls (and boys) in high school so that everyone has an opportunity to develop these skills at younger age.

Not to forget, this was also a Columbia Business School Global Immersion trip, which meant we had the chance to experience the city. Here are some tips and advice from our travels:

  • Taxis are notorious for scamming tourists. The most common trick is for the customer to hand over a 50 TL bill and the driver switches it to a 5 TL bill and says you paid a 5TL. Clearly count your money and remember what bills you used when you hand it over to the driver. We also saw cab drivers with rigged meters, but you should always ask your driver to turn on the meter when you get into the car. If you feel like you have been scammed, take a picture of the taxi’s license plate and report it to the police. While you may not get your money back, the police will go after these taxi gangs and help prevent future tourists from being scammed.
  • Definitely go get a fish sandwich underneath the Galata Bridge! They cook the fish and make the sandwiches on the boats and serve them for 6 TL each. You will NOT regret it!
  • Turkish bath is a MUST do, but know that you will become very close friends with the people you go with!

If you have any recommendations for Turkey’s startup ecosystem or if you have traveled to Istanbul before and want to share tips, feel free to do so in the comments section!

Thanks to Professor Jack McGourty and a big thanks to our classmate Saruhan and his wife, Seda, for making this a memorable highlight in our CBS experience!

A favorite hangout spot and pastime for locals...hookah!

A favorite hangout spot and pastime for locals…hookah!

Enjoying the fish sandwiches under the Galata Bridge.

Enjoying the fish sandwiches under the Galata Bridge.

Getting some Turkish Delights to bring home as souvenirs at the Spice Bazaar.

Getting some Turkish Delights to bring home as souvenirs at the Spice Bazaar.

Enjoying the view with CBS alumnus at Turkven.

Enjoying the view with a CBS alumnus at Turkven.

Catching a boat ride to dinner at a restaurant on its own island.

Catching a boat ride to dinner at a restaurant on its own island.

Learning all about safety at successful airline startup, Pegasus! Photo courtesy of Nabila Ahmed '15.

Learning all about safety at successful airline startup, Pegasus! Photo courtesy of Nabila Ahmed ’15.

If things were to go wrong, how to evacuate.

If things are to go wrong, how to evacuate.

Enjoying a favorite local dish, İskender kebap.

Enjoying a favorite local dish, İskender kebap.

Getting ready for a meeting at the Columbia Global Center - Turkey.

Getting ready for a meeting at the Columbia Global Center – Turkey.

A panel of entrepreneurs organized by Endeavor.

A panel of entrepreneurs organized by Endeavor.

Beautifully preserved Topkapi Palace is a must see!

Beautifully preserved Topkapi Palace is a must see! Photo courtesy of Sarah Sung ’15.

Celebrating a successful week at our reception dinner with our local tour guide.

Celebrating a successful week at our reception dinner with our local tour guide.

Some fashionable CBS students waiting to hear the presentation by ecommerce Markafoni.

Some fashionable CBS students waiting to hear the presentation by ecommerce Markafoni.

Until next time, Istanbul!

Until next time, Istanbul!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Under Addressed Issue in Turkey

An issue that I am personally interested in is increasing the number of women in the startup ecosystem, specifically as a woman entrepreneur and investor. The lack of women in these areas is considered a systemic challenge in the United States. There are countless articles, academic research, and personal anecdotes that support the need for more women entrepreneurs and VCs.

So it was definitely interesting to explore this issue in Turkey’s ecosystem. During our week’s worth of meetings with various stakeholders, we discovered that the same issue exists in Turkey, but with some notable differences. While more still needs to be done in the U.S., at least this is a recognized issue…by the majority of sane Americans. On the other hand, the discussion about needing more women in startups is often glossed over.

We don’t even have good entrepreneurs, so why would we consider the lack of women in entrepreneurship a problem? This was a frank response to a question I asked a Turkish VC about what percentage of their deal flow comes from women founded startups given the government funding that has gone to support women entrepreneurs. Though I understand the immature stage at which the Turkish startup ecosystem is at the moment, I had hoped that the Turkey could begin addressing and taking more action around this challenge so that it would not develop into the same situation that the U.S. currently is in.

Diving deeper into the underlying causes of this, what exists in Turkey is a cultural mindset about women in general. A few months ago, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke at an international conference on justice and rights for women where he stated that men and women cannot be placed on equal footing. Furthermore, Turkey ranks 125th out of 142 countries on gender equality as assessed by the World Economic Forum in 2014.

Clearly the lack of women in the Turkish startup ecosystem stems from much larger issues bout the perception of women in the country. But things, as we saw, are slowly changing. When we spoke to a CBS alumna at a well-regarded consulting firm, she mentioned that the women in the workplace are very ambitious and she had not faced any challenges. We also met a woman entrepreneur who founded a VC backed startup on our last day. She was positive about more women in startups as she is constantly asked to provide mentorship to other women entrepreneurs. There is a lot to be positive about when there are such incredible role models for others!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Patagonia: Reflections on the Best Trip Ever

It’s been almost 6 weeks since we got back to toilet paper, heat and the comforts of New York City living. I don’t think any of us miss dipping our hands in the cold streams to fill the drom with water or the twenty minutes it took to boil water before we could even start to make our meals — but there’s a lot we do miss. We had our reunion lunch on Friday, January 30 and it was clear that, if nothing else, we missed each other.

It was hard during the trip and immediately following it to really reflect on our experience. In the moment, we were all too consumed by thoughts of how we’d get through this bush, when we’d take a water break, how we’d get down this cliff, where we’d set up our tent to avoid sleeping on cow dung, what we could make for dinner other than cheesy pasta… you get the idea. It’s amazing how different (and liberating) it is to remove the stressors of the real world and literally think about nothing but, “Where will I put my food next?” Now, we’re all back to the real world — our heads swirling with thoughts about interviews, new first years and Thursday’s after party — but it was important to take the time to get together as a group and reminisce.

At our reunion lunch, being just enough removed from the adventure, we were able to reflect on our struggles, triumphs and lessons learned from the trip. Having written papers about our goals for the class, feedback from peers and our achievement of these goals, we shared excerpts with each other — many lessons we had talked about on the trail, but some we had not. Paraphrased, here are some of our collective reflections:

  • I came to recognize the importance of self-care; understanding my needs and meeting them, before I was able to help meet the needs of others (“in the event of a change in cabin pressure… put on your air mask before assisting others”)
  • I used to think that resilience was about not caring, forgetting about something and moving on from it, but I came to realize it’s the exact opposite. Resilience is about caring, caring deeply, learning from something and growing, having the courage to care so much that no obstacle is too great.
  • We all wanted to complain at some point, but I tried to be conscious of what I complained about. We all experienced the rain, so whining about being wet only brought us all down. But when I had a personal need, sharing that allowed the group to help me solve it. Some complaints are best left for my journal, and some are important to say aloud. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • I didn’t realize how much impact my choices, my behavior and my attitude could have on others. It would have been easy to choose to be negative when times got tough. Instead, we all consciously made the decision to bring others up instead of letting ourselves get dragged down.
  • Life moves fast… if we don’t take the time to enjoy the sights, we might miss them.

In addition, we also learned a lot about our own leadership style — as a designated leader, as a peer leader and as an active follower. We learned how to use our style to motivate and support others, how our style is perceived by others, and how to work with other styles that may be quite different.

I’m confident that our group will continue to reflect on these learnings in our ‘front country’ life, in addition to savoring the memories of our adventure and enjoying the beautiful pictures — see a few below. (Photo credit: Yingtao Sun)


One of our few hiking days on a ‘trail’… and a great view of our 60 pound packs.


So many stars in Patagonia, though it was quite late before it got dark enough to see them — the sun set at about 9:30 and rose at about 4:30.


One group climbed up this, the other climbed down…


When it wasn’t raining or snowing… mornings looked like this!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

key takeaways & lessons learned in Hong Kong & Taiwan

I’ve walked you through all of the business, cultural and social outings we engaged in during our trip to Hong Kong & Taiwan, but I didn’t really talk about lessons learned. Let’s rehash a few key takeaways:

As I’ve never been to Asia before the Chazen study tour, I was surprised to find how modernized Hong Kong and Taiwan actually were. I was less surprised by the former, as Hong Kong has been considered a developed region for some time. And by the end of our visit in Hong Kong, I came to the conclusion that Hong Kong was the “NYC of Asia”… at least in my view! But Taiwan was unexpected – while there was a lot of farmland and undeveloped property across the country, the actual city of Taipei was quite similar to a mid-sized city in the States. There wasn’t quite the hustle and bustle of a New York City scene, but there were plenty of cultural sites to see and the nightlife was certainly not lacking. Bars and clubs lined many streets, and the night market was something special. With that said, there were certainly cultural differences apparent in both Hong Kong and Taiwan that are worth highlighting.

When walking the streets of Hong Kong, I was overwhelmed by the number of hardware and home improvement stores. It was an observation that was made by several other students on the study tour as well. As I think back and reflect on this, it seems logical. While new construction is certainly not that prevalent in NYC, the residential areas and infrastructure in general are much older and more dilapidated in Hong Kong. It only makes sense that residents in the city would want to make improvements to their homes.

There were also several commonalities between Hong Kong and Taiwan that are starkly different from what we’re all accustomed to in the States. First, in almost every restaurant we had lunch or dinner, it was difficult to come across a pitcher of water (or even a glass of water for that matter). While we’re used to being served water with every meal – often without even asking – the tradition in Hong Kong and Taiwan (and I’m guessing across Asia) is to serve tea instead. It seems trivial, but for someone who doesn’t drink a lot of tea, it didn’t go unnoticed! Another observation throughout the tour, but particularly when we were on the trams in Hong Kong, is the abundance of retailers and shopping malls in the area. I never really considered Asia to be such a consumer driven society, but I now think twice when comparing consumer trends in the States to countries in Asia. One last observation – I found that I often received “free” gifts when purchasing merchandise above a certain dollar threshold. This is certainly not customary in the US, and something I found to be not only amusing, but also very generous!

Regardless of the cultural (or otherwise) differences experienced between the States, Hong Kong and Taiwan, my biggest takeaway from the trip is that at the end of the day, we are all people. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each and every person that embarked on this amazing journey… it was certainly the journey of a lifetime. I have made many great friends that I otherwise may never have met at CBS, and for that I am grateful. I would like to thank the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business for giving all of us at Columbia the opportunity to participate in these study tours. I would also like to once again thank our fantastic organizers – Karl, Gina & Justin – without all of your hard work, this study tour wouldn’t have even been possible. I look forward to traveling more through Chazen Institute next year and post-graduation with family and friends. It’s been real folks. Hong Kong & Taiwan 2015 Chazen Study Tour was a blast, but that’s all for now!

20150109_105755 20150104_144940

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cuba in Review

Adam Justin, MBA ’15

After a few days being back in New York, Havana still seems like a world apart. A place trapped in time, to be sure. The most striking feature was definitely the cars. The streets were full of colorful, Chevys, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, and more. The reviews are in, and we all had an incredible trip.

DSC03942 DSC03867  DSC03903

The Cubans, everyday people, are eager and excited for more opportunities to open up to the United States. It feels like we are at the beginning of an exciting stage in our countries’ relations. To that end, our class was extremely poignant. We met with government officials and business people, in a range of industries. Cuba is clearly in need of massive amounts of investment. Investment is needed in housing, transportation, telecom, hospitals, hotels, retail – almost everything. The classes were super interesting and relevant, with our class full of questions, many were digging at where could we, foreigners, possibly do business in Cuba.


For me that was the highlight. Talking at the end of the presentations with the presenters, our tour guides, restaurateurs, anyone, was focused on the future. Everyone had ideas for the future and how to make it better. The Cubans, as advertised, are impoverished. But they are also well-educated, smart, and hard working. This is a powerful blend and certainly gives me a lot of optimism for the future of Cuba.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Goodbye, South Africa

bye CT

It’s only been a week since we left South Africa, and already I’m missing the warmth, the adventure, and the kaleidoscopic mix of the country. (Above, the view from the plane window as we left; photo cred to Jason Louie.) Though we scattered after our trip, whether back to New York for block week, Botswana to go on safari, or Global Immersion Programs in Tunisia or Turkey, we’ve stayed in touch on our group chat.

What has struck me since we left is how firmly rooted in a sense of place the firms we visited are, from Nando’s commitment to displaying South African art in each of its global branches, to Discovery Health’s pursuit of improving wellness, to Brand South Africa’s dual focus on enhancing national pride and boosting foreign investment. This sense of place would have been harder to discern if we hadn’t blended our company visits with learning more about the country’s history, from visiting the District 6 museum and Robben Island, to our course packets and talks with our singular tour guide, Jonny.

What I’ll miss most about our trip – beyond our safaris, our meals, and learning about such a beautiful country – is the group we had, shown below. Exploring a new place, learning other ways of doing business, and having true adventures together was an ideal way to forge new friendships and strengthen old ones.

group shot nando's

All in all, here’s how we felt about our South Africa visit. A huge thank you to our fearless leaders, Angela and Ammar – you two did an incredible job!

vineyard excitement

Posted in South Africa | Leave a comment

India – Reflections on the Study Tour

“India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”

-Mark Twain, American author

It’s been a couple weeks since Chazen India officially ended, but the memories and the spirit live on till this day. There’s not a day that I don’t think about my study tour experience in India.  In the morning, I drink my masala chai tea that I brought back as a souvenir from my travels in India.  However, the subway to and from school is vastly different from the elephant ride up and down the mountain to Amber Fort.

When asked by other students on how the Chazen India study tour was, I am at a loss of words.  What do I respond with?  In my experience, India challenged, surprised, shocked, and almost broke me….but most of all, the country changed me for the better. A new appreciation for Bollywood films, better negotiation skills for bartering BATNA/ZOPA/RP), stronger stomach for spicy foods (fyi – everything is spicy in India), and respect for Tata Sons and Dabbawalas for creating a company culture that has proved financially and personally rewarding are some of my key takeaways from the trip.

However, the visibility of income inequality was pervading: beggars and homeless people parked right outside grand opulent hotels, children walking around barefoot while tourists snap pictures of historical landmarks, civilians working and living in the slums because they have no other other opportunity, etc. At least the government and CEOs are acknowledging this vicious problem: over and over again throughout our business meetings, there is an underlying theme and understanding that there needs to be more investing in infrastructure, education, and healthcare.  It seems that everyone in each industry is doing the best they can to boost the Indian economy through foreign direct investment, tourism, and job creation. We shall see in the upcoming years whether these changes have helped the Indian society for the better.


Chazen India T-shirt with all the names of the participants

The best part of this trip was getting to know 40 other MBA students in this study tour.  The questions asked by my peers during the discussions with business executives opened my eyes to different business cultures contexts and subtexts and gave me better insight into other people’s views of the country and the economy.  The organizers welcomed us with open arms to their home country and showed us the best that their country had to offer.  Before this trip, I barely knew a handful of individuals who were on the tour.  Now, when I walk among the hallways of Uris, I see friendly faces and we joke about our time in the country.  A reunion is in the works (the best Indian restaurant in UWS for dinner and then a Bollywood movie right afterwards) IF we can find a time that syncs up with 40 busy Columbia Business School first-year and second-year students.


New Year’s Eve at the Palladium in Mumbai (Photo credit: Sarah Nabahani, MBA 2015)

Going on this study tour through the Chazen Institute added a lot of value to my MBA experience that I wouldn’t have received otherwise through other international travel trips in business school (i.e. cluster trips, club treks).  The inside access provided by the Chazen Institute to CEOs and executives of multi-billion organizations and conglomerates and high ranking government officials were a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I won’t take for granted.


Photo Credit: Jan Bucher MBA 2015


A big thanks to the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business, the student organizers and consulting organizers Kushal Sanghrajka (MBA 2015), Surabhi Shastri (MBA 2015), Mimi Vavilala (MBA 2015), Karan Ahuja (MBA 2015), Divya Goenka (MBA 2016), Anuja Mehta (MBA 2015), the faculty members Vince Ponzo and Professor Suresh Sundaresan for leading and organizing such an amazing and life-changing trip to India!  I had the opportunity to see the country from the organizer’s own eyes and immerse myself with this diverse and different culture. The business meetings in various types of industry were enriching and insightful and I learned so much from these leaders who care so much about their companies and their country.

Until next time,

Iris Chen ’15

Posted in India | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment