Starting 2015 with Startups in Turkey!

Deb Li ’15

I love traveling to explore new cultures and meet new people. This is probably typical of most MBA students (and evident from this blog). As a co-founder of a startup, the co-president of Lions Lab, which is the Columbia Business School student accelerator, and an investment partner on Dorm Room Fund, I am also passionate about startups. This is why I enrolled in Global Immersion: Exploring Turkey’s Startup Culture.

When thinking about a startup culture in a country, there are many factors to consider. In my travels and meetings with entrepreneurs around the world, there is always a local element that makes each country, even city different. But what has been consistently the same is the growth and energy for startups around the world. Even last week, when I was in Hong Kong, I saw signs around the business district for a recently passed venture forum called startmeup.hk. I also met with two entrepreneurs who told me about the new government and corporate initiatives to support startups, such as the Blueprint accelerator and co-working space hosted by Swire, one of the largest corporations in Hong Kong.

This makes me even more excited for Istanbul in a few weeks. During our six week classroom component of the course that leads up to our visit, we explored how in the past few years, Turkey’s startup scene has grown and evolved. For example, this past November, the government supported a financial initiative to encourage more women entrepreneurs in Turkey. In the course, we were reminded to take into account each country’s differences and how this influences its startup culture. We used a framework that analyzes a country’s human capital, R&D, financial capital, industrial base, physical infrastructure, legal/government policies, quality of life and support networks.

The framework allowed us to dive deeper into country specific issues. One such issue that resonated with me is Turkey’s position at the cross-section between Europe and the Middle East and how it has shaped its politics. Our Turkish classmates mentioned to us that a few years ago, the popular sentiment was to join the European Union, but now it has shifted to align more with the Middle East. If I were an entrepreneur in Turkey, these political changes are important to keep in mind when I think about which market I would want to develop for and where to expand. And as an investor, there would be different risks associated with each situation that I would need to consider.

I know my fellow classmates and I are looking forward to discussing these and many other issues with stakeholders on our visit to Istanbul starting on January 18th. Stay tuned for updates during our trip!

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