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!

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!

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)

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

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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.

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One group climbed up this, the other climbed down…

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