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