Two weeks ago I took my startup mentorship international for a third time since starting my own business helping great founders go global.
This time, I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey.
Despite relishing in a few moments of cultural enrichment, the majority of my time was spent supporting promising startup companies through the Innogate program, a US market entry crash course for scale-up companies.
Innogate is part of a multi-program startup support ecosystem. Four of which are the brainchild of ITU Cekirdek (pronounced e-too-check-you-deck) or ITU Seed Incubator, a nonprofit organization. The organization was developed in connection with Istanbul Technical University and is a program housed in ITU ARI Teknokent, ITU’s technology park.
The program spans a month and our week was when mentors like myself traveled to Turkey from the US to assist in their strategy and preparation to bring their business to the states.
I was endlessly impressed by the startups’ growth over that week, which was astutely documented here by one of the participants. I was also pleased by how organized and supportive the environment was. The effectiveness of the week was all thanks to the North America Managing Director, Elif Ceylan, and the ITU ARI Teknokent team.
I was especially intrigued by the organization and ecosystem built through the technology park. As someone who is building a career around connecting global ecosystems, I took the time to learn as much as I could about ITU ARI Teknokent. I had the pleasure of speaking with Selma Bahçıvanoğlu, manager of Incubation and Acceleration programs, about what makes Turkey’s innovation ecosystem special.
Turkey is a perfect example of how widespread tech and innovation is becoming. Countries all over the world are beginning to develop their entrepreneurial ecosystems, driving development and economic growth. And, while some ecosystems are forced to find ways around government policies to thrive, Turkey’s innovation landscape was kickstarted by the government.
“This is not typical in European countires. It is a government led tech ecosystem.” — Selma Bahçıvanoğlu, Manager of Incubation and Acceleration Programs
A poster-child for the positive impact of national buy-in, Turkey’s government took charge their future 17 years ago through their technology development zone laws.
The technology development zone laws originated from the belief that tech development and academics should go hand in hand. The law created key zones surrounding universities that provided R&D and other various tax breaks for companies who developed their business in these zones. The government goes so far as to insist that every project must work with and receive approval from the university, ensuring that their companies are on the cutting edge. Which explains why Turkey’s specialty is deep tech such as robotics, automotive, and image processing.
But not every development zone has the ability to push these kinds of numbers. ITU Seed Incubator, the initiative tied to ITU, has gone above and beyond the government’s initial efforts. The programs led by ITU Seed Incubator are the reason the ITU ARI Teknokent zone has been able to produce such a massive amount of success.
Over the last eight years, ITUARI has filtered through over 30,000 applications for their various programs, many of which were thanks to the work of ITU Seed Incubator, and, as a lean team of twelve, there is no doubt that their hard work has an exponential impact.
The result of ITUARI and the Seed Incubator programs is over 2000 projects started, 200+ patents, 1400+ jobs created, and hundreds of millions of Turkish Liras in economic development.
Many of the companies have received follow-on funding, launched their business globally, or have entered top-tier accelerators after graduating from one of the many modules of ITU ARI Teknokent’s program ecosystem and UBI Global ranks them as 2nd in Europe and 3rd in the World among university affiliated incubators. Selma modestly excuses their rank, stating they do not factor how massive Turkey’s population is. But, regardless, it is clear that the work ITU Seed Incubator and ITU ARI Teknokent are doing for their innovation ecosystem has a world-recognized impact.
8 of the 15 startups are embarking on a US market exploration trip for the final leg of their program in March. The startups, led by the highly competent Elif Ceylan, will spend two weeks in Silicon Valley and two weeks in New York, meeting with even more mentors and leaders in the two top innovation cities in the world. As Elif and many others know, this kind of support from someone who knows the market is essential.
“Connecting to the right people while targeting a foreign market is very critical. This is what we offer for our selected companies. We aim to establish valuable connections & collaborations that would be beneficial for our program attendees, as well as our beloved program partners & mentors” — Elif Ceylan, North America Managing Director
If you are interested in getting involved, reach out to Elif and let her know.
And if you happen to be on your way to Istanbul, Selma says come and visit! They are ready for you.
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