The desire to be an entrepreneur doesn’t just come out of nowhere; it’s born of the success of a country’s ‘pioneers’ in the field and from the introduction of éducation programmes dedicated to business. The cultural aspect is also important: Turks who launch their own businesses now enjoy social recognition.
Interview with Cem Sertoglu, who, with Evren Ücok, opened the East European branch of EarlyBird Venture Capital in Istanbul.
L'Atelier: We see that as far as digital is concerned, Turkey is in full transition mode, with adeveloping ecosystem, and an already very competitive environment. What is it that’s helpingentrepreneurship?
Cem Sertoglu: First and foremost the environment itself. We’re at a moment where technologyis having an impact on everything we do. Secondly, over the last ten years, an innovationmodel has come to us out of Silicon Valley and this has impacted the whole chain. All of asudden we’ve seen an increasing number of universities revising their course programmesto include preparation for entrepreneurship and then also setting up incubators. And finally,we’ve seen the arrival of capital providers, business angels, seed funds and Venture Capitalspecialists. And players bound up with this ecosystem are also starting to emerge – businessmentors, lawyers, and so on. Of course, there’s still a long way to go, but compared with thesituation ten years ago, the progress is impressive.
L'Atelier: What’s triggered the change?
Cem Sertoglu: Well, many of those whom we might call ‘pioneers’ have been successful, havemade some great forays into the market and so have become examples to follow.Ten years ago, if you went to a university to talk to students, their aim was to becomeresearchers or to go and work for a major company. But the success of our first entrepreneurs,and the press coverage of these successes, began to attract attention. In Turkish society –in the eyes of your family, in the circles of your friends and in general – it has now becomeacceptable to be an entrepreneur. We’ve also started to see a reversal of the infamous ‘braindrain’. Our healthy economy and an active cultural scene have made cities such as Istanbuldesirable places to live, places where people who have the choice want to set up theirbusinesses. Many Turks who were studying or working abroad have come back.
L'Atelier: So, there’s a dynamic ecosystem, but a frequently-heard criticism is that it’s restrictedto ideas that have already been proven elsewhere but are new to Turkey’s domestic market.
Cem Sertoglu: That’s true, but I don’t think that in general the debate on ‘cloning’ makes a lotof sense. Entrepreneurship is about spotting a need and providing a solution. I think that thereason why we haven’t yet seen a lot of disruptive innovation here is that our domestic marketstill has many needs to address and there are a lot of solutions waiting to be implemented.There’s also the fact that even though many projects are based on sound ideas, they don’t allsucceed! Nevertheless we do have some excellent companies which are now doing well internationally,such as the online community site creator Grou.ps; the photo editor site BeFunky; Udemy,which specialises in online learning; and Koding, which enables software developers toprogramme and collaborate online.