I left Belgium 3 years ago and moved to Turkiye. A bold move indeed, as well emotionally as practically. That last one goes back to the fact that I gave my shares to my partners in the business we were running together. Having started over 13 businesses, all bootstrapped, came with a price. No more of this, no battling anymore with customers, partners, banks, or people just using you. I never looked back in a regretful way, but it was enough after almost 30 years of … . Still don’t know how to define this amazing period. The moment I left I was pretty successful with Mobile Monday, big thanks to Tanguy, and had build up a great international network. At that moment there was also Betacowork Coworking Space, founded by Ramon Suarez, origin Spain, but working and living in Brussels and proud father. I organized some events at that new space, a first in Belgium of that size and vision, and we always had full house and great results. I was already very intrigued by this concept and now there was one in my backyard. Quite a change for somebody who always started with an idea, hired office space and people and taking all risk on me or with partners. Never heard of Lean Startup, or business canvas or, god forgive me, marketing. I was the product of an art school. Who cares about customers, needs, market size and all. I did it the hard way, like so many others.
Timing is also crucial in any business adventure you start and I was very lucky for once, when I started Stage-Co with my partner, wife and best friend, Neşen Yücel. Stage-Co is a startup community that after 3 year has 8000 contacts after we organised over 30 events in 5 cities in Turkiye, based in Istanbul. Next to the community, we tried sponsoring as a business model but that is close to impossible. This year we start with Stage-Co Masters, workshop training program for startups, mentors and investors and a paid model. The startup community is very small in Turkiye and at it’s very beginning. The Burak’s, Yaman and Buyukdemir, were working hard to kick it off. At the same time we started with Stage-Co meetups, Urban Station opened a first venue in Maslak (maybe Galata was first but too small for an event) and we partnered. We attracted potential customers for them and we had a free space. All our meetups were for free. Not long after that Yazane opened, we kicked off with CoderDojo Turkiye here. Then came the cool Kolektif House, today 2 venues. Joint Idea started in Arnavutkoy with a more upscale model, opening now in Kanyon the 2nd coworking space and at last Atolye Istanbul opened. We organized the first Startup Weekend MENA and our first #Unconference here. Thanks to these events we forced Engin and Kerem to push hard to finish on time. Thanks for that. The result today is that startups in Istanbul find today a place and like-minds more easily and affordable. Koç Incubator was another great initiative, thanks to hiring Burak Yaman, boosting the startup scene. Many more initiatives were taken and today it is clear that it results in better and more startups. To early to give figures here but if I recall good Betacowork saw around 400 startups kicking off in 5 years time and over 100 grew into full functioning companies, around 10 were funded high and went to the States. Ramon, correct me if I am wrong here.
This brings us to Izmir. Why Izmir is the most asked question as I promote this city daily. In terms of city I like to compare it with San Francisco. Not for the bridges, we only have a couple of pedestrian walkovers, but because of the climate, demographics and cost of living. In terms of population we have around 4.000.0000 people living here and we have the highest percentage of SME’s. Smartness and knowledge are a given here with 10 universities, of which 2 focused on Life Sciences welcoming 150.000 students every year. Still no established startup scene can be discovered here. We lack investors for sure, and the mentality. In too many cases Izmir provides smart people who move to Istanbul or Ankara for money and fame. We also lacked coworking spaces to kick off the community. I saw how it worked in Istanbul, Brussels and many more cities. Here is great blog on the importance of startups + coworking. One thing we have in Izmir now, is a growing number of TTO’s. TTO’s are linked to universities and stands for Technology Transfer Offices. Almost all universities have them now and from what I hear all spaces are rented out easily. I was very lucky I found a soulmate in Izmir with the same passion and running one of the most successful organisation for entrepreneurship in Turkiye, Prof Murat Ozgoren. He started DEPARK at Dokuz Eylul University and today we work together on making Izmir a successful Startup Hub. I was happy they supported Korino, a small coworking place in Izmir center, kicked of by a startup, Taha Utku Korkmaz. I am a strong defender of creating the ecosystem city based. We are working hard with Stage-Co Mature, pre-seed and pre-accelerator, to create a city fund. More in another post but here you have a great inside of what Telluride Venture Accelerator did in Colorado, with 2000 inhabitants!
In 2016 Izmir will welcome Originn with open arms. We met Esra Gonen last year when she started her first coworking space in the Megapol Tower under the name of GNN Offices supporting from the beginning CoderDojo. In January 2016 she will open with 2 partners Originn, 1000m2 of coworking and co-offices. This marks for me the start of Izmir as a startup community outside the university. Esra set this venture up as a business without government or any other support. Just because she believes in it but most importantly because after 1 year she was breakeven with the first one. When a dream is also a sustainable business case you can talk about a real change in the eco system. Next to Joint Idea and Atolye Istanbul we will run a full Stage-Co program in Originn. That is 3 places in 3 years but all kicking off in the last 3 months. I am telling you, this is the sign startup Izmir will kick off as these initiatives are independent and business driven. Don’t come and and tell me I didn’t warn you :-D
Make 2016 a kickstart year dear startups, mentors and investors !