A little over a year ago I wrote on June 27, 2017 a blog post titled:”When you have it all but you can not show it. Izmir, not for startups. Yet”. I was kind of through with Izmir as after some years no meaningful activity was established after a whole lot of efforts with Stage-Co and local partners, ranging from universities to organisations to private companies. We focused back on Istanbul and organised some great events in other cities in Turkiye but also giving workshops outside of the country like Irak, Sudan and Georgia. Collaborations with organisations like Re:Coded and Maker Çocuk on Refugees and displaced people through the war became more important, giving workshops on entrepreneurship. Very satisfying and happy to work on impact.
Just before the summer, we got a call from IYTE, a university in Gulbahçe, part of Izmir. If we would be interested to organise an acceleration program as part of TechnRoll. They already had some nice visuals, a program and sponsors. At first, I couldn't believe my ears, but we know the management of Izmir Teknopark, so there must be something. We agreed and started working right away. It was a very light version, with 5 workshops and lots of individual meetings. We started with over 30 teams and through a selection ended with 15 teams for the final pitches in 2 sessions. We had 9 mentors in the program and Neşen and I did the whole program, helped by Aykut and his team. No need to explain it was very intense. At the pitches, we had business people and investors as a jury. The final money prizes were selected and given by the sponsors.
In the end, to my own surprise, we had 5 startups that were, in my opinion, ready to be invested. All Izmir related. We had very good feedback from the Teknopark Izmir organisation, the jury and the participants. Nice but more important for me was the fact that if you train and guide talent you can create investor ready startups if the basics are present. I have been begging, asking, insisting that we need bootcamps and accelerator programs with professional program managers to arrive at a point where startups are ready to go for the money. We all known the problems: non complete teams, no added value, no competitive advantage, no homework, no business model etc… . Everybody talks about pivoting when the right product-market fit is not found, but when it comes to investors they put their heads in the sand as nobody wants to invest in the program. Only in the startups and then wait for 5 years for any outcome. If ever. Anyone would call this utter naiveté. In MEA region an ongoing looking the other way. And yes, that gets on my nerves. All I hear is complaining, never an invitation to collaborate on a solution.
I am very happy that thanks to the crisis we go through some self-reflection. Now I hear the government talking about Turkiye first. For too long we were just importing and consuming, never creating and building. I am not a nationalist, but sometimes you need a shake-up to see that competitive advantage is damn important. And we don’t have it for the moment. We meet a lot of talent, but never I can detect a supporting environment. Only marketplaces and marketplaces. It becomes boring and contra-productive. When I attend selection committees these days I am expecting that in the next round we have bakals (local grocery stores)on the stage. That is how low we landed today. Not only the startups are doubtful, also the so-called investors have no idea what they are talking about. Many, not all. This short-sided approach is dreadful and will never get us to the next stage. I don’t have the latest figures but when explaining the new teams about our local investments I give the example of the first half year of 2017: Belgium 130 million Dollars and Turkiye less than 40 million Dollars invested in startups. Belgium 11 million inhabitants, Turkiye 80 million. Tx Startups Watch for the data. Figures speak louder than emotions.
Big thanks to IYTE University, Teknopark Izmir and specifically Murat Erten and Aykut Hocaoğlu for their trust and confidence. It is a first and hopefully the start of something beautiful and successful in Izmir. And to all those who claim that they are doing an acceleration program, it is not a list of mentors and a building. It is a program with a beginning and an end where knowledge and guidance are crucial. By professionals who are experienced and focused. Sounds arrogant to you. So be it. We have no time to discuss anymore, the time has come to execute, we can discuss later with a beer or glass of wine and have some philosophic talks around my statements. I don’t need to be right, I just want to see results that impress us all in order to build a future for Turkiye and the MEA region where our kids don’t need to wonder why we lost so much valuable time. Ready for the 2nd try in Izmir. Amin.
Patrick Bosteels, Stage-Co Co-Founder
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