Seda Kaya, ex President Egiad. Series of interviews with investors in Turkiye n°6.

Finding investors, private or as an organisation, is quite difficult outside Istanbul. In Izmir it is not different. We have some Angels coming down from time to time from Istanbul like BIC Angels, Keiretsu or 500Istanbul, but in terms of investments we are close to zero. Local universities are trying to get some momentum going but it all stays within an academic approach, and I doubt this is the right way to get a professional startup ecosystem going. There is IZKA (a local government agency) trying to push things forward but it all stays local and too little, too small, especially after the coup of 2016. It feels like the wings are cut of the bird, sitting on a branch, hoping its wings will grow back. I remember from my youth that the chickens were cut of a part of their wings in order to not let them fly. And they never did. But let’s stay positive so I contacted Egiad, a local NGO, which describes itself as: “Aegean Young Businessmen Association (EGİAD) is founded in 1990 as the first voluntary organization in Aegean Region in it’s field. Today with it’s 577 members EGİAD is largest young businessmen association in Turkey.” It took some time to get through the President, a woman, but then, I was finally sitting with Seda in her office. It were her last weeks after being the President for 4 years. Next to Egiad they also started Egiad Melekleri, The Angel Investor started by some Egiad members.

Seda was active in Istanbul for quite some time, from Koç University, following International Relations, followed by 3 years at an agency before going back to the family business in Izmir. Her family runs the Kayak Group in Izmir with an important portfolio, mainly based on tourism. She added a Master degree at Ekonomi University for European Affairs. No lack of preparation to continue the business. She started to be active at Egiad at the age of 24. That is quite young to be active in an NGO but makes sense looking at her studies. Of course she entered a men bastion, so that makes it even more challenging. Being very active she quickly went from Vice President to President! Her objective was to add a more international dimension to Egiad, in her eyes at that moment too regional. She had 3 focuses: organise internal with less top down approach, extend relationships to more national and international organisations and manage members more professional. When she looks back, she is pretty happy with the result.

Last year the Angel Investment, Egiad Melekleri, was founded with members of Egiad NGO. The goal is to enrich the entrepreneurship environment of Izmir. Next to the investment vehicle, Egiad also works together with KOSGEB, organising entrepreneurship trainings. Relations with all universities are today established in order to find and support local startups. Melisa Içmec is doing the first screening before startups go to the board. As already stated, the deal flow is Izmir in very little, so the 2 first investments were done in Istanbul, Kolay IK and Iyisahne. An investment of 200.000TL.

Asked why no startups from Izmir, she answers without hesitation. Universities are the only places where the startup enthusiasts are coming from but lacking innovative ideas. She even sees a lack of curiosity to go the extra mile. Also on the side of teachers/professors she lacks the presence of entrepreneurs with a professional background while today she only sees an academic approach. Nothing new I would say.

Seda points out the importance also of the parents as a role model. She is 4th generation in the family business and sees herself very fortunate to have her parents in the role of hardcore entrepreneurs.

How to improve Izmir ecosystem is of course the next question. Seda sees today that Istanbul offers still the best possibilities for good paid jobs and Ankara a follower, not a challenger environment. Izmir is like an island for her, best place to live, open minded, modern, but also a place where most women do not work! I guess sort of Sex in the City mentality if I understood correctly. Especially when I visit during the week one of the new malls, and more are arriving, I see a lot of young women presence on the terraces having a very easy time. This in contrast with Istanbul where most malls are visited by business people to have meetings. I know for myself that most of my meetings are in Kanyon, mainly Pain Quotidien and I meet there always other business people doing the same thing. So a fair point of Seda I assume. She also mentions the Kemeralte project, for years on the table, but no result so far. It is aimed as a center for startups and entrepreneurship. Moreover, Izmir suffers from the family business approach. Lack of innovation, very conservative and more interested in investments in real estate. Another significant evolution is the fact that the shopping center, Alsancak, has today 220 empty stores. For sure the malls are attracting some of them, but surely not all.

Interesting remark also on the 2 boards she presided. The 1st one was X and Y generation, workers, loyal and responsibility driven. In the 2nd board, younger, she noticed that having fun also became important, more “me” driven. Her remark about ignorance is something that also strikes me. I notice it too when I talk to the very young startups environment, as well the startups, but also the so called mentors and aspiring investors who can not make up their mind, sticking to their real estate. If I make a summery of all the above I would say Izmir has an attitude problem and maybe even an identity crisis. Politically Izmir is an exception, mainly led by the opposition party, in Turkiye what makes things not easy to have long term decisions within a visionary scope. It is like an orphan looking for his/her parents/origin. Izmir has a lot of potential with the harbor, agriculture, universities, etc.. but can not go to her next version. Seda believes that the positive changes will come eventually, maybe later in Izmir than Istanbul or Ankara but she is confident. She will continue as a member of the advisory board of Egiad and even thinks of other responsibilities in order to get Izmir on the rails again. Being married and with 1 child and not even 40 years old she is a very passionate woman about her city, about the Ege region. When I asked about her return to the holding she also made clear that tourism will get the biggest blow in 2017. In her opinion, with a decline of 60% in the business already now, we need to wait for 2018 before a revival can be established. If the political and economical situation goes back to a more stable situation. That is a lot of ifs, knowing Turkiye in my opinion.

The success question to end our interview went again to the drive to make a positive impact and create change. Especially the role of women in business and in politics are close to her heart. She looks back with a positive feeling after 4 years of presidency but also realizes that the work is never done. She sacrificed almost all her time to Egiad but now she goes back to the family business where she sees new challenges. She has a 3 year plan ready to redesign the structure in order to be ready for the future. Seda has no lack of ambition, plans or drive! She follows her grandfather who was very active and wanted to give back to society, like her father did, but she admits that she was the most active of all in being engaged in creating a better world for the Ege region. I am sure we will hear more from her.

Patrick Bosteels, Stage-Co Co-Founder

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