Around 2 years ago, Neşen, my wife and partner, and I decided not to travel anymore between Istanbul and Izmir at least 2 times per month for 6 years. The distance is around 550 km and we traveled always by car. The result was tiredness, finishing our car and never a moment of rest. The advantage was that we could follow and even be a big part of the startup scene in both cities. To understand the scale, that’s over 20 million people almost double Belgium and a bit less than The Netherlands. It was a very intense period, but very rewarding with a great network and impact. I once lived in Paris and the journey from Brussels to Paris always felt a bit like traveling far as 1 hour from Brussels you end up in a different country. Our travel 1 way, including ferry, was one-way at an average of 7,50 hours. And still in the same country.
We could feel and measure the increase of activity of startup teams over all those years and it was a great feeling to be part of it and even be one of the most active organisations, independent and bootstrapped. The investments became bigger and more and more we saw a crazy increase of Angel Investors and VCs with more and bigger tickets. Some startups became international following the path of Peak, sold to Zynga by now and probably the most exciting story written by Insider, in the meantime headquartered in Singapore. Some e-commerce and game companies were sold to very big international players in the market and we have now a local unicore, Getir valued at 2.6 billion dollars. Peak is sold, so I do not consider them a Turkish company anymore but they were sold for 1.8 billion dollars. It felt like we were catching up with Europe.
But now I don't see much happening anymore at an early-stage level. I called some friends in Istanbul to understand as we are not so connected anymore with the startup scene over there. They confirmed that the influx of new teams almost stopped. Those who were on track 4 to 5 years ago are now growing and getting new investments, but at the bottom, it seems like dissolved. Izmir, despite all the universities, the eyes at the Western world and great talents stay at the same level not to say even decreasing. And it was already at a low level. I thought by moving here we would see more activities and be more involved, but Izmir stays at that remarkable low level. I already compared Turkiye with Belgium (11 million inhabitants) pure on the numbers and it is amazing that small countries can outperform the big ones so hard. So it is not a feeling but a measured silence. Today I mentor more Turkish startups abroad than in Türkiye. Discussing with my Istanbul friends we came somewhat to the same conclusion. Politics always play a role, legislation, current economic situation, brain drain, and on top the pandemic bringing a halt to the communities in order to interact and push each other forward. Universities were once a vibrant environment but also here I see a big decrease with just some competitions and PR activities but no sustainable strategy, nor short, no long term. The government did a big effort with grants, but that is clearly not enough. I also see big international organisations distributing money for local initiatives that mainly go to already big local players but with very little impact on the ground, not sustainable, and only great for pictures and dinners.
I can see the same evolution in Now Sprint Acceleration, already at its 4th cohort. It is online, just 1 month, no equity, and FREE. Most applications come from Eastern Africa (80%) and only 5% from Türkiye, despite 8 years of hard work in the Türkish startup environment. It is not so difficult to find the reasons but I am more interested in the solutions and honestly, I do not see any solutions where individuals can come up with. As the problems lays at a level that I and other individuals can not influence. All we can do is stand at the side and watch and hope. And I am always hopeful, I just wonder when I will see the change that is needed. I am 60 now and if it takes another 10 years I will still be here (I have no cancer is my credo :-D) but maybe I will be enjoying the clear waters of Ildır or Karaburun. I am not a big fan of Godot as you can imagine.
In the meantime, we continue with Stage-Co, Now Sprint Accelerator, Urla Coworking, and Creative Academie. We will never be short of gusto to continue our battle for the SDGs, Art and Young Entrepreneurs.
and Urla Coworking