Many thanks to Halit Duran and the Izmir Regional Development Agency (IZKA) for making this trip possible.
Embryonix - a non-profit incubator program at izmir ekonomi üniversitesi that provides free consulting, free office space, financial support, training and professional development for startups with a new technology, an existing technology to be used in new ways, or a desire to develop an existing technology.
Taylan Demirkaya, a Professor of Economics at the University and the Director of Embryonix, is at the forefront of developing Izmir’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Every city we’ve been to, in fact, seems to have one individual who understands the power of connections and who facilitates them effortlessly, helping entrepreneurs, academics, NGOs, development agencies, and all those involved in entrepreneurial activities to come together and grow the space. For this reason and many others, Taylan is a wonderful person to know and has been a great resource for our questions, even before we met in person last week.
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IZTEKGEB - Located in and operator of the Izmir Technology Development Zone. This location appeals to international and domestic technology companies as companies that are located in the zone enjoy legal and tax benefits. Revenue generated in the zone from R&D, for example, is exempt from income and corporate taxes until 2023. The government will also pay 50% of social insurance costs for all company personnel working in the zone.
Why is this interesting for entrepreneurship? In conjunction with IZKA, IZTEKGEB is building a new 5500m^2 innovation center. The center will include an incubator center with 80 offices for startup tech companies (free of charge), a stakeholder office for corporates and institutions that support innovation and competitiveness, 2 multipurpose training classrooms, high tech workshops that can be outfitted with company specific machinery, rentable office space for established companies, social spaces, and a catalyzer unit – including a patent office, a promotion office and a technology office that takes companies from idea to product. I’ve never heard of an incubator center on this scale. We’re looking forward to tracking their progress as they refine their sustainable revenue model and decide how to select startup companies.
Why was this visit important?
1) Understanding Izmir: Izmir’s economy is dominated by small and medium sized industrial companies and family owned businesses. Faz Elektrik is a 3rd generation, family company that produces electric motors for homes, cars, and other electronic goods.
2) Understanding Turkish Entrepreneurs: Belmo, a company under the Faz umbrella, produced the first power wheelchair ever in Turkey in 1998. Selim Taner, whose grandfather founded Faz Elektrik, was the president of JCI Izmir (the Worldwide Federation of Young Leaders and Entrepreneurs) last year, continues to be entrepreneurially minded, and will soon take full control of Belmo. He just started a new R&D company and will soon begin work on a new generation of powered wheelchairs, among other innovative projects.
3) Innovation & Social Aims: Selim Bay has become very attune to the needs of his customers, Turkey’s disabled population (the second largest in the world after China). He is an innovator and his products may drastically change disabled individuals’ lives in positive ways. One of his upcoming projects is a wheelchair charger kiosk for public centers. The kiosks can charge up to 3 chairs at a time, have room for advertisements, and can be placed anywhere. According to Selim, this will reduce the need to carry bulky chargers, reduce the struggle to find a plug during daily life or social activities, and increase the potential for and flexibility of social outings for the disabled population.
Another upcoming project will benefit children with spina bifida by using new technology to photograph a child’s back, send the information to the machine, and produce a back rest that helps them sit comfortably.
4) Plus, Selim won the quote of the day: “Those who think entrepreneurship and innovation can’t be done in Turkey are short minded.”
Ulamis Kooperatifi – What a wonderful group of people! The Ulamis Kooperatifi is based in Seferihisar, a municipality just outside Izmir. Seferihisar is a Cittaslow community – a movement that focuses on slow food and quiet living as keys to happy lives in the modern world. The municipality’s Mayor has been instrumental in both bringing Cittaslow to Seferihisar – even though, he says, it has followed the movement’s principles for years – and to ensuring that the cooperative has the necessary resources for maximum impact.
So, what does the cooperative do?
It was established in 1969, it has 180 members, and it has four ongoing projects that I will mention.
1) It collects raw materials (olives) from producers, processes them and returns them to the farmers for sale. It keeps 10% of the olive oil produced to cover the costs of production.
2) It collects the olive oil produced by local producers, packages it, sells it – taking advantage of the collective price – and distributes the profits democratically, or in proportion to the amount of olive oil each producer provided. Why is this important? Historically, the overwhelming majority of producers in the region, particularly agriculturally related producers, are small in size and unable to obtain a fair price for their products. The current Mayor of Seferihisar, who is also the President of the cooperative, is determined to unionize these small producers so that they can receive a fair price. Currently, more than 20% of area producers are participating but the cooperative hopes to get 100% of area producers involved – including one particularly large producer with considerable influence.
3) Mandarin marmalade and Artichoke products – soon to be accompanied by a diversified group of products including juices and wines.
4) A biomass project that will heat and power the cooperative and have a neutral carbon impact – plus an upcoming solar panel project.
All in all a fantastic day of meetings in Izmir! More to come on Day 2 and our trip to Diyarbakir.