We arrived at Ankara Airport in Turkey on Monday January 3, 2011. I am not sure which was harder the sleep deprivation from the airline flights or the culture shock of realizing that we weren't in Kansas anymore. The six of us, five students and one Professor, crammed ourselves and our suitcases into a too small car for the trip to Bilkent University. The question I had been asked most by friends was "Why Turkey?" All I could answer was I get 3 credits in two weeks and one class closer to finishing my degree. But why study innovation and entrepreneurship in Turkey? I didn't know the answer then; I couldn't have answered it then. As time has passed I believe I am getting closer to an answer.
Prof. Tello with five UML students at Bilkent University.
If we had stayed in the US, we would have continued to learn about entrepreneurship in the US. We would not have had to question our models and assumptions about entrepreneurs from another viewpoint. Coming to Turkey, we learned to question some of the assumptions about what it means to be an entrepreneur and not just an entrepreneur in the US.
Shopkeeper in the Citadel area.
In Turkey, there are number of differences cultural and regulatory differences that change the way entrepreneurs organize and run businesses. On the cultural side, people here value stability over risk. Entrepreneurs therefore, build businesses slowly and more conservatively than the US startups. With some exceptions, venture capital is difficult to come by in Turkey. Many businesses must be bootstrapped, run and grown with cash flow. That is difficult to do under the best conditions. Without ready access to loans or venture capital, starting a business and growing it requires the entrepreneur to be more cautious and “think outside the box” (I hate that cliché, but I can’t think of anything better right now).
UML students meeting with the founder of MITS, Emre Otto.
Learning about the constraints that Turkish entrepreneurs work with made me question the assumptions that I had made about entrepreneurship in general. I had to try and think of how I would start and run a business if presented with a similar set of constraints. Innovation and entrepreneurship is not something the US has a stranglehold on; we just operate in an environment and culture that places different, and sometimes less restrictive, boundaries on how businesses operate.
In addition to my own posting on the trip, I have asked the students accompanying me to put together their own reflections and observations. Here is the first in a series, by UMass Lowell Marketing major Chris Foster.
During our stay here in Ankara, it became apparent after speaking with everyone, that visiting Istanbul was a must when coming to Turkey. The problem that arose however, was when were we going to be able to go to Istanbul? We only had one free day in this two week period, in this case it was Sunday. According to most of the teachers here at Bilkent “there is no way to do Istanbul in one day, your crazy.” But being a traveler and the adventurer I am, I decided to look into it. So after hitting a few bars on Saturday night, I convinced one of my friends on the trip, Steve, to come along with me. Armed with nothing but a hand drawn map I had drawn earlier in the week in class, the clothing on our backs, and some information that I had researched online, we set out.
The way to do Istanbul in a day and not be completely exhausted when you get there is to take the overnight sleeping train. Chances are at least one of the people you buy tickets from will speak English, just in case it is good to know that you want the “Yatakli”(sleeper train) to “Istanbul,” if you say those two things they can work with you. Make sure to show your student ID when you buy tickets because you can save a few dollars. Also, it is very important to buy your return ticket at this time! Trains do get sold out and you want to make sure you are able to get back to Ankara, and in our case back to class on time on Monday morning.
In Ankara it is fairly easy to find your train, look on the itinerary board and look for the “Yatakli to Istanbul” and find out what platform it is on (there are only about 4 platforms so its pretty easy not to get lost) on the trains they have little wooden signs on each car, saying where the trains starting and ending, make sure its Istanbul! If you have any trouble finding the train, or once you’re on the train finding, what room your supposed to be in, just ask one of the people on the platform that works for the train station, from our experience they don’t understand English, but if you hand them your ticket they will direct you accordingly.
Ankara Train Station
Our Train Tickets
The overnight train we took to Istanbul left Ankara at 10:00PM (22:00) and arrived in Istanbul at 8:00AM at the Haydarpasa Train Station. On the way over the double bedrooms were booked, so we took a quad, which after student discount was 30TL a person (about $25 USD) luckily we did not have any roommates, but being only two people in a quad room it is possible that you will if the train is busy.
Quad Sleeper Room
It's now 8:00AM the next morning, you get off at the “Haydarpasa” train station in Istanbul. The train stops in several places in and around Istanbul. To avoid confusion, look at the name of the stations. The easy way to do this is to remember that Haydarpasa is the last stop the train makes and is the end of the line, so just ride it to there.
Haydarpasa Train Station in Istanbul
The Haydarpasa train station is on the Asian side of Istanbul so you must take the ferry to the European side (that’s were all the famous tourist places are, along with all the shopping). After exiting the train proceed through the train station, walk out the front doors, and turn left and on the water you will see at booth selling ferry tickets for 1.75TL (about $1.50 USD).
Ferry Station at Haydarpasa
Go to the ferry booth and get a ticket to “Eminonu,” the ferry runs about every half hour. It is important at this time to make sure the boat you get on says “Eminonu” on it, it will probably also have names of other places as well (this is ok). The boat ride is about 20 minutes and it can make other stops, so it is important to make sure you get off at the “Eminonu” station and not another one.” This area is where most of the historic stuff is in Istanbul.
Our return trip left Haydarpasa at 10:30PM (22:30); I suggest that you leave “Eminonu” around 8:30 to ensure that you have enough time to catch the train. This is because you may have to wait up to 30 minutes to get the ferry, the ride is about 20 minutes, and its good to get to the station a little early. At the Eminonu ferry station, it is a little more confusing returning to the train station, due to the fact that there are 4 different ferries you can take, make sure you take the one that says “Haydarpasa.”
Dual Sleeper to Ankara
Our return sleeping train left Istanbul at 10:30PM and was scheduled to arrive
at 7:07AM. This time we had a double bed room. Much nicer then the quad, this one has its own sink and table inside. Unfortunately we ran into some trouble with the train on the way home. In Turkey the trains are not perfect they do get delayed, and they do periodically stop in the middle of nowhere. Our train was delayed an hour and half, so we arrived in Ankara at 8:35AM instead of the intended 7:07AM. Class started for us at 9:00AM, so we jumped in a cab and asked to go back to “Bilkent University.” We ended up being 20 minutes late for class due to the fact we had to shower and change. I recommend that you have your professor’s number with you, and a way to call him, even if it’s a pay phone, so you can inform him of what’s going on, and he will be more understanding. Overall though the trip was highly worth it, we were able to see all the major sites in the time allotted. I recommend this trip to anyone who visits Ankara and Bilkent University.
Chris Foster, UMass Lowell Marketing, Class of 2011
Perhaps one of the surprising aspects of start-up funding in Turkey is the absence of angel investment. As mentioned in my Day 7 blog, equity is not typically a funding tool used by seed and early stage start-ups. We did learn however that many tech start-ups could access grant funding relatively easily in the early stages. The Turkish Ministry of Industry and Trade (Sanayi ve Ticaret Bakanlığı) provides one-year start-up grants to companies that locate in one of twenty-eight technology parks located across the country (will talk more about the technology parks tomorrow). These grants, in the 100,00 TL range (about $75,000 US), can be used for equipment, staff and other resources. Location in a tecknokent (technology park) can be at free or reduced rent. Other sources of funding include other state grants, business plan competitions and friends and family.
The entrepreneur we visited today, Siyamed SINIR, is one of three founders of Karniyarik (which means eggplant in English).
Karniyarik is a vertically integrated search engine that originally focused on finding the best value in cell phone prices. Siyamed, an engineer by education, begin coding the technology which supports Karniyarik in 2007, with three other engineering buddies. While one buddy left the group, the other two founders are still engaged (although their current participation is limited due to careers in the States). The company formed around this technology was launched in early 2009, 20 online stores included in the search listings. Over the next year, this site grew to 300 online stores with 2000 daily users.
While Siyamed and his buddies were initially focused on building a technical tool, they are now faced with the need to develop a business model that will support the growth of the company. After Siyamed explained the business and the challenges he faces in moving the company forward, our students offered some suggestions regarding strategies he might use to grow the business.
Currently drawing 2000 users per day, the Karniyarik website and underlying technology offer the potential for analyzing the online shopping behaviors of visitors to the site. The analysis and sale of this information, even in aggregate format, to corporate sponsors of the website, could provide a new product or company service. Further development of the core technology based on the needs of paying sponsors would help to focus development efforts. Since the founders of the site are all engineers, the recruitment of a business development partner might also be helpful.
This visit and conversation was helpful for our students, who learned more about funding technology start-up and was also helpful to Siyamed and his company. Tomorrow we continue our class and will visit the Bilkent Cyberpark.
Prof. Tello, Prof. Orge, UMass Lowell Students visit with M2ITS co-founder Emre Oto.
For lunch we traveled over to Hacettepe Üniversitesi, which is
located right next to Bilkent University. We gathered for lunch in the food
court of Hacettepe, which was quite crowded with students preparing for finals.
A half-dozen different restaurants were available to choose from. Greek &
Turkish staples including mousakka, grape leaves, donor-kebab and deserts were
among the selections. With the
assistance of our Bilkent companions, we managed to each place our orders and
then enjoy lunch. After lunch we
hung out in the courtyard outside the food court.
Later in the afternoon we spent several hours discussing business models and start-up strategies with Emre Oto, co-founder of M2ITS, a start-up that provides collaborative conference space and medical analytics to medical and pharmaceutical companies in Turkey. M2ITS is located in the Hacettepe Üniversiteis Technopark.
The Technopark is an economic development
zone for the greater Ankara region. It houses a number of technology start-up
companies, with the end goal being the graduation of these companies into the
surrounding business communities. The Technopark is a highlight of Hacettepe Üniversiteis,
as it attempts to link campus researchers with established and emerging
M2ITS co-founder Emre Oto maps out the company's business model for Prof. Tello, Prof. Orge and UML student Steven Johnian.
M2ITS was founded in April 2009 by
Emre and a long-time Turkish friend and colleague. At the time, he was working
for a software start-up in Silicone Valley, Calypso, which provided software to
the finance sector for tracking and analyzing collateral debt obligations (yes,
the same CDO’s that contributed to the collapse of our housing market). Emre read the writing on the wall and
returned to Turkey, not quite sure what we would do next. After a few conversations with his
long-time friend they decided to launch M2ITS . The company now has 12 salaried
employees and also has major contracts with global pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer.
Mr. Emre's presentation was quite helpful in understanding some of the differences between launching start-ups in the US and in Turkey. A graduate of Stanford University, Emre worked in Silicon Valley for several years, so he could discuss the differences based on his own experience. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises is that equity is often not given to early-stage employees by most start-ups. Many start-ups are family-owned or family-funded and the families wish to maintain control of their investment. An IPO is not the goal, but rather the establishment of sustainable businesses--this seems like a major difference from the US. Following his discussion of his company, Emre provided a demonstration of his company's software system.
Seray Ergene from Bilkent University and Chris
Foster, Steven Johnian and Nathaniel Brown from UMass Lowell look on as M2ITS
co-founder Emre Oto demonstrates the company's software system.
About 5:00 PM we finished up our visit to M2ITS and headed back to Bilkent U. The guys were on their own for dinner this evening, but the frequency and convenience of the campus and downtown shuttles makes it relatively easy to travel over to the Real (local mega story and shopping center) or downtown to Tunus Street. I had a pleasant dinner in the Bilkent faculty restaurant, The 49 Restaurant, which is an easy 3 min. walk from my apartment. After a long day on campus, a kabob dinner tasted quite good. Over the next few days, several of my students will be preparing blog entries, sharing the student perspective on this trip. I look forward to sharing these with you.
Today we had a full day of class. With Prof. Örge, my students and I explored the
nature of entrepreneurship. The morning was spent examining the myth of the
entrepreneur, much of this conversation discussed the images and adjectives we
use to describe successful entrepreneurs (e.g., powerful, risk-taker, goal
driven, ambitious) and how these adjectives could also reasonably describe
successful leaders, politicians or other business people. These adjectives do
not really tell us much about entrepreneurship, what it is and how to do
Our discussion then shifted to
the “what” and “how” of entrepreneurship, and the case studies
presented the previous evening byProf. Örge’s Bilkent business students were
helpful in examining the details of entrepreneurship. The list of companies
discussed included several Turkish software start-ups (e.g., PixoFun, M2ITS, Omega Cözüm), GPS Tracking start-ups (e.g., Mobiliz, Arvento) and several diversified
companies (e.g., Karel, infopark). Next our UMass Lowell students will have a
chance to visit with the founders of several of these companies as we visit the
local Bilkent CyberPark.
We have come to enjoy our meals together as a small group, typically with the company and assistance of Prof. Örge or his teaching assistant Seray Ergene. There are a number of different restaurants on campus to choose from, and a full dinner on campus will run from about $5.00 US (fixed price cafeteria) to $10.00 US (ala carte cafeteria or lunch counter). It is interesting to note that the Starbucks located in the business school seems to be the exception to this rule, where you will still pay about $4.00 US for an Americano Grande coffee, and about the same for a snack to go with it.
Day 4 meal
The boys, who by now have mastered the free bus service into town, have also found lunch in the Ankara Tunus area for less then $5.00 (more on their Adventures in Ankara in a later post). Chris F. seems to prefer the casual elegance of Sofa, located in the upscale student dorm. In fact, in order to prepare for his morning breakfast order, Chris took home a Sofa menu one night and translated it using the Google translator. Much to his disappointment the next morning the hostess handed Chris a bi-lingual, Turkish-English menu…so much for preparation.
Our campus meals have been quite good. There is an abundance of chicken, which
can be served grilled, baked, curried and in other forms. Turkish meatballs are a cross between a
hamburg and a sausage. Oh, this
reminds me, don’t order a burger unless you are in a McDonalds or Burger
King. Poor George was feeling a
bit homesick so he ordered a cheeseburger from the Express diner. It had a bun, and cheese, but the
burger looked more like a piece of fried salami…lesson learned. Most every
lunch and dinner is accompanied by rice, a pilaf I believe. The veggies have
always been fresh and the soups are deep and tasty.
I enjoyed a spinach casserole one night, curried chicken another, and Turkish meatballs a third night. We are looking forward to our Friday evening dinner in Ankara, where special arrangements have been made for a classic Turkish dinner.
The weather continues on the cool side, comparable to a moderate New England winter without the snow. The daily temperature runs in the high 30s to high 40s, but you do feel the chill in the air once the sun sets.
We met again as a class on Thursday afternoon, following up our discussion on entrepreneurship with an examination of technology innovation. We began this session by first listening to Scott Berkun, former Microsoft project leader and author of The Myths of Innovation, along with a number of other books. Scott talks about the roots of innovation, how innovative ideas are developed and some of our misconceptions regarding the innovation process. This discussion fit nicely with the mornings class, and led us to a further conversation regarding the various types of, and approaches to the development of innovation ideas and ventures.
By 5:00 PM the boys were getting restless so we ended class and made some dinner plans. Talk with you tomorrow.
Dean Erel introduced our students to the Turkish education system and then to Bilkent University in particular. Bilken U. was the first private university to open in Turkey, it was founded in 1984 by Prof. İhsan Doğramacı. Creating a private university was a significant and expensive effort. At the time, the Turkish constitution prohibited the creation of a private university, it was believed that the state was the sole authority in providing higher education. A significant effort, including changing the constitution of Turkey was needed before Bilkent could open its doors. There are now about 50 private universities and approximately 200 public colleges and universities in Turkey.
Bilkent is an entrepreneurial university. In addition to the university, Bilkent Holding company owns and operates over 40 businesses whose profits and services support the operation of the university. Bilkent Holding operates an energy supply business, water preparation plant, the CyberPark, a luxury hotel, a mobile phone company, manufacturing and construction companies. The University holds ownership of these companies through Bilkent Holding. Talk about alternative revenue streams. The tuition for Turkish students is $11,580 per year and another $2500 for a double room. The tuition for International students is less, about $8500 per year. The buildings on campus are relatively new, all built since 1984 and are substantial. The campus has all the educational , research and students facilities one would expect of a modern, private university.
Dean Erel also talked about emphasis on entrepreneurship in the Bilkent business school and across campus. The b-school offers a major in entrepreneurship & family business at the undergraduate level, and also offers a program in marketing and innovation management. The curriculum in the entrepreneurship program is similar to ours, with the flexibility to take electives like new product development, change management, management of SME’s, etc. The b-school also supports an inter-disciplinary entrepreneurship course which is core to the engineering program. Student engineers team up with business students, fine art and graphic design students, economics and others to develop a business plan for an engineering capstone project. Students compete at the end of the course for a business plan award and some are encouraged to actually bring the product out to market.
This evening our students sat in on the final course presentations for Prof. Örge’s Foundations of Entrepreneurship class.
Students teams selected a company in the CyberPark, interviewed the founders, and then spent two days observing the operation of the start-up. They were then required to develop a case study based on this ethnographic research, which examined emergent themes. We observed 9 case presentations and then our students actively questioned the Bilkent students regarding their observations and findings. In addition to being informative, we observed differences in how Turkish culture addresses aspects of entrepreneurship (e.g., pride in ownership limits interest in sharing equity; Turkish regulations protect older Turkish technology companies such as PBX telephone systems, significant government funding available for early stage start-ups).
After class we had a late dinner in the student cafeteria and then headed off to our dorm rooms. No more sightseeing this evening.
As you can see the guys were not shy about asking her questions.
Our students were quite impressed by design and size of the campus. I heard numerous references to “you don’t see that at Lowell” and “why can’t we hire Bilkent’s architect.”
I reminded them that Dean Carter is working hard to raise the funds needed to build a new business school (and they commented that they will probably be asked to donate once they graduate). The campus is quite nice, and as you can see from the stairs and slope, it is built on a hill side overlooking Bilkent and Ankara.
The university was founded in 1984, opened in 1986 and was just listed as 102 on the London Times best universities list.
This afternoon I met with my colleague Örsan Örge, who is an assistant professor of entrepreneurship and strategy.
It turns out that Prof. Örge and I have a number of common research and professional interests. He is using qualitative research methods to explore succession in family businesses and also works closely with the CyberPark, a technology incubator that generates revenue for the campus. Prof. Örge integrates experiential learning activities into his entrepreneurship courses, similar to how we use M2D2. Prof. Örge is arranging our visit to 2-3 technology start-ups, a visit to their incubator and a meeting with the government head of entrepreneurship in Turkey (similar to our Small Business Administration). When I met Dean Erel later in the day and thanked him for matching us up with Prof. Örge, he responded that he new we would be a good match...and I think he was right.
It is gray and cold outside (mid 30’s) but this has not stopped us from traveling about campus. We have learned to use the local bus (free to both Bilkent and Ankara) and the students traveled into Ankara late this afternoon to visit some of the local restaurants and pubs (don’t worry, they made it back well before curfew).
I have included several photos of their business school.
Notice the Starbucks that greets you in the lobby of the B-School (Note for UML architect :-).
The classroom we will be using is right off the lobby, the aroma of fresh coffee will keep the gang awake during our class meetings. The students in the lobby are preparing for exams, you can’t see the student meeting rooms across from the Starbucks counter. When I walked by there at 8PM this evening, they were chock full of students preparing for finals.
Tomorrow morning we will kick off the class with a visit from Dean Erel and then our introductory discussion of the entrepreneurial process. In the afternoon we are sitting in on Prof. Örge’s class presentations where the students were required to develop case studies of various entrepreneurs in the Bilkent region. As part of our site visits, we will then have a chance to visit several of the entrepreneurs introduced through these case studies.
All in all, things are going very well. Our hosts are superb, our students are engaged and eager to learn about the culture as well as the course content. Enjoy the photos, I will keep you posted,
Bikent University Home Page
Arrived in Ankara Esenboga Airport about 3:30 PM on Monday. We received our visa stamps without incident or conversation, although the guys were surprised that Turkish Customs prefered US or Euro and not the Turksih Lira. A driver (who spoke no English :-) was waiting and shuttled us off to the campus about a half hour from the airport. Prof. Örsan Örge, Asst. Professor in the Faculty of Business Administration, was waiting for us back on campus. He met us at one of the student dorms, had keys and info. packets ready for each of the students (who were happily upgraded to single rooms).
I am across campus in a faculty apartment which isnice. Bilkent has very extensive student and faculty housing. Most faculty and staff actually live on campus, which is quite different from the states. In the morning, when I catch the bus to class, I see the children of faculty and staff heading to the local music preparatory school across from my flat.
After we checked in Prof. Örge gave the boys and I a brief walking tour of campus, and promised a longer, formal tour on Tuesday morning. We ended the tour in the student dining hall where our students tried a mix of Turkish home cooking (spinach casserol, grilled chicken, lamb and rice). Our students commented on how flavorful and good the food was. They all agreed it was much better than what is served in Southwick (interesting side note, all 5 students with me are UML commuter students, so they rarely eat in Southwick).
Since the guys were tired, they all headed back up to their dorm rooms to rest up for tomorrow. Since my apartment is away from the dining hall, Örsan took me over to a local supermarket so I could stalk up on some basic foods. Picking food items out in the supermarket would have been challenging with out Örsan’s help since there is no similiarity to English in word construction. This makes learning the language a challenge.
Attached is a photo of the students taken when we arrived in Munich after our night flight from Boston.
Tomorrow we will tour campus, meet some of the B-School faculty, and Örsan and I will make final preparations for our course materials.
Will keep you all posted,
İyi geceler (good night).