StartupTurkey 2014: Where were all the …?

 Article by Steven Seggie.

Irrespective of ideology the one thing that most people in Turkey can agree upon is the need for strong economic growth in the country. In the modern Turkish economy an important component of this economic growth will be startup companies. Although the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Turkey is somewhat limited, events like StartUpTurkey play an important role in bringing together entrepreneurs, investors and other parties interested in the startup scene. It was with this in mind that I travelled to Antalya to attend my first StartUpTurkey. I had a great time and believe that Burak and his team are doing some really important work with this conference. Much has been written already about the conference but during the conference 2 questions never left my mind and I think they are worth dwelling upon.

  1. Where were all the women?

Female participation in the workforce in Turkey is an issue that I have written about before and it is something I am pretty passionate about. I don’t think anybody would dispute the importance of the greater involvement of women in the workforce as a key driver of economic growth[1] so it is imperative that we see more and more women involved in the workforce. Unfortunately, Turkey lags behind other emerging markets vis-à-vis female participation in the workforce, with approximately 30% of able women working. This compares with the next lowest group of countries at 44% and Thailand leading the emerging market pack at 64%[2]. So what about StartUpTurley 2014? Disappointingly, of the approximately 700 participants at StartUpTurkey 2014 only 64 were women. By my calculations that is about 9%. I have been assured that this is not unique to this event and that other more established events in places like Silicon Valley have a similar ratio. I don’t care. There needs to be more women involved both on the entrepreneur side and also on the investor side.

  1. Where were all the Academics?

Entrepreneurship is one of the sexier topics that universities like to talk about, and Turkish universities are no exception. Quite a few Turkish universities (including Ozyegin University, Istanbul University, TOBB and others) have undergraduate or graduate programs in some form of entrepreneurship. Furthermore, with some help from Halil Ataman Atilkan I got a list of faculty teaching entrepreneurship courses at universities in Turkey. While this list may not be comprehensive, it shows more than 30 universities where entrepreneurship classes of some sort are taught. So with the interest from universities and students at universities we would expect quite a few academics to have attended StartUpTurkey 2014. However, by my count there were only 3: Adil Oran from Middle East Technical University, Joachim Behrendt from Bosphorus University and me. That’s pretty pathetic. There needs to be a lot more academic involvement in the future.

I guess to sum up, what I am trying to say is that StartUpTurkey 2014 was a great event but just as with all events there is much room for improvement. 2 particular improvements that I’d like to see are more females and more academics participating. I’m sure next year in 2015 we will see progress on these 2 fronts.

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