Startup Istanbul 2015: Who I’m Excited to See

Leading up to the annual Oscars ceremony people in my hometown near Los Angeles always clamor to call out the movies that are there top picks and the luminary actors, directors, etc. that they are most excited to see and hear from at the event. With all due respect to the Oscars, here in Turkey we have our very own Startup Istanbul event coming up in a couple of weeks, and I wanted to share my own picks for the regional startup “celebrities” I’m keen to learn from.

Elmira Bayrasli – When I last saw Elmira, I told her I was both thrilled for her and (playfully) angry. She recently published a book which tells her stories of an American-born Turk understanding how entrepreneurship has come to life in Turkey and many other growing economies. I am thrilled because this tome has been a long time coming and is filled with memorable insights and unexpected parallels – but I’m “angry” because she took the words right out of my mouth. She told *my* story it felt like – a testament to the universality of some of her sentiments and observations, but also to the realism with which she paints the pictures that I and many others who are first-generation or immigrants or just members of a developing society face when trying to make sense of the tangled web of entrepreneurship. I cannot wait to see her bring some of these vignettes to life in person. 

Dave McClure – I have seen Dave speak in groups large and small, and he is someone who always brings honesty and energy to the room. But what stuck with me most is something he said at last year’s Startup Istanbul – in short, one of the biggest drivers of startup ecosystem development and acceleration is investors, experienced investors who have held operator as well as advisory roles in growth-stage companies and who can provide hands-on coaching in addition to capital. As the crowd applauded, Dave stopped them and said “All of you who are clapping here, saying you agree – I expect all of you to start making investments in Turkey by the time I’m back next year.” His ‘walk the talk’ pragmatism is refreshing and I look forward to hearing his observations since then.

Chris Schroeder – In addition to being an all-around kind, thoughtful, intellectually curious person, Chris has stunned me with his understanding of the incredibly complex nuances of the Middle East, at a regional as well as a country-specific level. Marc Andreessen wrote the foreword to his book, which marries his learnings from years of angel investment with the political realities of today’s Middle East. Indeed, he is one of only a few people – regardless of nationality – I’ve come across with such a deep knowledge of the Iranian market and startup ecosystem in particular. In many ways, he demonstrates how entrepreneurship is its own form of revolution in areas of unrest, and the extent to which leading global tech companies can create a micro impact leading to macro changes. Chris’s ability to take a dispassionate view of political and religious context and combine it with his inherently personal take on startup culture makes him an incredible unique scholar on this front. Given the sheer amount of change across the Middle East in recent months, I look forward to hearing his current take on how this regional uncertainty bodes for entrepreneurship.

I could continue with my list as there are many others I’m excited to see – Allen Taylor from Endeavor, Nalden from WeTransfer, Andy Tsao from Silicon Valley Bank (whose impact on the Bay Area startup scene cannot be overstated), to Prof. Erhan Erkut from MEF University – the diversity and caliber of the speakers at this year’s event is incredibly impressive. That also bodes well for the attendees – startups, investors, and mentors from all over the region. If you haven’t yet, register today – I’d love to hear your lists as well.

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