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Turkish Tech Startups Head to Silicon Valley

July 17, 2017

Since the failed military coup in Turkey one year ago, it's been harder for startups to attract foreign investment, said entrepreneurs at a recent tech conference in California.

After the July 15, 2016, coup attempt, the Turkish government cracked down on perceived opponents to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Many have lost their jobs and thousands have been imprisoned, including journalists, academics and activists.

For Mustafa Acet, an entrepreneur in Istanbul, the coup and its aftermath have been a setback for the burgeoning tech ecosystem in Turkey. He recently attended Etohum San Francisco, an event bridging the Turkish startup community with Silicon Valley.

“We want everything to be stabilized,” he said. “We don't want any more military coups. We just want to improve our businesses and create our businesses.”

Investors are wary

The perceived instability in the country has made investors wary, he said.

“Definitely investors are worried about it,” said Acet, who has created an app for water delivery. Foreign investors, in particular, don't want to enter a country that is experiencing turmoil, he said.

The speakers at the conference didn't address politics in Turkey but focused instead on how to build businesses, attract investors and find customers.

The path from Turkey to Silicon Valley has been forged by people like Eren Bali, founder of Udemy, an online education site, and Magdalena Yesil, founding investor and board member of Salesforce and a venture capitalist. Both spoke at the event.

Companies waiting for funding

Despite being a market of nearly 80 million people, Turkey is still limiting for companies ready to becoming bigger, said Elif Ceylon, U.S. program coordinator for ITU Gate, which is a program out of Istanbul Technical University trying to bring successful Turkish startups to the United States.

“There's some really quality engineers in Turkey and a lot of amazing ideas but not a lot of investing going on,” she said. “There's a lot of amazing companies that get a great start and they need funding, and because they can't find the funding, they kind of die down.”

The companies she brings to the U.S. have proven themselves in Turkey with revenue of around $5 million to $10 million. In the U.S., they are encouraged to open U.S. entities to help attract investors and customers.

Inspired by march

Ceylan says she was inspired by the recent 400-kilometer protest march from the Turkish capital, Ankara, to Istanbul.

“It made people excited again,” she said. “It made people think again that something can change and something can happen.”

While the country marks the coup attempt's anniversary, these entrepreneurs say the way forward will be through Turkey's talent and hard work.

“I believe in Turkey and Turkey will be a huge economy, especially because of the entrepreneurs,” said Acet. “It will grow day by day. It will be a powerful country. I believe. I hope.”

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