4 Turkish unicorns on how to support digital transformation

  • Turkey was the 10th country to attract the most investment among European countries in two years and is home to six unicorns.
  • A network of entrepreneurs, start-ups, academics and researchers meet every year for the world’s largest aerospace and technology festival, Teknofest.
  • Four unicorns in the room say unicorns need to embrace digital transformation and governments need to support the ecosystem and encourage small and medium-sized businesses through policies, but they need to forego regulation or favor traditional offline businesses.

The 2020s mark an important time for Turkey, with its entrepreneurial ecosystem evolving rapidly.

While global venture investment totaled US$643 billion last year compared to US$335 billion in 2020 – a 92% year-on-year growth – a similar success story took place in Turkey, although as of 2020 not a single unicorn was present in the country. Today Turkey is home to six unicorns: Peak Games, Getir, Dream Games, Hepsiburada, Trendyol and Insider. In such a rapidly developing investment ecosystem, Turkey became the tenth country to attract the most investments among European countries.

Their national goal is to be home to 10 unicorns by 2023, when Turkey celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding as a republic.

This development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem happened more on purpose than luck as Turkey promised to develop an innovative ecosystem of new technologies through its Industrial and Technology Strategic Plan for 2023. The country has established a mega technology corridor starting from Istanbul, Kocaeli to Izmir where there is a nationwide network for entrepreneurs, start-ups, academic research centers and development institutes.

The Turkish Technology Team Foundation and the Ministry of Industry and Technology also launched Teknofest. The event hosts technology competitions in 99 different categories and attracts more than 1 million visitors each year, including 150,000 teams and 600,000 participants from high schools, universities and entrepreneurs from 108 different countries.

Being part of the solution to global development challenges will define the rest of the decade for unicorns

—Çağlayan ÇETİN President, Trendyol Group

The impact of disruptive technologies like the metaverse, decentralized finance, and quantum computing will soon become a deeper part of our lives. Traditional businesses aside, today’s unicorns are doomed to be broken if they don’t adapt to these new technologies. Unicorns must spend the rest of the decade not resisting change, but embracing it.

By nature, unicorns could be instrumental in helping to address world challenges such as climate change, poverty, and inequality. Being part of the path forward will define the rest of the decade for her. With more than 30 million buyers and 230,000 sellers, Trendyol is the leading e-commerce marketplace in Turkey and one of the five largest e-commerce marketplaces in Europe. As we create value for our sellers and customers, we will channel our resources to contribute more to sustainable development in Turkey and other countries where we operate.

In terms of government support, education and labor market policies should be at the heart of the policy roadmap to increase the number of successful business start-ups. Formal educational structures should be redesigned to meet the staffing needs of technology companies with high growth potential. Labor market policies should include the introduction of flexible working arrangements into labor laws.

Customer experiences will define the next decade.

—Hande Çilingir, co-founder and CEO, insider

The key transformation that will define the rest of the decade will be creating outstanding customer experiences through digitalization. The number of tech companies outside of the United States and China is growing rapidly, creating new startup ecosystems with plenty of potential and opportunity. The increasing number of startups will gain in importance for B2B companies. That was the case with Insider.

Insider recently became the first software unicorn from Turkey and the 9th B2B SaaS in the world. I believe that the most important transformation that will define the rest of the decade will be to create outstanding customer experiences through digitization. From all the case studies and research we’ve seen, the ability to deliver frictionless, consistent customer experiences will define the next decade as customers demand seamless journeys more than ever.

In addition, governments need to increase community support for startups by encouraging investment, creating more job opportunities and fostering a more lucrative environment for entrepreneurs. Adopting the startup culture from the high school level will have a huge impact in strengthening the ecosystem.

Freedom of creativity is essential for progress, and too much regulation slows or halts progress

— Nazim Salur, Founder, Getir

By the end of the decade, I believe more than 90% of the world’s population will be using digital products. Almost everything not currently sold or serviced digitally will be available online, at the touch of a button, or through our smart devices.

Regulation is also an area I would consider. Unless a particular sector needs to be regulated for environmental or health reasons, it should not be regulated in order for new ideas and businesses to flourish. Freedom of creativity is essential for progress, and too much regulation slows or halts progress.

As start-ups grow and begin to compete with existing incumbents, governments should refrain from siding with existing offline industries.

The biggest driver of digital transformation will be the wider adoption of existing technologies

—Murat Emirdag, CEO, Hepsiburada

After the COVID-19 pandemic, the rest of the decade will be dominated by long-term economic recovery. Digitization and the wider adoption of technology by consumers and businesses in everyday life will be a big part of this recovery path.

The digital economy will transform businesses by boosting economic growth across a wide range of sectors. The accelerated growth of the e-commerce sector after 2020 is a clear indication that this transformation is already underway. As a household brand in Turkey, Hepsiburada aims to be at the forefront of the digitalization of Turkey’s economy, from meeting customers’ daily needs to equipping merchants on our platform with the necessary skills they need in an increasingly digital future.

Start-ups and small medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be the biggest drivers of growth and innovation in the coming years, and governments should continue to prioritize creating the infrastructure and environment for them to thrive. For example, in the e-commerce sector, it is important to implement policies that encourage SMEs and allow merchants and entrepreneurs to continue to innovate and compete. For growth to be sustainable, opportunities must be available as widely as possible, and governments play a crucial role in maintaining a level playing field, ensuring fair competition in the industry and opening up to new players and innovation.

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