Digital Bosphorus: The Turkish Innovation Ecosystem
The startup scene in Turkey is flourishing. There have been six unicorns in the past three years. This panel discussion with Rina Onur Şirinoğlu (Spyke Games), Ahmed Faruk Karslı (Papara), Sertaç Taşdelen (Vision) and Sina Afra (Tiko) examines what makes the Digital Bosphorus so interesting for investors and entrepreneurs alike.
Key ingredients of success are creativity and capitalizing on Turkey’s rich cultural heritage, as the example of Faladdin shows. Taşdelen’s app builds on the tradition of have one’s fortune told from the coffee cup and automates the process with the help of AI.
“Every day, one million people all around the world use the app to get their fortune told”, Taşdelen reports. “We see it obviously as an entertainment but also as a therapeutical service.”
Rina Onur Şirinoğlu sold her first company, Peak Games, for $2.2 billion to Californian gaming giant Zynga. Now she’s eager to follow up on her success with her new company, Spyke Games.
“The advantage of running Peak kind of under the radar for so long was that we were untouched by competition”, Şirinoğlu says. And having ten years to develop talent “was an incredible gift that we gave to the Turkish ecosystem”, she believes.
Many former Peak Games employees have launched new gaming companies in Turkey, creating “a very fraternal ecosystem”, Şirinoğlu says. “There is, obviously, healthy competition. But our competition is with the world.”
The result? “It’s a very collaborative environment, maybe different than some of the other ecosystems around the world.”
Ahmed Faruk Karslı’s success with his fintech company Papara illustrates another strength of the Turkish startup world. “We are very creative about building new financial products”, Karslı says. The “late adoption of technology” has allowed entrepreneurs in his country to rethink banking, he explains, and come up with different, often better solutions.
Sertaç Taşdelen is the Co-Founder & CEO of Vision, a technology company focusing on software development and artificial intelligence which develops the apps Binnaz and Faladdin. Sertaç holds a bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Bilkent University, Turkey. Sertac attended Stanford University Entrepreneurship class of Summer '18.
Rina Onur Şirinoğlu
Rina Onur Şirinoğlu is the Co-Founder of Peak Games, Spyke Games and 500 Istanbul. Peak Games was acquired by Zynga in 2020 for $1.8 billion. In 2021, she co-founded Spyke Games in 2021 to re-create the gaming success Turkey has shown in the global gaming markets
Ahmed Faruk Karsli
Ahmed F. Karslı is the founder and CEO of Papara. A serial entrepreneur, Karslı launched his first company at the age of 17 and has built numerous companies in a variety of sectors. He is also a practicing lawyer and book collector.