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Istanbul Tech Accelerator for Refugees and Locals

Building bridges between local and refugee entrepreneurs in Turkey

Photo of Memet Unsal
18 13

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

The current official number of Syrian refugees in Turkey is 3,7 million. The unemployment rate in local communities in Turkey where refugees have settled is typically high. The official rate of unemployment in Turkey among the local youth aged 15 -24 is already quite high at 19% (TÜİK, 2018). This tends to cause social tensions and has been a key issue in the political debate during the latest local elections of March 2019. Providing traditional and existing jobs to refugees would likely increase the unemployment rate of the local community and further increase tensions between the local and refugee communities. We focus on the new economy where startups come up with new products which have the potential to create new markets and address unmet needs. We will open a startup incubator space in Istanbul, the city with the highest number of Syrian refugees in Turkey. This space will provide technology accelerator programs for local and refugee entrepreneurs. Our accelerator programs typically offer many prototyping technologies which the entrepreneurs use to create their hardware and software products. We have a fablab (makerspace) which has been operational since 2015 which will be an integral part of our programs. We will offer seed money awards to the most promising startups which complete our programs as we have seen in the past this significantly increased the chances of success of our startups. In the second part of our project, we will launch a mobile makerspace in a van which will offer technology trainings in neighborhoods in Istanbul. We have seen that individuals who speak the local language were much better integrated. Local and refugee teams work together and collaborate in our programs. This serves as another opportunity for refugees to integrate to the local community and learn the local language.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

We will operate in Istanbul, Turkey which hosts 570 thousand out of the 3,7 million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey. We will target Syrian and local entrepreneurs with a focus on those who develop products which help refugees or support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We believe these entrepreneurs have the potential to create lasting impact on the successful integration refugees in Turkey.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

We will build bridges between local and refugee entrepreneurs in Turkey. As they interact and collaborate in their business enterprises, they will abandon their biases towards each other. Two of the refugee entrepreneurs we worked with in Gaziantep stated that our program was the first time in 4 years they had a meaningful interaction with locals since they had moved to Turkey. Hopefully, as more Syrian entrepreneurs build thriving businesses, this will help create economic stability.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Our programs provide people with the tools to achieve economic independence and sustainable livelihood. Most of our refugee entrepreneurs strive to come up with solutions for their own community which when realized will create more hope for the future. There are many Syrian refugees in Turkey who work in jobs they are over-qualified for as they cannot find employment in their past occupations or salaried positions due to language, cultural or bureaucratic barriers. Starting their own companies is much easier in this respect if they can find initial support in the form of startup mentorship, guidance on their business models, local partners, and seed money. We provide all of these in our programs.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Our programs not only equip budding entrepreneurs with the tools to grow their business and interpersonal skills, but also introduce them to the key people in the startup ecosystem who can open up their network to them. Our goal is to grow our existing community of entrepreneurs and an inspiring space will accelerate this goal by providing the community a place to seek support and build new connections. Our goal is to work with 2 batches of 10 startups the first year in Istanbul. This means we will work closely with 50 to 60 entrepreneurs. We plan to award 6 startups who meet our success criteria at the end of the program with seed money. We will keep working closely with the startups after they graduate from the acceleration program and encourage them to use our co-working space as their offices. We will have specific milestones and success goals associated with these during and after the program which we will monitor closely to understand our impact.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

The inspiration comes from our previous mobile accelerator programs where we observed what works and what can work even better if we have the right means. In our past programs, we worked closely with 99 startup teams from around Turkey. This experience showed us how much impact our work had on these teams. What was needed was however a longer-term support system for these startups. Our programs were 3-month long after which we moved to the next city. If we have a permanent space available for the teams to keep working in and receive further support, we believe our impact can be even higher. That is why after the completing of this pilot, we are ready to go to the next phase and roll out our Istanbul Tech Accelerator project. The long-term support mechanism and a permanent space are even more critical for our refugee entrepreneurs who we believe would benefit more from this continued support both for growing their businesses, but also for integrating better into the local society.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

The conflict in Syria started in 2011. Since then, Turkey has welcomed the highest number of Syrians who fled their country. Currently, Turkey hosts 3,7 million Syrian refugees and is one of the countries which have beared the brunt of the economical and social burden of this conflict. The debate around the Syrian refugees in Turkey is becoming more strained as the refugees’ stay is prolonged and they are widely seen as one of the culprits of the country’s economic difficulties. There are many well-educated and ambitious Syrian refugees living in Turkey who are integrated in the society and if given the opportunity would contribute to the economy of the country with the businesses they create. The video here shows a few of them.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

We are part of a very vibrant startup and maker community with many mentors and graduates who support our programs. This community is very excited to support refugee entrepreneurs in their startup journeys.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

We partnered with 7 universities for our startup accelerator programs at InnoCampus ( across 7 cities in Turkey. We have a program which provides technology workshops for children aged 7-15 called Yapan Çocuk ( and another program which organizes entrepreneurship and technology camps for high schools students called GİTEKA ( The teams of both programs will be supporting this project. We have a pool of 50 mentors from the business and startup worlds. In each accelerator program, we get the support of around 30 mentors. We will work with the same people in this project. Some of our refugee graduates will also actively support our programs by mentoring new startups, helping with translation as well as being employed as part of the staff.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Early Adoption: We have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have proof of user uptake (i.e. 16% to 49% of the target population or 1,000 to 50,000 users).

Group or Organization Name

Yapıcı Teknoloji Robotik (YAPTR)

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

We have carried out the InnoCampus project which has trained 66 startup teams in its accelerator programs, 33 high school startup teams in high school entrepreneurship camps, and trained 422 people through our fab lab training and makerfests in 7 different locations around Turkey. Starting in 2017, we started targeting 50% local and 50% refugee entrepreneur participation. We had three startup accelerator and fab lab programs which covered the whole year of 2017 where we worked extensively with refugee entrepreneurs. We have dozens of Syrian entrepreneur graduates who we are in touch with for current programs. We have a fablab which is part of the international fablab network where we use different prototyping technologies extensively. Our goal as a social enterprise is to build platforms and systems to support other social entrepreneurs. Refugees in Turkey are an important part of our target beneficiaries.

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Type of submitter

  • We are a For-Profit Startup or Startup Social Enterprise

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State



Join the conversation:

Photo of DaRa DanDashi

I was one of the participants in Innocampus 2017, and I recommend everyone to sign up for anything they are doing because when they do it, the do it with love and never hesitate to help in any criteria that you might need.
all of the mentors speak out of the past experience and they tell you what the did wrong so that you dont do it,
They simply save you the long trial and error stage and help you jump strongly to a great kick start!
Ennocampus you are great! keep up the amazing work.

Photo of Durmuş Sabuncu

Hey DaRa DanDashi It's nice to see your nice comment under our proposal. If we are going to keep up this project, we want to see you as a mentor. Team 

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