Supporting UK-Turkey partnerships beyond the buzzwords

You might be forgiven for thinking that ‘supporting partnerships to develop innovative commercial solutions to key societal challenges’ sounds like a bunch of buzzwords thrown together. After all, aren’t we all chasing innovation and surely everybody wants to change the world with the next big thing?

Recently back from our first visit to survey the Turkish innovation ecosystem, where we are running a Newton Fund project, T-DEB, I can say that there is actually much meaning behind those terms to rule out those cynical intuitions.

There are myriad incremental steps that can be taken towards improving the livelihoods of people, and such steps can benefit greatly from international partnerships, and who knows, maybe we’ll end up changing the world in the process!  Running across a period of two years, T-DEB is a knowledge transfer project that aims to achieve exactly that objective; we bring together British and Turkish partners and supporting them to form collaborations that can potentially yield co-developed commercial (for-profit companies) or non-commercial (NGOs and social enterprises) innovative solutions to address various societal challenges facing the underserved communities in Turkey, ranging from inadequately untreated water to limited healthcare access.

To reflect the spirit of international partnership, T-DEB or Turkish Delights & English Breakfast, is anything but a culinary recommendation. On shifting the perspective, you’ll see that, T-DEB is about UK Business Exchanges for Development in Turkey.

 

Three overarching themes for social development and business exchanges

Perhaps one of the most eye-opening and fascinating parts of our initial trip to Turkey was meeting the direct beneficiaries of T-DEB: innovative companies based at two of our in-country partners (ICPs) ODTU Teknokent in Ankara and Teknopark Izmir in, well, Izmir. T-DEB focuses on healthcare, environmental technologies and smart cities/digital economy. Examples of solutions that these inspiring companies shared with us during our visits include smart mapping to make cities more equitable and accessible for the visually impaired, for those living in remote communities, IoT-powered (Internet of Things) wearable and remote patient monitoring technologies.

These companies, along with others that we met at ExpoMed in Istanbul and the Smart Cities Congress in Ankara, are currently working towards developing truly innovative solutions in manifold ways, each with their unique business needs and opportunities for collaboration with the UK .

 

Adapting the project to meet the unique needs in the innovation ecosystem

If I were to pin down one single factor that will really determine the success of this project, it would be the ability to adapt to suit each participant’s unique needs.

Over many cups of çay with some of the key players in Turkish innovation ecosystem (development agencies, innovation mentors, business experts as well as the companies themselves) we confirmed our project’s driving principle: quality over quantity. That is, customising our approach for each of the nascent partnerships will be key to long-lasting success—not only for the project participants, but more importantly, for trailblazing innovation and encouraging others.

This is because the needs vary widely: one green tech business may be seeking in-license technologies and know-how from potential UK partners while a biotech social enterprise may need a sustainable business development advice to put things on track. Some have potential UK partner institutions in mind, others are unsure how to begin identifying targets that match their needs.

So what’s next? The first of our nine needs-assessment workshops will be at Teknopark Izmir this summer, where we will identify the challenges to innovation and company needs to tailor phase 2 of the project: Discovery Trips to the UK from Turkey.

—Ekin Can Genc is a Knowledge Transfer Consultant and Turkey Specialist at Teku since 2017. At Tekiu he advises on societal challenges facing Turkey and the role of private-sector innovation in mitigating those challenges.