Leadership and Change
Changing Turkey's Economy: Doing Better than Her CompetitorsPublished: August 16, 2011
Hard work and a willingness to take some risks helped Neslihan Dolgun realize two passions: a thirst for knowledge and a desire to run her own business.
Dolgun, a 39-year-old Turkish entrepreneur, is the managing director and senior clinical research associate at ETHIC Medical Research, a clinical research organization she started in 2009 in Istanbul, where she was born. The 10-employee company provides project management and other pharmaceutical research services. "It was my dream to have my own business, and now it is real," says Dolgun, a mother of two. "I thought that I could do better than other companies in the clinical research area, and I'm very happy with the way things have worked out. Of course, it is not easy but it's very nice to have your own successful business."
She notes the difficulties in balancing work, family and outside interests, which include reading and working with the blind. "I'd like to get involved in sports, but I just don't have the time," Dolgun says. One way she has managed her time is by locating her business close to her home. "My company and my home are on the same street in Istanbul," she says, noting that the city's 13.3 million residents can create horrible traffic jams. "Also, my children's schools are close to my office."
Accurate Results in a Timely Manner
Dolgun went from running a two-person operation in a single room rented from a relative to leasing an entire building to house her growing company. Along the way, Dolgun ramped up her revenue, reporting a 1,527% jump in sales and adding six employees in the six months after she completed Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program in July 2010, which was offered at the Ozyegin University Center for Entrepreneurship in Istanbul.
Before launching her business, Dolgun prepared herself with educational and work experience. "After I graduated from Istanbul University with a bachelor's degree in biology, I worked at a pharmaceutical company for four years, until I had my two children," she says. "After that, I worked as a data manager at a university hospital in the medical oncology department for two years before moving to a corporation, where I held a similar position."
Dolgun enjoyed the work, but thought she could fill a need by setting up a clinical research organization that met international standards, using her clinical biology and data management experience to deliver accurate results in a timely manner.
In addition to her own skills, Dolgun was assisted by a number of factors, including family, geography and timing. "My husband, a vice president in the mortgage area of a bank, and my father both supported me when I told them I wanted to start my own company," she says, adding that women entrepreneurs are more accepted in a metropolitan area like Istanbul. "I think it is difficult for a woman living in eastern Turkey [which is more rural and less populated] to start a business."
Turkey's attitude toward women is evolving. The nation has taken important steps in gender equality and "might be a model country in closing the gender gap," World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick recently told attendees at a Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey gathering, according to the July 20 edition of Turkish newspaper Hürriyet Daily News. "The gender gap in primary education has already disappeared in Turkey," he said, noting that the country is taking steps to support women in public and private enterprises.
Women participation in the labor force is low in Turkey, around 28%. The growing support of entrepreneurship will help increase those numbers, says Imge Kaya, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program manager at the Ozyegin University Center for Entrepreneurship. "There is neither negative nor positive discrimination when it comes to women who want to start up a business in Turkey in terms of law and regulations," she says. "However, cultural boundaries do limit the ability of Turkish women to [do this], particularly in the least-developed regions such as Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia." Turkish women tend to start up businesses in traditionally women-related sectors such as textile, food and beverage, and tourism, Kaya adds. "The male dominant sectors of heavy industry and manufacturing still do not have too many women entrepreneurs."
40 Employees in the Next Five Years
Dolgun acknowledges the government's role in helping her to launch ETHIC Medical Research, noting that she received an early-stage grant from the government. She also got a boost from federal programs like KOSGEB, which assists small- and medium-sized enterprises in improving their technological and innovative skills, and TUBITAC, the federal Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, whose 7th Framework Program works to integrate Turkish research efforts with European research activity.
Despite the government's commitment to promoting entrepreneurship, few people have replicated Dolgun's success. Only five out of every 100 people in Turkey are entrepreneurs, according to a Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges board member quoted in the Hürriyet Daily News earlier this year. "Compared to the global figures, entrepreneurship in Turkey is way below standards," said Sedat Kiliç.
Dolgun, for one, is positioned to capitalize on her success. Kaya and others involved in the 10,000 Women program at Ozyegin University are offering their support -- and their advice. "Working in the industry for a very long time, we believe that Dolgun does everything well in terms of what she does," notes Kaya. "However, she is very modest and shy. Being more aggressive can raise her sales potential. To keep growing, she needs to better demonstrate her company" and be ready to take bold action.
Dolgun anticipates continued growth for ETHIC Medical Research. "My aim is to have 40 employees in the next five years," she says. "I want to also establish a civil society organization to educate people about health matters. Before I took the [10,000 Women] course, I did not know anything except clinical research management. Now I have a business plan, and I have discovered many things; I feel more powerful, more energetic and more confident."