American-Turkish Council Hosts Successful U.S.-Turkey Innovation Summit
By all measures, the U.S.-Turkey Innovation Summit, organized by the American-Turkish Council, was a great success. Over 130 attendees from approximately 10 industries descended on Harvard University’s Knafel Center on July 21st for a day of lively roundtable discussions and compelling presentations from world-renowned thinkers. The event generated terrific networking opportunities for over 100 private companies, and featured an audience that asked thought-provoking questions.
Sponsored by Turkish Airlines, the Turkish Consulate-General in Boston, Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry Investment Support and Promotion Agency (ISPAT), DFA Engineering, and Uber, the Summit convened with the aim to bring together private companies, universities, and government agencies to facilitate partnerships in research and development and address issues related to innovation ecosystems, methodology, investment, risk, and legal considerations.
Interest from local, national, and international news outlets, as well as social media, reflected the Summit’s significance. On July 21, the hashtag #ATCSummit came in 48th among top tweets from Turkey on Twitter. 151 tweeters (most of them Summit participants) sent a total of 465 tweets, generating well over 1 million impressions and reaching over 300,000 Twitter users.
ATC President Howard Beasey and Turkey’s Consul-General in Boston Ömür Budak delivered the opening remarks. Notwithstanding recent events in Turkey, both Mr. Beasey and Mr. Budak pointed out that Turkey’s economic fundamentals are still strong, and that the country remains an attractive spot for tourism, trade, and investment — a point emphasized by other panelists throughout the day. Mr. Budak further expounded on the Turkish government’s enticing subsidies and grants for R&D investments.
The first panel, “Why Choose Turkey?” expanded on the opportunities that Turkey presents for R&D and high-tech investments. Moderated by Serhat Çiçekoğlu, founder and managing director of Sente Advisory Services, the roundtable featured Mustafa İlbeyli of ISPAT and Executive Director of GE Ventures Erdoğan Çeşmeli, both of whom shared their respective organizations’ experiences. Mr. İlbeyli gave concrete examples to illustrate the depth and seriousness of the Turkish government’s support for R&D and innovation, while Mr. Çeşmeli underlined how U.S. and Turkish work cultures have interesting similarities in that they are flexible, tolerant, and action-oriented — a dynamic on which American and Turkish entities could build closer cooperation. During the Q&A, Mr. Çeşmeli called for Turkey to streamline its bureaucracy as it relates to patent and intellectual property.
The second panel, “R&D Partnerships: Incorporating Government, Industry, and Universities,” delved deeper into the issues raised by the first panel. Moderator Dr. Banu Onaral, H. H. Sun Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at Drexel University, and discussants Dr. Canan Dağdeviren, junior fellow at Harvard University, Mr. Özerk Şener, partner at Sistem Global & Novicor Technology Partners, and Dr. Ali Sayir, program manager at the U.S. Air Force, called for closer cooperation between government agencies, the private sector, and educational and vocational institutions. While each panelist had their own ideas, they all agreed that academia, the state, and private companies should understand each other’s culture, thinking, language, and values. Ms. Onaral’s final assertion summed up the sentiment well: “We don’t have to love each other, but we have to respect and listen to each other, and understand each other’s needs.”
The third session was a speech by Mr. Michael Belliveau, titled “Patent Laws: Protect, License, and Share.” Mr. Belliveau, a partner at the law firm Clark+Elbing LLP, adroitly used history, concrete examples, and easy-to-grasp visuals to illustrate the process of getting a patent, as well as which innovations could be patented and which ones could not. He argued that most companies that generate revenue from patents are those that identify a technology that is not yet ready to receive a patent and develop it further until it is “patentable.”
Two great speakers delivered memorable speeches during the U.S.-Turkey Innovation Summit’s luncheon. Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) prestigious Media Lab, talked about “Maintaining Big Thinking in an Entrepreneurial Economy.” In an exciting twist, Mr. Negroponte began his talk by disagreeing with Mr. Belliveau by arguing that innovations should be shared freely rather than kept aside until they become patentable. He then discussed why people become entrepreneurs, and how universities should increase their research efforts because many large corporations do not conduct as much research as they used to.
Mr. Negroponte then discussed suggestions for fostering R&D and innovation in Turkey, advocating “open research” that would create a momentum to solve the world’s “big” problems, as well as creating “anti-disciplinary” environments at Turkish universities that would add more flexibility to projects and break down barriers to research. During the Q&A, Mr. Negroponte made the case for how public education should be restructured, arguing for an emphasis on project-based learning as opposed to rote memorization, reading comprehension, and an end to age segregation, competition, and competitive sports. He moreover explained why he considers connectivity to the global telecommunications network a civic right for all peoples of the world.
Dr. Daron Acemoğlu, Killian Professor of Economics at MIT, delivered the other luncheon keynote and complemented his predecessors’ points very nicely. Mr. Acemoğlu first talked about his research on how open and innovative markets, coupled with a free, liberal democratic political order that respects rule of law, create a near-perfect environment for innovation and economic transformation. He emphasized that, contrary to popular belief, democracy has a strong positive effect on economic growth. With respect to his native Turkey, Mr. Acemoğlu argued that institutional reforms similar to the ones carried out in the 2000s could place Turkey back on the road of high economic growth.
The next panel, “Opportunities and Challenges for Innovators Exploring Foreign Markets,” was moderated by Mr. Hakan Satıroğlu of LearnLaunch, with panelists Ray Bassiouni, president & CEO of Acoustic Technology Inc.; Ms. Elmira Bayrasli, entrepreneur, consultant, and author; Ms. Zehra Öney, CEO of Blippar Turkey; and Mr. Ken Morse of Arçelik. Panelists discussed their wide range of experiences and observations about what it takes to transmit an innovation across political and cultural borders. Ms. Öney emphasized that having a young and entrepreneurial population puts Turkey in an advantageous position in R&D and innovation among other countries in Europe and the Middle East.
The next panel was an interview titled “Spotlight on Innovation” between Mr. Ömer Er, founder and managing partner of Middle Bridge Partners, and Navroop Mitter, CEO of ArmorText. While Mr. Er and Mr. Mitter covered a broad array of topics, such as starting a company, finding investors, dealing with obstacles, and maintaining patience along the way, the two gentlemen struck an optimistic tone about Turkey’s prospects in creating opportunities for start-ups, R&D, innovation, and high-tech companies.
In the next panel, “From Concept to Commercialization: Technology Transfers and Global Growth Through Localization,” Dr. Mehmet Toner, professor at Harvard Medical School, Mr. Erbil Karaman, advisor at 500 Startups, Mr. Cliff Emmons, vice president for R&D India and Extended Emerging Markets at Medtronic, Inc., and Mr. Necmettin Kaymaz of ISPAT compared notes on the trade-offs involving transferring technology across countries (especially legal and political barriers) and how localization that allows tailoring global products for the needs of consumers from different countries could encourage start-up companies’ growth. It is worth noting that the panelists came back to a common theme that rang true in other panels during the Summit — that openness, a vibrant education system, free markets, and rule of law are essential components of a successful innovation ecosystem.
Dr. Taşkın Padır, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern University, delivered the closing remarks at the U.S.-Turkey Innovation Summit. In his presentation, titled “Using Robotics to Overcome the World’s Greatest Challenges,” Mr. Padır challenged the audience to reconsider the basic misunderstanding that robots and mass data threaten jobs. By using personal anecdotes as well as scientific studies, Mr. Padır demonstrated how robots could undertake tasks that are too dangerous, unhealthy, or challenging for humans, while at the same time creating unprecedented new lines of employment for people to handle those robots.
The ATC is proud to support defense, trade, and cultural ties between the United States and Turkey. Through the U.S.-Turkey Innovation Summit, the ATC once again demonstrated that, no matter how tumultuous events can get in Turkey and in its neighborhood, America’s NATO ally remains an exceptional spot for trade and investment, especially in high-tech and innovative industries. The ATC believes that bringing together private, public, and non-profit entities from the United States and Turkey creates trade, investment, and employment all the while strengthening bilateral political and military ties between the two countries.