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Discover Istanbul Maker Scene

The first Maker Faire of Turkey, Maker Faire Istanbul, starts tomorrow. Time to tell you more about Turkish maker and hardware startup scene, as I’m wrapping up a month of living in Istanbul.

In a word: boiling. It’s an exciting time for the up-and-coming maker community of Turkey. New events, spaces and members join and start collaborating, quickly building a thriving and welcoming ecosystem. It’s a great time to get involved!

I’d like to give a big thank you to Halil, Alpay, Osman, Furkan and Patrick for showing me their spaces, projects and sharing their insights on the movement. Find spaces’ addresses at the end of the article.

Istanbul is a maker city

Alpay Kasal moved from New York City to Istanbul a few months ago. Hacker, maker and artist, he co-founded a company in New York called SuperTouch after the great interest he received when presenting his Interactive Mirror project at the first Maker Faire New York back in 2010.

He is about to open Istanbul offices of his company SuperTouch. Space is in Besiktas neighborhood, on the European side of Istanbul. Space is an hybrid between an office, a makerspace and an event venue. In the same spirit than former Bug Labs’ open lab space in New York City where Alpay used to go to, SuperTouch Istanbul offices will be open to the maker community.

He fell in love with Istanbul and loves exploring the city to discover its hidden layers. He took me through the narrow streets of the Karakoy neighborhood for a tour at one of his favorite spot. A block of alleys entirely filled with hardware stores.

Istanbul Karakoy hardware stores. Credit image: MakingSociety

Istanbul Karakoy hardware stores. Credit image: MakingSociety

Istanbul is like a grand bazaar for makers. City is filled with specialized hardware stores. A block sells drills, an other one painting. In a former prison, hardware merchants took over and are now selling… springs. For those who know how to bargain (and speak some türkish), it truly is an amazing place.

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Maker stores hidden in Kadiköy, Istanbul. Image: MakingSociety

Istanbul is a maker city.

But its residents don’t know it yet.

Birth of the Istanbul Maker Community

Every maker I met in Istanbul seemed to agree on the general timeline. Movement started in February 2014, thanks to an inspiring evening of discussion with awesome maker evangelist Dale Dougherty who was in town.

Halil Aksu is one of the key actors of the emerging Istanbul maker scene. Co-organizer of the very first Maker Faire Istanbul and founder of  Turkish digital think tank GeleckHane, he remembers how this initial spontaneous meeting with Dale led to the birth of the community.

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Halil Aksu, co-organizer of Maker Faire Istanbul. Credit image: MakingSociety

From that evening, makers decided to meet up every month, and invite new maker friends to join along the way. Group grew exponentially. The idea of a Turkish Maker Faire was born, supported by Maker Media who gave guidelines and advice to the group.

Istanbul Maker Faire will take place this week, on November 12th and 13th 2014. About 100 makers will present their projects. Event is sponsored by mobile operator TurkCell and will be free and open to everyone. Local schools will come visit.

Flourishing Maker Spaces of Istanbul

If you’re Turkish or travelling to Istanbul, go check these maker spaces:

Iskele47 is a makerspace in Kadikoy, on the Asian side of Istanbul. It started as a collective of young interactive artists and is now growings as a vibrant community of interactive artists and designers. Space is not a fablab or a hackerspace but rather a shared community studio specialized in interaction design. The core team of 6 founders runs the space and collaborates on projects.

Osman Koç is one of the co-founder of Iskele47. He showed me the space and shared some of the many projects that were born here.

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Osman Koç, interactive artist and co-founder at Iskele47

Projects range from big interactive installations for brands such as HP or TurkCell to more personal artistic projects. Friends of Iskele47 are passionate about interaction design in all its forms.

This giant laser-tag game was installed in front of one of Istanbul’s biggest mall:

At the time of my visit, interaction designer and co-founder of Iskele47 Zeynep Nal was working on a Virtual Reality bike app using Occulus VR.

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Zeynep Nal at Iskele47. Credit image: MakingSociety

Iskele47 got the attention of numerous media, both Turkish and international. It’s one of the hubs of the maker community of Istanbul. CoderDojo is one of the few regular events happening in the space. Every monday, kids come to Iskele47 to learn how to code, solder and more.

Iskele47, Istanbul makerspace. Image: MakingSociety

Osman Koç and Bager Akbay at Iskele47, Istanbul makerspace. Image: MakingSociety

On a sunny Saturday of October, I found my way through the streets of Karakoy to come visit 3Dortgen, the first 3D printing store of Turkey.

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3Dortgen 3D printing store and cafe in Istanbul. Credit image: MakingSociety

I was happily surprised to discover a big space that is not only a store but also a cafe and a fablab! 3Dortgen is a very colorful and welcoming place, with large windows.

Over a warm çay (the delicious Turkish tea) , Istanbul native and 3Dortgen’s founder Furkan Bakir explained how he opened the store a few months ago and now works with a team of 7 people, including artists, industrial designers and 3D printing enthusiasts. Each member can work on his projects and 3Dortgen is on its way to become a small launching pad for hardware projects.

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Furkan Bakir, founder of 3Dortgen. Credit image: MakingSociety

One of Furkan’s project stroke me as an amazing idea. He wants to use 3D printing to repair Istanbul with and for the habitants. This repair project comes as platform where everyone can indicate places that need reparation, such as a bench with a broken leg, a bus station with a scratched window… Everyone can see the posts and design a solution for the problem. Istanbul is full of these old broken public parts. A crowd effort to rebuild the city could have a great impact. This repair project is part of Repair Istanbul, and is supported by the city itself.

I didn’t have the opportunity to visit two more spaces, but if you’re in Istanbul, you should check them out and let me know how it was in the comment section below the article.

Atolye Istanbul is a co-working and co-creation space founded by Engin and Kerem, two Stanford D.School graduates. They moved to Istanbul recently and are actively in the process of opening the space. I was a bit too early to see it, but it’s announced to be an awesome space to come.

Hackerspace Istanbul is located on the Asian side of the city. His founder Ahmet Alpat is also one of the very rare open hardware entrepreneur. He’s currently building a 3D printing company.

Software is still the king

And more exactly e-commerce, as told me start-up mentor Patrick Bosteels. He moved from Belgium to Turkey two years ago. Serial entrepreneur, he is actively involved in helping local start-ups take off the ground.

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Start-up mentor Patrick Bosteels at StartupBootCamp Accelerator Istanbul. Credit image: MakingSociety

Patrick founded Stage-Co, a start-up community together with his wife. He is Chief Connector at StartupBootCamp Istanbul Accelerator, co-founded kids and teenagers’ coding workshop CoderDojo Türkiye. He recently took a position at Izmir University, preparing the opening of a space and program for supporting students building companies.

As many other actors, Patrick pointed out how small the start-up scene is so far. He noted that most projects are in the e-commerce, apps and software industry. Hardware startups are quasi non-existing.

In Patrick’s opinion, finding capital in Turkey is not a problem. In fact, there are hundreds of business angels and investors ready to fund ambitious projects. But they need to be more educated. Many want to invest but don’t know exactly towards who and what to expect in term of return of investment and exits. Success stories are still extremely rare.

The few hardware start-ups that I heard of while being in Istanbul were related to 3D printing and home automation, two markets that are definitively among makers’ favorites. A world of copycats? Not really. As Halil noted, Nest – the smart thermostat bought by Google – could not work as is in Turkey. Device doesn’t really fit the special needs of Turkish houses. As a result, there is a market for localized hardware products.

“Turkey is a market in itself”, said Patrick who is trying to build bridges between East European startups and Turkey. Istanbul is the “commerce capital” of Turkey with  its 14 millions inhabitants. Its economy is bigger than Moldavia or Bulgaria. In Turkey, start-ups don’t have to be international by default. They can benefit from the already huge Turkish market.

Resource

Istanbul maker spaces addresses:

  • Iskele47: Rasimpaşa Mah. İskele Sok. No:47-a Kadıköy / İstanbul
  • 3Dortgen: Alemdağ Cd, İstanbul, Turkey
  • Hackerspace Istanbul: Eğitim Mah. Ömerbey Sokak. No:19/B (Dük:2), (Adliye D Blok yanındaki çıkmazın sonunda), 34722 Istanbul, Turkey
  • Atölye Istanbul: Firuzağa Mahallesi, Çukurcuma Caddesi, No:19/A, Beyoğlu, İstanbul
  • SuperTouch Istanbul: Cihannuma mah. Ismailiye Sk.No.3 D.3 Konak apt.Giriş daire

Extra Bonus

Check MakersTurkiye.com, the website about makers in Turkey created by Ongun Tan.

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