Even as it wreaks havoc across the world, the coronavirus is forcing a digital transformation among small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Thousands of firms, fearful of entering uncharted waters were left incapacitated during the lockdowns. They had to learn new ways of doing business. However, just learning how to sell through social media and other marketplaces is not enough. Now, they need new skills to take their businesses to the next, a much higher level. There is an increasing number of digital business projects that connect the traditional small businesses with talented startups. When working in sectors like health, production, education, food and agriculture, firms must benefit more from the knowledge economy.
Sales in marketplaces
While many startups offer competition and cost advantages to cloud-based accounting programs, with artificial intelligence (AI) software, they increase the ability of a firm to conduct business digitally. They help enterprises to manage their existing business more profitably with solutions that increase savings and provide cost advantages.
Online sales can be troublesome. It is easier to sell in online marketplaces like Amazon, Trendyol, Sahibinden, Hepsiburada, n11 or Gittigidiyor. However, there are certain subtleties of selling in marketplaces. It is imperative to be prepared to deliver when orders pile up and respond quickly to customer demands by making cost analysis at a moment's notice. For instance, the startup, Pirahas, offers an integrated management tool for businesses selling on Amazon.
Make your own campaign
During the pandemic, people learned to sell more through e-commerce. However, those who think it is difficult to produce campaigns in the digital world are wrong. Another startup, Popupsmart, offers software that enables easy pop-up campaigns for websites. The software has been made with the needs of first-time users in mind. It allows them to create simple campaigns without much effort.
Collect data, find errors
For businesses that rely on data to conduct business, it is imperative to collect useful data from customers reliably. Qubitro, one of the startups participating in PILOT, a venture acceleration program of Turkey’s leading information and communication technologies company, Türk Telekom, is a high-performance cloud-based Internet of Things (IoT) platform. It enables developers and institutions to produce smart solutions by collecting data from any device without the need for infrastructure setup and coding. Qubitro provides its users with support for monitoring, communication between devices, and integration with different platforms. Institutions can also sell their own branded apps using Qubitro's application programming interfaces (APIs)
Tuvis AI, one of the recent startups among the Workup startup acceleration program supported by Işbank, is an image recognition software focused on textile sector-oriented fabric defect recognition and process optimization.
Attention to privacy when dealing with data
Syntonym, another startup accepted into the Türk Telekom’s PILOT program, protects the privacy of individuals by anonymizing the data held by organizations that process and store visual data per Turkey’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Personal Data Protection Law (KVKK).
It enables the data to be processed, shared and used as AI training data without the need for explicit consent. Syntonym preserves analytical metrics such as age, gender, head position, and facial expressions, unlike traditional methods, by irreversibly replacing existing faces, which are biometric data in images and videos, with synthetic faces. This anonymization without corruption improves the accuracy and reliability of AI algorithms, as well as enables advanced data analysis.
Digital business advertising support for SMEs
Facebook, the largest digital community for SMEs, will provide $100 million to 30,000 SMEs in more than 30 countries. Turkey is among the countries included in the grant program.
SMEs, which form the heart of the Turkish economy, are struggling to survive during the pandemic. It is not easy to win customers, who are afraid to go out shopping, in the digital environment. Facebook announced in a statement that it implemented a grant program for SMEs in Turkey with a total value of TL 7 million ($954,450). SMEs that want to benefit from the Turkey leg of the grant program will be able to apply until Aug. 26.
A solution to cash flow
Only businesses in Istanbul will be able to apply to the grant program, which is made up of cash and advertising loans, implemented within the scope of Facebook's "Empowering SMEs" project, which looks to support SMEs in overcoming the difficulties they faced after COVID-19 and in their recovery. Facebook will collaborate with Deloitte and the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) Istanbul Women Entrepreneurs Board and TOBB Istanbul Young Entrepreneurs Board in the project.
The Marketplace Support Facebook page on the website of the community center Facebook Istasyon in Istanbul aims to work in cooperation with Turkey’s Trade Ministry and TOBB to minimize the losses suffered by the SMEs in the country due to COVID-19. Its mission is to make e-commerce possible for businesses of all sizes and bring together SMEs in Turkey with the leading marketplaces of the country. SMEs that visit the page will be able to see the support offered by the marketplaces here and apply to become a seller.
From health to the economy
Facebook Middle East, Africa and Turkey Regional Vice President Derya Matraş said that they see that COVID-19 is not only a public health crisis but also an economic crisis and that SMEs are suffering the most during this period.
"As a company, we listened to the problems faced by small businesses in Turkey in this difficult and uncertain period, and we saw that 57% of these businesses expect to experience cash flow shortages in the future," Matraş noted.
"We hope that this grant we have implemented in our country will support our SMEs to overcome this process more easily and to stand up. Besides, we are aware that SMEs need training and guidance in digitalization and better social connection infrastructure. In this direction, we are launching virtual versions of our 'Stand Out with Facebook' and 'SMEs Crossing Borders' training in the whole region. In addition to this, we launched the Marketplace Supports page by signing cooperation with the Trade Ministry, TOBB, and the leading marketplaces in Turkey. At Facebook, we will continue to develop new ways for people to continue to support businesses in their communities," she explained.
Support for women entrepreneurs
One of the project partners, TOBB Istanbul Women Entrepreneurs Board President Hatice Güner Dinçbal Kal stated that SMEs, which constitute the lifeblood of the economy during the pandemic, is the most important issue on the agenda.
"As TOBB Women Entrepreneurs Board and TOBB Istanbul Women Entrepreneurs Board, we continue to support our women in every field," she continued. "In this sense, we consider this grant program initiated by Facebook to help SMEs in our country overcome this difficult process, develop, and grow. We are also pleased to launch our Marketplace Supports page, where our SMEs can access online marketplace support, in cooperation with the Trade Ministry and Facebook."
Startups develop 16 projects to support fight against virus
Within the scope of the BIO Startup CoronaSprint Project, 16 startups prepared solution road maps for 11 defined need areas. After the project, which was completed in a short period of two months, 16 projects prepared by startups to support the process of combating COVID-19 are planned to be implemented with global and local collaborations.
The BIO Startup CoronaSprint Project is supported within the scope of the Istanbul Development Agency’s (ISTKA) "Program of Combating and Resilience against COVID-19" and which aims to provide solutions to pandemic-related problems being faced by startups. It was completed after a two-month of an uninterrupted marathon.
The project was carried out by the Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (AIFD) representing 36 research-based pharmaceutical companies in partnership with the Turkish Health Institutes Presidency (TÜSEB) and collaboration with ReDis Innovation.
The solution roadmaps of 16 startups that developed solutions for COVID-19 related problems were evaluated following the stages of participation in BIO Digital, the world's largest biotechnology organization, Needs Analysis Workshops, Sprint Process, and Evaluation Meetings. A monitoring and tracking mechanism was established to meet the needs identified in the projects one by one.
AIFD Investment Policies Director Cengiz Aydın said thanks to the cooperative environment that has been created, startups will continue to be supported even if the BIO Startup CoronaSprint Project is completed.
"We recognize the efforts of our startups, working non-stop in a short period of two months, to solve the prioritized problems of COVID-19. We left behind a marathon with nearly 60 meetings in total. In addition to financing, regulation, infrastructure, certification and documentation in some valuable projects, we continue to follow possible collaborations with TÜSEB and AIFD member companies, learn from each other and support each other when we are missing," he continued.
Using the BIO Startup Program graduate pool as a resource, Aydın said the CoronaSprint Project has also turned into an ecosystem that nurtures itself.
"Our goal will be to ensure the continuity of this ecosystem. Projects that require technology development, business model change, or policy innovations may take longer to implement. To meet such needs, we will be in constant communication with our member pharmaceutical companies, TÜSEB, our valuable mentors, startups and experts who support all stages of our project, and we will continue our work in the required fields. While producing innovation and solutions, we will continue to work on solving unexpected problems efficiently by taking into account the whole ecosystem, maintaining communication and activities in different areas, and including different companies and institutions in the solution process," Aydın concluded.