Women entrepreneurs are changing the face of business in Turkey

The B-Fit Sports and Healthy Living Centers allow women to work on self-esteem as well as fitness. (Courtesy photo)

Turkish social entrepreneur Bedriye Hülya is no fan of gyms. But she felt it unfair that men had so many fitness clubs and women so few. She knew that these clubs were not only places to exercise but also to socialize, network and do business.

Bedriye Hülya smiling (Courtesy of B-Fit Sports and Healthy Living Centers for Women)
Social entrepreneur Bedriye Hülya (Courtesy photo)

So she changed that dynamic.

Today several hundred thousand Turkish women patronize B-Fit Sports and Healthy Living Centers, the chain of 200 women-only gyms Hülya and some girlfriends started in 2005. B-Fit centers are now in 50 cities.

“It’s not only about exercise,” says Hülya. “We create spaces to empower and educate women.” Each club has a café and seminar room for self-improvement classes. All franchise holders, trainers and staff are female.

“We knew it would be something powerful,” Hülya says.

Awareness is growing in Turkey about entrepreneurship. There are now networks and incubators organized by nongovernmental organizations such as Endeavor and business-minded groups to help budding entrepreneurs find mentors and investors.

Online market for services grew out of frustrations

Endeavor pays special attention to “high risk” entrepreneurs such as Hülya and Başak Taşpınar Değim, founder of Armut.com, with enterprises that are beyond the startup stage and show potential to create wealth and many jobs.

Five people in room, talking (Courtesy of Armut)
Başak Taşpınar Değim (second from right) and her team at online services market Armut.com. (Courtesy photo)

Armut is an online marketplace for local services, which Değim started after returning to Istanbul from a corporate job in New York. “It was a pain to find movers, painters and cleaners after relocating,” she says. Use of Armut, which links consumers to trusted, local service providers, spread rapidly, and the business has attracted $4.2 million in venture capital.

Değim and Hülya both have won numerous honors and participated in the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University.

Portrait of Alev Ertem against leafy background (Courtesy of Endeavor.org)
Alev Ertem of Endeavor Turkey (Courtesy photo)

Reflecting on that experience, Değim wrote in USA Today that extremism thrives in places with economic hardships where people cannot “provide for their families or live a good life. Entrepreneurship changes this and makes the world a better place.”

Alev Ertem, a special projects manager for Endeavor Turkey, says, “It’s a brand new ecosystem here, but we’ve come a long way. Ten years ago, the word ‘entrepreneurship’ wasn’t even common.”

Istanbul will host the 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Congress, a gathering that will further boost Turkey’s entrepreneurs