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Turkish Web Entrepreneurs Boost Luxembourg's Tech Profile


The web startup trend has been global for a while, but new countries continue to find their way into the mix. Turkish web entrepreneurs are getting involved. And they're getting attention from at least one tiny Western country trying to increase its high-tech profile. NPR's Peter Kenyon recently went to a startup conference where Turks made their pitches.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: A mostly male crowd in sweaters and horn-rimmed glasses is here to connect with enough money to take their ideas beyond Turkey, perhaps not coincidentally, beyond a country that has a history of clamping down on the Internet. The event is hosted by Luxembourg, a sliver of northern Europe that's trying to carve out a niche as a haven for IT companies and has Turkey on its radar.

ROMAIN FOUARGE: And the presentations we just heard about what is going on in the startups in here, in Turkey, it's really amazing.

KENYON: That's Romain Fouarge, IT director for Luxembourg's Ministry of the Economy. At this event, in a grand, old bank building reinvented as an art gallery, restaurant and meeting space, Turks are trying to join the startup gold rush, pushing ideas that sound quite Western. The lights go down. The PowerPoint screen blinks awake, and they're off and pitching.


SONER HACIHALILOGLU: So I am Soner from Positive Energy Systems.

KENYON: Soner doesn't bother the audience with his last name. It's Hacihaliloglu, so that was probably a good move. His idea fits neatly into Western Europe's love of green apps. His company measures how much energy large companies use at different times of the day. Another Turkish startup looks at the very problem these guys face all the time, how to network more efficiently instead of dashing from suit to suit like an over-caffeinated speed dater. Kemal Apaydin has an app for that. It's called Chain.


KEMAL APAYDIN: You say, I'm here. Then, you'll be able to see the professionals nearby. Where do they work? What do they do? And then, after that, you can message them.

KENYON: The pitches fly by so quickly, there's no time for questions, such as, are there any legal issues surrounding Cubic FM, which promises to be a single access point for digital music from all kinds of competing platforms? Judging by co-founder Erdem Gelal's description, it sounds like more headaches for musicians and more billable hours for intellectual property attorneys.


ERDEM GELAL: Let's say you import a Spotify playlist to Cubic FM, and it includes tracks from Taylor Swift. Even after she pulls her music out of Spotify's catalog, these songs would still be in your playlist.

KENYON: In the end, three winners get invited to Luxembourg to basically make their pitches all over again - the energy consumption guys at Positive Energy, a company that tells online retailers what others are charging for similar products, and the digital music sharing dudes at Cubic FM. And if it's all sounding a bit too male, let me introduce Sinem Kaya. Almost apologetically, she mentions the project she's been self-funding, a Turkish site that she'd like to raise money for to expand it into more languages. It's called Global Motherhood, a space where moms can share their problems and solutions across cultures.

SINEM KAYA: We are asking questions every week. For example, how many kilos did you put on weight when you were pregnant? And it's amazing to see how people are - react differently and think differently. So it can be a really powerful thing to have unite these all mothers in one network.

KENYON: Make no mistake; Kaya would also love to sell you stuff. But she stood out in this crowd for being interested in using technology for something other than personal convenience or higher profits. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.