A commitment to a more research-based economy is embodied in the science and technology districts that have proliferated nationwide. Between 2003 and 2012, the number of local “technoparks” rose from 12 to 49, while the number of companies hosted in these sites grew from 169 to 2174. “Although Turkey has yet to develop the research and innovation capacity of more advanced economies, the country is catching up quickly in this department,” Turgut Şenol, the general manager of Teknopark Istanbul, told OBG. “To some extent, this is reflected in the success of the government’s technopark growth plans over the past decade.” One of the key aims of a technopark is to bring together scientific researchers, start-ups, multinational companies and angel investors in a geographic cluster that fosters business growth, technology transfer and the development of value-added products. To this end, governments typically provide special incentives applicable only to technology park districts. In Turkey, such incentives include income tax exemptions for software developers, as well as corporate income tax exemptions on profits derived from research and development (R&D). Further, the Ministry of Finance supports employers in technoparks by covering half of the social security premiums for R&D personnel.
The global model for such parks is Silicon Valley, a technological powerhouse that generates thousands of patents and high-wage jobs each year.
As noted by Mustafa İhsan Kızıltaş, who is the general manager of Middle East Technical University-Technology Park, ODTÜ Teknokent (previously METUTECH), Turkey’s first, biggest and most innovative technopark, reaching such heights is difficult to achieve. “Silicon Valley emerged organically and under unique historical circumstances, and thus cannot be replicated,” he said. “However, Turkey can still leverage technopark synergies to foster research commercialisation and business innovation on a smaller scale.” ODTÜ TEKNOKENT: Since opening on the campus of METU in 2000, ODTÜ Teknokent has demonstrated Turkey’s potential, with companies located in the park accounting for hundreds of intellectual property rights and over $450m in exports. As of 2012, the park housed 296 businesses from numerous industries, including IT (55% of firms), electronics (19%), advanced material and design (13%), and health technologies (6%). While about 85% of companies with operations at METUTECH are small and medium-sized enterprises, multinational investors include Cisco, Siemens and multinational business partners of ODTÜ Teknokent companies Rolls-Royce, Airbus and Boeing. According to Kızıltaş, ODTÜ Teknokent has flourished by having three competitive advantages: first, a connection to an innovative research university, METU; second, a location in Ankara near the heart of the domestic defence industry – for which many of the park’s companies develop high-tech products; and third, a close working relationship with the government. “The authorities understand that technoparks will play a crucial role in achieving many of the country’s 2023 development targets, which include boosting R&D expenditure to 3% of GDP and achieving a national export volume of $500bn,” Kızıltaş said. “Thus, the Ministry of Economy has supported the growth of ODTÜ Teknokent by helping us establish liaison offices overseas to form international R&D partnerships and attract more inflows of foreign investment.”
The latest technopark to make headlines is Teknopark Istanbul, a science and technology (S&T) zone focused on defence and related industries, including the aviation and maritime sectors, robotics, automation systems, nanotechnology and biotechnology. Located on a site of 950,000 sq metres, Teknopark Istanbul is also expected to become one of the largest S&T zones in Europe once fully developed and to generate some $10bn in revenue each year.
“The potential of Teknopark Istanbul becomes clear when you consider the interest it has received from foreign and local investors,” Şenol said. “Thus far we have received over 700 applications from companies for the first six buildings, which can only house 100 tenants.”
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