EBRD and J.P. Morgan support Turkish women entrepreneurs

By Başak  Demirdağ

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Esra Birsayi stands in her tailoring studio, carefully examining the sleeve length of an evening dress and making final tweaks before it is shipped off to a real estate agent in Canada.

She is one of ten women leading micro businesses in Istanbul, Turkey, that have benefitted from an advisory support programme run by the EBRD as part of the Women in Business initiative and funded by J.P. Morgan as in line with the firm’s five-year philanthropic commitment to expanding opportunities for underserved entrepreneurs globally.

The EBRD introduced Esra to a management consultant who helped her eveningwear brand, Esra Bridal, increase export capacity and develop its export strategy.

From theory to practice

Esra’s entrepreneurial adventure began when she wanted to use her basic knowledge of exporting to sell wedding dresses and evening gowns, a field she had been interested in and saw as profitable. Using her own means, she founded the company from scratch in 2015.

“At first, I had a hard time finding the right business contacts. I was taking orders online, but choosing the right fabric, completing the production of the dresses on time, and managing a team required experience,” Esra says.

Over time, she established her own team, employing two tailors, and received training in fashion design and professional sewing.

Today, Esra’s company operates solely through e-commerce and sends an average of 200 wedding dresses and evening gowns per year how from Istanbul to countries across the world, including the USA. Her diverse clientele encompasses everyone from an intelligent young lady working for NASA to a wealthy individual requiring many dresses at once for a traditional extended wedding ceremony.

“I find my customers through worldwide e-commerce platforms and I try to understand their specific needs to establish a trusting, long-term relationship with them. It’s a privilege for me to help them look and feel their best on their special days,” she says.

But 200 dresses was not nearly enough for Esra. She had ambitions to grow her business further and introduce Esra Bridal to new markets. To determine the best approach for growth, she contacted the EBRD for support, and the Women in Business programme introduced her to a management consultant to work with on marketing and strategy.  

“The advisory support I received from the EBRD broadened my horizons and helped me to determine my next target markets. I have already completed very promising first meetings with some prominent retailers in UK,” Esra says. She plans to recruit more employees and increase her production capacity in order to expand export levels and make a significant contribution to Turkey’s economy.

The importance of support to women entrepreneurs

Women entrepreneurs face more difficulties in accessing know-how and business networks than men, and added to the challenges in gaining finance and the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, women entrepreneurs have found it particularly difficult to sustain and grow their businesses over the past two years.

It was in this context that the EBRD joined forces with J.P. Morgan – the first private sector donor for the Bank’s activities in Turkey – and launched an advisory support programme for women-led businesses, targeting in particular micro businesses, which were most affected by the pandemic.

Ten high-potential companies were selected in the first stage to work with management consultants in the business fields they struggled with. These were Hadi Ham Yap, Esra Bridal, Ege Teknoloji Kimya, Nüde Danışmanlık, Doğaçlama Gıda, Brev Bilişim, Büyük Beden Stil, Özge Makina Torna Pres, Skare Gıda Pazarlama and Shaman’s Secret – and twelve further companies received strategic and marketing support.

As part of the programme, the participants were introduced to the EBRD Know How Academy, a free online knowledge hub that provides training modules, videos and useful resources that can benefit all small businesses. So far, over 1,000 small businesses in Turkey have joined the EBRD Know How Academy, and the EBRD is enriching the content on the platform every day to meet the emerging needs of small businesses.

An International Women's Day to celebrate

All of the selected companies have now successfully completed their advisory projects, and had the chance to share their results and stories with EBRD and J.P. Morgan representatives in Istanbul just before International Women's Day.

Arvid Tuerkner, EBRD Managing Director, Turkey, says, “I was very impressed with the stories of the women entrepreneurs who benefited from the programme and the impact our advisory support had on their businesses. I am glad that, together with J.P. Morgan, we have been able to support these micro businesses, and have helped them survive and transform during an extremely challenging period for MSMEs. Women’s entrepreneurship and inclusion is one of the EBRD’s key priorities, and it continues to be one of our top priorities in Turkey as well.”

“We are proud to support this incredibly important initiative in Turkey,” says Mustafa Bagriacik, J.P. Morgan Senior Country Officer for Turkey and Azerbaijan. “We are not only committed to helping small businesses grow, but also to empowering more women to contribute to the Turkish economy. This programme will offer female micro entrepreneurs growth and access to a team of experienced experts.”

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