Interview: “Investing in women entrepreneurs is not only a matter of gender equality but also a smart business decision”


Ecem Altıok, Investment Director at Yıldız Ventures, Gözde Tech Ventures and Yıldız Holding.
Ecem Altıok, Investment Director at Yıldız Ventures, Gözde Tech Ventures and Yıldız Holding. Photo: Courtesy of Yildiz Holding

Ecem Altıok is Investment Director at Yıldız Ventures, Gözde Tech Ventures, and Yıldız Holding, where she oversees Venture Capital (VC) and Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) investment and portfolio management activities. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration from Koç University. At 36 years old, Altiok combines her passion for entrepreneurship and her experience in the investment world to empower women and promote their economic participation. She is one of the Investors participating in EXPO Capital Quest, the last phase of the Women’s Entrepreneurship EXPO 2022, where selected women entrepreneurs from Europe and Central Asia will pitch their business ideas.

As a woman, how is your experience as the investment director of a large private sector conglomerate?

Yıldız Holding is a prominent private conglomerate, serving a vast clientele spanning more than 4 billion people in 130 countries, with a workforce of over 75,000 employees. Therefore, I feel privileged to be entrusted with one of the key investment decision-making roles in the company. This experience has allowed me to break barriers and challenge gender stereotypes. It has provided me with the opportunity to contribute to the growth and success of innovative businesses and startups.

I have found that my unique perspective as a young woman has often brought a fresh and valuable approach to investment decision-making. Diversity in the investment industry is crucial as it enables different viewpoints, experiences, and insights, ultimately leading to better investment outcomes.

As a professional investor, what do you look for in a business idea?

As a professional investor, first and foremost, I evaluate the market potential and scalability of the idea. A strong market opportunity with a large addressable market is essential for long-term success. I also assess the uniqueness and competitiveness of the business model or product, as well as the strength of the team behind it. A talented and experienced team that can execute the business plan with a treasured vision is a crucial factor for investment consideration.

Additionally, I focus on the growth strategy and potential for expansion. A clear and well-defined growth plan, along with a sustainable competitive advantage, is important. Financial projections and the potential for profitability are also evaluated to assess the viability and attractiveness of the business opportunity.

Yildiz Holding is partnering with UN Women in a number of women’s empowerment initiatives. Can you tell us about this work?

Yildiz Holding is firmly committed to empowering women. We believe in providing equal opportunities for women to thrive and succeed in the corporate world. To this end, the Holding has actively encouraged and facilitated the placement of women in senior management, execution, and board membership positions. Women holding key positions within our organization contribute to the decision-making process and shape the strategic direction of the company. Their expertise and insights are highly valued and play a crucial role in driving success.

In addition, Yıldız Holding has actively collaborated with UN Women to support women's entrepreneurship, creating a more inclusive ecosystem for women to thrive. By combining the expertise and resources of UN Women with Yıldız Holding's extensive network, we aim to create equal opportunities and access to resources for women entrepreneurs.

Through initiatives like the Women's Entrepreneurship Accelerator and incubation programs, we demonstrate Yıldız Holding’s commitment to creating inclusive marketplaces and value chains.

And it is promising to see that our efforts are validated in the impact we have created. At Yıldız Holding, we had committed ourselves to invest over $4 million in three years to support women entrepreneurship in regional and global supply chains, but we are proud to see that we have transcended our commitment in its first year with 53 women-led start-ups.

This collaboration showcases the private sector's pivotal role in empowering women and driving positive change.

And we are happy to be a north star in our industries leading by example and good practices.

Tell us about your experience as one of the mentors of the Women’s Entrepreneurship EXPO.

My experience as one of the mentors of the Women's Entrepreneurship EXPO has been incredibly fulfilling. It provided a unique platform for women entrepreneurs to connect, learn, and grow their businesses. I have had a chance to interact with seven women entrepreneurs from various sectors such as packaging solutions, textile, health & wellness, AR platform.

Through these collaborative sessions, my goal was to empower the mentees with the necessary knowledge and tools to effectively communicate their business ideas, market potential, and growth strategies to potential investors. It was immensely rewarding to witness their progress and witness the transformation of their pitch decks, as they became more focused, compelling, and investor-ready. Supporting these talented women entrepreneurs in their journey towards success has been an inspiring experience, and I look forward to seeing the impact they will make in their respective industries.

What are the main challenges facing women entrepreneurs?

Women entrepreneurs face several challenges on their entrepreneurial journey. Access to finance is a significant hurdle as women often encounter difficulties in securing funding for their businesses. Gender biases and stereotypes can undermine their credibility and hinder their business growth, requiring them to work harder to gain equal recognition and opportunities.

Another challenge is the lack of networks and mentorship opportunities. Building a strong network and finding mentors who can provide guidance and support is crucial for entrepreneurial success. However, women entrepreneurs may have limited access to established networks and mentorship programs compared to their male counterparts, making it more challenging for them to navigate the business landscape.

Work-life balance is an ongoing challenge for women entrepreneurs. Balancing the demands of entrepreneurship with family responsibilities and societal expectations can be particularly demanding for women. They often face additional pressures to juggle multiple roles, which can impact their ability to focus on growing their businesses.

Why do you think it is important to invest in women entrepreneurs?

Investing in women entrepreneurs is not only a matter of gender equality but also a smart business decision. Women entrepreneurs bring unique perspectives, creativity, and problem-solving skills to the table. They often identify market gaps and consumer needs that may have been overlooked, leading to innovative business ideas and solutions. It also has a multiplier effect, as women tend to invest back into their communities, creating job opportunities and driving social impact. By supporting women-led businesses, we contribute to building a more equitable and sustainable future.

Overall, investing in women entrepreneurs is not only the right thing to do but also a strategic investment that can yield substantial returns and foster economic empowerment for women.