From labs to lives: Startups shoulder health tech advancements


Startups are now shouldering innovative solutions in healthcare, and even venerable companies like Sanofi, boasting a scientific legacy of over 300 years, are acknowledging the contributions of ventures.

Cem Öztürk, president of Sanofi Türkiye and the head of Türkiye, Africa and the Middle East Essential Products, revealed that 65% of the 118 new drug licenses approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 2016 and 2018 belonged to startups.

“The new carriers of innovation are seen to be newly established ventures alongside major pharmaceutical companies. Due to their agile structures, these ventures have significant advantages in discovering and implementing innovations. Considering the talented Turkish entrepreneurs among globally successful healthcare initiatives, we can see the high potential in our country’s skilled human resources,” said Öztürk.

However, he said while Turkish startups in mobile gaming, financial technology, on-demand delivery and other sectors make strong strides in the global market, the lack of presentation of domestic healthcare initiatives on the world stage stems from the fact that the innovation-based healthcare ecosystem within the country is not yet structured with the necessary qualities.

81 million vaccine doses

Highlighting their commitment to Türkiye’s “healthy future” through an innovative approach, Öztürk said Sanofi conducted the first technology transfer in the field of vaccines in the country 12 years ago.

“Through this project, in collaboration with Birgi Mefar Group, we started producing childhood combination vaccines that protect against diseases within the national vaccine schedule. Thanks to this investment contributing to Türkiye’s first biotechnology production, we have produced 81 million doses of vaccines to date,” he noted.

Cem Öztürk, president of Sanofi Türkiye. (Courtesy of Sanofi)

Cem Öztürk, president of Sanofi Türkiye. (Courtesy of Sanofi)

“Our goal is to bring solutions and technologies that will ease patients’ lives to our country while also contributing to qualified local production.”

Innovative projects

Öztürk also cited the PharmUp Entrepreneurship Program, launched in 2019 and collaboration with Endeavour, saying that they have successfully brought together entrepreneurs from various fields and sectors who can develop solutions for the healthcare industry.

“The program aims to select about five startups every year. The selected ventures participating in the acceleration program benefit from workshops and mentorship support to enhance their skills and solutions. They also have the opportunity to develop collaborations with Sanofi and participate in Vivatech held in Paris,” he said.

This year, he added, entrepreneurs developing products and services in categories such as smart health devices and diagnostic solutions (wearable technologies and rapid testing tools), medical education and communication tools, healthy living solutions, digital health and telemedicine, data management and analytics and corporate digital transformation applied to the program.

“To date, a total of 219 entrepreneurs have applied to the program, with 22 ventures being included,” said Öztürk.

Multi-stakeholder platform

Öztürk highlighted that they have transformed PharmUp into a multi-stakeholder platform, producing solutions tailored to the needs of entrepreneurs throughout their journey, from product development to market launch.

“PharmUp is a multi-stakeholder entrepreneurship platform based in Türkiye, contributing to global competitiveness and strengthening the innovation ecosystem in healthcare. In this context, we have achieved various collaborations with Başakşehir Living Lab, Teknopark Istanbul, Lokman Hekim University Health and Drug Technology Center (LHUSTEK), and TT Ventures,” he said.

With the collaboration agreement signed with TT Ventures, the corporate venture capital company of Türk Telekom, one of Türkiye’s leading telecommunications and technology companies, Öztürk said they aim to support the development processes of ventures, create a scientific platform and ensure the transformation of value-added innovation and technology-based projects into products.

Groundbreaking partnership in fintech frontier

In the rapidly evolving landscape of Turkish finance technology, fintech initiatives have aggressively pursued ambitious goals, particularly in the realm of open banking and digital finance licenses.

In a strategic alignment that not only reflects the dynamism in the Turkish financial technology sector but also underlines the symbiotic relationship emerging between traditional banking institutions and agile fintech ventures, İşbank and Figopara announced a collaboration that will see the latter integrating Türkiye’s largest private lender’s TekCep and TekPos products for its clientele.

Figopara, a financial technology venture with a mission to reach 100,000 small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), envisions becoming one of Türkiye’s unicorn startups with a billion-dollar valuation.

The partnership signifies a milestone as Figopara invests in a product developed by a traditional bank for the first time. Iş Bankası’s open banking products, TekCep and TekPOS, crafted by its subsidiary Softtech, will be accessible to Figopara customers.

Under the agreement, İşbank’s ownership through Maxis Innovative Venture Capital Investment Fund has reached 3.42%. The strategic move reflects the accelerating pace of customer-centric digital transformation initiatives within both banks and fintech companies amid stringent regulatory oversight.

Koray Bahar (L), founder and CEO of Figopara, and İşbank General Manager Hakan Aran. (Courtesy of Figopara)

Koray Bahar (L), founder and CEO of Figopara, and İşbank General Manager Hakan Aran. (Courtesy of Figopara)

Figopara’s acquisition of İşbank subsidiary Softtech’s open banking products, TekCep and TekPos, extends beyond mere technology integration. The purchase empowers Figopara’s commercial clients to manage invoice data and banking information, enabling precise control over cash flows. Furthermore, it will also allow real-time detection of credit limits based on the latest data.


Evaluating the agreement, İşbank General Manager Hakan Aran highlighted customer-centric decision-making.

“While developing TekCep and TekPos, I thoroughly read the Competition Authority’s decision. Reading the assessment of the value of customer data in that document made us realize once again the significance of customer data. We developed these products but believe a fintech initiative can scale them faster,” said Aran.

“We think Figopara’s products, in which we have previously invested, can be offered to SMEs at a more affordable cost. By the end of this year, we believe Figopara will be one of the billion-dollar unicorn fintech initiatives. We think other banks like us can also invest. I believe a shareholding of up to 15% for banks is sufficient. If all banks extend their support, there is no reason for the unicorn goal not to be achieved.”

For their part, Koray Bahar, founder and CEO of Figopara, said they have prioritized valuable investors like İşbank, noting that the company is confidently progressing toward its goal of being a platform that meets all financial needs of commercial enterprises.

“With this acquisition, we are moving toward a structure where our customers can see all their cash flows. We aspire to be the ‘Financial Application’ where businesses can view their financial processes with forward-looking predictions, displaying daily and real-time financial data on a single platform. We currently serve over 10,000 businesses and aim to increase this number to 80,000-90,000 in 2024,” said Bahar.

“Providing more value-added services to both existing and future customers is our sole purpose. To deliver all these services, we have applied for a license with Figo Payment Institution Inc. to the central bank. Until approval is granted by the central for our payment company application, we will offer open banking services to our customers through representation,” he noted.

CES 2024 to kick off

The CES hailed as the world’s largest consumer electronics show, is set to kick off next week and once again bring together startups and cutting-edge technologies from all corners of the globe.

With over 1,200 technology companies from 150 countries expected to participate, Turkish entrepreneurs are set to exhibit a range of innovative products, from a smart cane for visually impaired children to a local initiative transforming coffee waste into biomaterials to electric vehicle performance management platforms and wearable technologies.

CES 2024, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, is scheduled to take place in Las Vegas between Jan. 9-12. It will feature a dedicated Türkiye Pavilion exclusively for Turkish technology entrepreneurs.

Development agencies join forces

This year’s participation is being facilitated through the collaborative efforts of five development agencies operating under the coordination of the Industry and Technology Ministry.

Istanbul Development Agency (ISTKA), Ankara Development Agency (ANKARAKA), Izmir Development Agency (IZKA), Bursa Eskişehir Bilecik Development Agency (BEBKA), and West Mediterranean Development Agency (BAKA) are working in harmony to open up global markets for more than 100 Turkish technology startups, escorting them to global events in Las Vegas, Lisbon, Helsinki and Doha.

Under the banner of the Global Entrepreneurship Events Participation Call, a delegation of 150 individuals, including stakeholders and representatives, will accompany the 50 Turkish technology startups granted the opportunity to participate in the CES 2024.

At CES 2024, Turkish startups will introduce a spectrum of innovative technology products for the first time. These include a smart cane for visually impaired children, a local initiative converting coffee waste into biomaterials, the world’s first electric children’s bike, and the world’s first and only conditional fan support platform. Other innovations will span wearable technologies, industrial design, digital logistics, unmanned aerial vehicles, fast delivery solutions for e-commerce, mobile games, education technologies, and electronic and automation solutions.

Under a sponsorship agreement, national flag carrier Turkish Airlines (THY) provides discounted tickets to facilitate startups’ participation, enabling them to showcase their products and engage in customer discussions during the four-day event.

The CES 2024 show will feature a diverse array of initiatives from around the world, representing different technology categories, including artificial intelligence, smart cities, cryptocurrency and NFTs, food technology, digital health, augmented and virtual reality, robotics and drones, space technology, gaming and e-sports, vehicle technology, and various other industries.

TT Ventures continues to invest in startups

Investment in technology startups is crucial during the seed stage and as these ventures progress into the growth phase.

Despite many institutions supporting startups in their early stages, they often find themselves lacking financial backing in later stages of development and growth. Due to limited access to funding, numerous startups opt to relocate their headquarters abroad.

This trend is being reshaped by investments from major corporations. TT Ventures, the venture capital arm of Türk Telekom, one of Türkiye’s leading telecommunication and technology companies, continues to invest in startups in advanced stages, providing a significant boost to the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

If a startup has initiated operations, is generating revenue, and is ready to take flight, TT Ventures demonstrates its commitment by offering comprehensive support.

Established in 2018 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Türk Telekom Group, TT Ventures aims to support the activities of high-growth potential startups in the early and middle stages. The venture capital firm seeks to create value by directly investing in these startups, facilitating their growth.

To date, it has engaged with 1,500 startups, with investments made in 16 ventures, reaching a portfolio value of $100 million.

TT Ventures’ strategic approach not only aids startups in securing the necessary financial backing as they evolve but also contributes to retaining innovative enterprises within the country.


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