A project supported by international organizations that helps migrants and aspiring food entrepreneurs in Turkey.
By Yao Hsiao
Launched in September 2017, the LIFE project aims to improve the livelihood of migrants in host communities by encouraging food entrepreneurship as a viable means to re-establish themselves in a new environment. Not limited to migrants, the project also welcomes people from Turkey who want to enter the food sector, but may lack the related background and experience.
Candidates accepted into the LIFE Project can participate in a free four-month entrepreneurship training program in Turkish or Arabic. The members will not only gain knowledge and consultation for their business ideas, but also become a part of the broader multicultural community.
Believing that food can create joyful interactions between different cultures, the LIFE Project was co-founded by local and international establishments, including the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), IDEMA, Union Kitchen, the Stimson Center, and the William Davidson Institute (WDI).
With the assistance of IDEMA, two members who finished the training and won the Cohort Business Pitch Competition at the LIFE Project shared their stories with The Guide Istanbul. Both members have projects related to healthy beverages; Ammar Reda is working on organic smoothies and Güneş Önol Sümen produces kombucha tea.
Starting from scratch
Ammar Reda used to teach in his hometown at the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering in the Food Science Department of the University of Aleppo, Syria. With Aleppo seeing heavy fighting, Reda relocated to Turkey in hopes of restarting his life. Although holding a PhD in food microbiology from the University of Damascus and a master’s degree in food science from Nancy University in France, the language barrier made the continuation of his academic work in Turkey impossible. After some time working as an online marketer in a Turkish cosmetics and skin care company, he discovered the LIFE Project.
Leveraging his experience working in the university laboratory, Reda had the idea to open a small restaurant that serves natural smoothies and Syrian dairy desserts, providing an alternative to unhealthy eating such as fast food and energy drinks. To realize his idea, Reda is now working on finding donations or loans from institutions or individuals. Although his idea won an initial round of seed funding (3,000 USD) from the competition, Reda explains that it is not enough to establish and start running his business long term.
“LIFE Project gave me a positive boost in a pivotal period of my stay in Turkey,” Reda told The Guide Istanbul. As a food specialist, he gained critical marketing and financial knowledge from courses that enabled him to build the foundation for an entrepreneurial project in the Turkish market. He is thankful that the LIFE Project is providing training courses and helping the Syrian and broader Arab community overcome obstacles as they integrate into Turkish society.
Güneş Önol Sümen, on the other hand, brings a totally different story from her experience with the LIFE Project. Hailing from Ankara and a graduate of Bilkent University, she previously worked for 10 years as an interior designer before seeking a new career path one and a half years ago. Due to some health problems, Sümen began to craft her own food and drinks and shared them with her friends and family. After receiving positive feedback, she decided to turn it into a brand that can be accessible to everyone.
Although Sümen didn’t have to face the cultural and language barrier like Reda, it was not easy for her to take the first step. “It was frightening to step into a sector which I was completely unfamiliar with and totally different from my profession,” she remarked while speaking about the main difficulties in entering the space. Fortunately, the entrepreneur training at the LIFE Project provided the solution.
She founded Surya Synbiotics, a brand specializing in kombucha, which is a type of fermented tea drink believed to have extensive health and digestion benefits. She is currently working on increasing the variety and quality of her production, including creating new flavors for the summer season. She hopes Surya Synbiotics will become a well-known brand in the healthy food market, providing not only kombucha, but also other natural fermented foods and beverages.
Not limited to hard business skills, she also highlighted the beneficial nature of the human factor in the LIFE Project. “Taking part in social networking with participants and experts inspires us and gives you confidence,” she told The Guide Istanbul. For Sümen and many other members, the most important aspect of the LIFE Project is meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds in a synergistic environment where people share a common dream.
For more information about the project visit lifeforentrepreneurs.com.