“Entrepreneurs find solutions where politicians stop at a roadblock,” says Steven Stavrou, co-founder of Cyprusinno.
He was talking about the success story of the bicommunal startup which he founded together with Turkish Cypriot Burak Doluay, which is about bringing together entrepreneurs across the divide.
Stavrou, a Greek Cypriot based in New York, and Doluay, based in Nicosia, were both shaped by the Cypriot reality before they met and were determined to change it. Stavrou had spent the summer of 2013 helping launch a resort in Cyprus during the time of the financial crisis. Experiencing first-hand the struggle of a small business during this economic crisis, he was inspired to build something that not only helped lift Cyprus and place it on the map for innovation but also use it to help bridge the gap between both communities.
Doluay had been involved in multiple community-building initiatives surrounding youth and entrepreneurship both locally and globally and became well-known in both communities at a young age. He had been the first Cypriot to attend the US state department programme ‘Susi’ on social entrepreneurship for student leaders from Europe.
It so happened that Stavrou read about Doluay during a Google search in a blog post about the first online start-up community in the north that had been created by Doluay. The two exchanged emails and collaborated to build what would eventually become CyprusInno.
A week after first emailing, and just one Skype session later, Doluay was already presenting the concept at a social entrepreneurship conference in Cyprus.
They still believe what was so powerful about this presentation was that in the process of unveiling the website in Cyprus for the first time, they proved the model.
“The presentation in and of itself was the concept in action, as a Turkish Cypriot presented a bi-communal project that was made possible through a digital collaboration between us with trust and a strong, shared vision for a better island,” Stavrou explained.
The two grew the platform by collaborating via Whatsapp and Skype. Nearly 2,000 people subscribed, which made the two decide to launch life events, the first of which was an inter-communal business mixer with Cyprus-based entrepreneurs from both communities in the UN buffer zone.
It was only at this point that they eventually met in person for the first time.
With Stavrou in New York and Doluay in Cyprus, the two have an interesting dynamic that allows them to run the website nearly 24 hours a day, considering the seven-hour time difference between them, and this has led the path to making their idea a reality. They meet in person every few months, if not more frequently these days.
Now, their database is the largest database of start-ups and related services in Cyprus.
According to both of them, the start-up’s success is due to the economic nature of their enterprise.
“It proves that a united Cyprus doesn’t start and end politically that’s where we come from. We will still come together and do what is possible. Business leads to dialogue and this can lead to an actual solution,” Doluay said.
They have the numbers to prove their point. That first business mixer, in December 2016, brought together 30 people. A few months later a second event of the same sort attracted 50 to 60 and a third over 100 people.
Around 150 guests visited the forum on August 18 this year, despite the fact that the political climate has deteriorated.
Not only that, but according to the start-up team, the participants are mostly people who have never met a person from the other community before and have often never crossed the green line.
Stavrou and Doluay have big plans for the future. “We are the only organisation in the world which uses entrepreneurship for peacebuilding,” they said. “We want to bring this to other post-conflict regions like Kosovo and replicate it.”
Cyprusinno is now starting a ‘greenline consulting’, whereby they connect contacts in the north to those in the south and vice versa. They already have a big network islandwide, which should help.
Another future project is a school programme. The aim is to create clubs in schools on both sides, most likely secondary schools, which receive training in entrepreneurship.
There are also online courses, or a ‘knowledge lab’, which can be accessed from their web page. These are tailored to Cypriots and include case studies, which are short videos from local Cypriot entrepreneurs sharing their stories as well as local business registration and taxation information.
While the business mixer, as the name says, brings people in business together, another initiative by the bi-communal team, the inter-communal start-up mentorship, pairs Turkish Cypriot mentors with Greek Cypriot startups and Greek Cypriot mentors with Turkish Cypriot startups.
Those who would like to be involved in any of the projects, can also see http://cyprusinno.com/, email [email protected] or visit Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cyprusinno, Twitter: https://twitter.com/cyprusinno and Instagram: https://instagram.com/cyprusinno