Cyprus, an Eastern Mediterranean island-nation, has been divided between a Turkish-Cypriot north and a Greek-Cypriot south for over four decades. Failed peace talks have left young Cypriots uncertain about the future of their country, where conflict between rival communities still exists. Yet, Cyprus remains a glimmer of hope in a highly volatile region of the world, geographically positioned in the Middle East, nestled in the Levant at the crossroads of three continents. Furthermore, the island has the potential to serve as a model for peace, stability, and prosperity across this region. CyprusInno, a non-profit startup social venture and think tank run by a young Greek-Cypriot and a Turkish-Cypriot mixed team, has challenged the status quo of division on the island by developing a bi-zonal, inter-communal entrepreneurial ecosystem, using entrepreneurship and technology as peace-building mechanisms and entrepreneurs as peacemakers. CyprusInno identified the economy/unemployment as common problems of both communities, regardless of ideology or political affiliation and, where diplomacy failed, saw entrepreneurship as the answer. By creating and sustaining an island-wide startup ecosystem, CyprusInno provides tools and resources for entrepreneurs to cooperate, grow, succeed, and build trust. The team’s vision for global impact is to replicate its model in conflict regions worldwide.
As citizens of a divided country, we wondered how to best build peace. CyprusInno’s model is supported by analysis backing the economic benefits of a Cyprus solution. Unification is estimated to increase the island’s GDP, employment opportunities, and growth in various sectors.By increasing business collaboration between Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots, we hope to create a path for a peaceful and prosperous nation. Aside from being an important driver of economic development, entrepreneurship is also an instrumental peace-building mechanism. Global peace through commerce can be achieved via accessible entrepreneurial capital, a key success factor for entrepreneurship that many conflict regions lack. According to the 2018 Global Peace Index, conflict has significant economic impact. In fact, when measuring the cost of violence as a share of GDP, Cyprus ranks 7thin the world. Economics is a driver of positive peace. Historically, low peace nations that have made significant improvements in positive peace have seen the strongest economic returns. Similarly, GDP growth has been three times higher in highly peaceful countries vs. countries with low levels of peace.
CyprusInno is a nonprofit organization, social startup venture, and think tank led by two young Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots who use entrepreneurship as a peace-building mechanism to bring opposing communities together on the divided island of Cyprus, and who have overcome historical and geographical divisions to create a platform fostering innovation, business, and peace. Founded in Nicosia, Cyprus in late 2016, CyprusInno’s mission is to provide tools for all Cypriot entrepreneurs island-wide to help them connect, network, collaborate, and exchange knowledge to lead the social and economic growth of Cyprus. Its vision is to replicate the model it has proven in Cyprus in conflict regions around the world, beginning with the greater Middle East.
CyprusInno began with the launch of its online platform, which is the first and still the largest bi-zonal, inter-communal digital platform connecting Cypriot entrepreneurs, startups, and innovators. At its core, CyprusInno is an online platform offering Cypriot entrepreneurs and problem-solvers the chance to connect with like-minded innovators. Users can register and create a profile, submit startups, events, jobs, or even articles. CyprusInno also features the largest database of startups in Cyprus and is the first to map from both north and south, presenting a united Cyprus through entrepreneurship. We also created a startup jobs board (part of an effort to battle high unemployment among youth) and a curated calendar of island-wide business events. CyprusInno’s blog shares success stories, the latest news from Cyprus’ startup ecosystem, and global opportunities for entrepreneurs. CyprusInno’s weekly newsletter is distributed to subscribers/members with the latest Cyprus startup news, featured startups, new jobs, articles, and new opportunities. We also run our own digital projects, such as a visual series using infographics to show the economic benefits of a united Cyprus, which had a reach of over 30,000 people. Since the launch of the digital platform, we have grown to an online community of nearly 2,000 from both the north and south, mapped 185+ startups (north and south), posted 150+ startup jobs and 360+ business events, and grown a social media following of 20,000+.
In 2018, we launched Cyprus’s first free digital e-learning lab with entrepreneurial skill-building coursework for all Cypriot entrepreneurs. A total of six courses are live, featuring a total of 37 modules, 10 lessons, over 30 hours of coursework, 30 videos, 63 quizzes, 14 practical exercises, local case studies (videos of Cypriot entrepreneurs), and much more. The platform is gamified so that learners unlocks achievements and get badges in the profiles upon course completion, giving them access to exclusive events in the near future that will connect them with entrepreneurs across the border.
With the success of connecting communities via entrepreneurship online, and after getting the community used to this idea, we saw an opportunity to translate these digital initiatives by then bringing people together at events and programs such as our inter-communal business mixers, an entrepreneurship bootcamp series, and a mentorship program, all engaging Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and other Cyprus-based community members. Our business mixers have hosted hundreds of individuals from both north and south Cyprus and from various communities for networking, resources, and the opportunity to creating lasting business relationships. For example, in January, we hosted the island’s largest ever inter-communal networking event with over 100 entrepreneurs from north and south Cyprus meeting together in the Buffer Zone over coffee and light snacks. We partnered with over 14 private, public, governmental, and other non-governmental organizations island-wide, including the Chambers of Commerce of both sides, to put on this event and to also give away free resources like free co-working space, consulting, and more. Our weekend bootcamp taught basic entrepreneurial skills to Greek and Turkish Cypriots, narrowing the education gap and providing the tools to launch. Our mentorship program, the first of its kind, paired Greek-Cypriot mentors with Turkish-Cypriot startups and vice versa to encourage business collaboration and mentorship across the divide.
Most recently, with the support of the U.S. Embassy Cyprus, CyprusInno hosted its first ever Inter-Communal Business Forum + Mixer. Over 150 entrepreneurs, innovators, and business professionals gathered in the Buffer Zone at the Home for Cooperation for CyprusInno’s Inter-Communal Business Forum + Mixer. Another 2,000+ viewers from around the world tuned in online for the live stream of the Forum. The Forum featured talks from four expert speakers with the objective of discussing theoretical, political, and practical applications of inter-communal business - including benefits, challenges, and real-life examples. The speakers were Ms. Fiona Mullen (Director, Sapienta Economics Ltd), Mr. Mete Hatay (Sr. Research Consultant, PRIO Cyprus), Mr. Manthos Mavrommatis (Honorary President, Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry), Mr. İzzet Adiloğlu (Trade Development Specialist, Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce), and CyprusInno co-founders Steven W. Stavrou and Burak Berk Doluay as moderators. The talks were followed by a Q&A session right before the mixer networking event. CyprusInno’s 4th Inter-Communal Business Mixer featured a networking reception with wine and cheese, olive oil tasting, and a raffle for free co-working space and professional mentoring. The information presented at the Forum, along with the discussions that took place and the Q&A session on inter-communal business will be reviewed and discussed by relevant parties in order to produce actionable next steps in promoting, encouraging, and supporting bi-zonal entrepreneurship collaboration.
For context, we ran our first Inter-Communal Business Mixer in December of 2016 and crammed a humble attendance of 30 dedicated Cypriot entrepreneurs in the Home for Cooperation café in the Buffer Zone. The growth of this event proves the willingness and openness of Cypriots to cooperate in the spirit of business and entrepreneurship.
Lastly, CyprusInno co-founders Burak Doluay and Steven Stavrou participate in local and international consultations, helping shape policy regarding entrepreneurship and peace. Doluay attended the UN consultation on Youth, Peace, and Security and contributed to UN Resolution 2250. Stavrou attended the EU Commission’s Youth and Digitalization consultation in Estonia and contributed to youth policy. Throughout the year, CyprusInno supports and partners with entrepreneurship events and programmes island-wide with a variety of organizations, aiding them in making their initiatives more inter-communal and helping them reach a wider audience.
CyprusInno measures success in three ways. First, we measure success by engagement. This includes number of users, learners, event attendees, and more. Second, there is an economic benefit to success measured by the number of business collaborations we are able to achieve. The third is a social success metric measured by cross-border interactions. These initiatives described as part of our solution have led to new businesses, cross-border collaborations, and, most significantly, first-meetings between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the name of entrepreneurship. We also have witnessed a handful of success stories from Greek and Turkish Cypriots who met at our mixers for the first time and collaborated on their businesses or on a new business shortly thereafter.
CyprusInno has been recognized in various ways for its efforts over the last two years. In September of 2018, CyprusInno was named a Finalist in the European Youth Awards, a pan-European contest to motivate young people, social entrepreneurs, and start-ups to produce digital projects that will have an impact on society. The award demonstrates the finalists’ potential to create innovative solutions with Internet and Mobile technology addressing the goals defined by the Council of Europe and Europe 2020 as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the same month, CyprusInno co-founder Burak Doluay was named one of the 17 world UN Young Leaders (out of over 8,000 applicants), an outstanding distinction and a true testament to CyprusInno’s work in building peace through entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation, which through this honor the UN recognized as one of the significant examples of using innovative solutions to tackle the SDGs. Shortly after the UN announcement, both Burak and Steven, on behalf of CyprusInno, were awarded the Stelios Bi-Communal Award for promoting bi-communal cooperation and helping to establish lasting peace on our island of Cyprus. In June 2018, CyprusInno was selected as a “Good Practice” for the 2018 Symposium of the EU-CoE youth partnership focused on exploring the intersection between social inclusion of young people and digitalisation, reflecting especially on how digitalisation affects young people’s lives, and what the role of youth policy, youth work and youth research can be in this respect. Co-founder Steven Stavrou travelled to Estonia to present at the Fair of Good Practices.
Strong, Michael (2009), Peace through Access to Entrepreneurial Capitalism for All, 3 FLOW, Inc.