Meet the Members: Emel, a Turkish Entrepreneur Expanding Her 25-Year Business Journey

Emel Şanlı.jpeg

Name: Emel Şanlı
Business: Healthy Food Production
LIFE Cohort: 4th Cohort, Mersin
Home Country: Turkey

Born and raised in Mersin, Turkish entrepreneur Emel initially started her business journey studying Business Management, but was unable to complete her degree. Instead, she started working for a logistics company where she worked long, consuming hours. The idea of running her own business was becoming more attractive by the day, and after losing her job because of the Gulf crisis in the 90s, she decided to pursue that goal. 

Her shop, which she manages along with her son, has now been in business for 25 years. 

Emel started out by making marmalade in her own kitchen. She had learned this skill from her mother and grandmother, who had carried family recipes with them when they came to Turkey from Syria. However, she soon learned that marmalade was not a very sustainable product since it was so dependent on seasonal changes. To diversify her business, she added Manti (a Turkish version of ravioli) and Içli Köfte (Turkish stuffed meatballs) to her product line.

"I joined the LIFE Project to know what was new in the entrepreneurship world,” says Emel. After 25 years as an entrepreneur, she used her time in the LIFE Project Entrepreneur Incubator to explore opportunities to expand and strengthen her business. “I believe I was in the right place at the right time joining this project and I want to use all the components that it has given me,” she added.

Emel also had the opportunity to meet fellow entrepreneurs from refugee communities in her home city. “I found it interesting that the project has both Turkish and Syrians entrepreneurs,” she says. The experience inspired her to think of ways she could support refugee entrepreneurs in their own business journeys: “Syrians are facing many hardships now. What I would like to do is gather my [Syrian] colleagues’ products under one roof and provide an outlet for them.” 

At first, Emel was skeptical about participating in the project during the pandemic since she was unable to benefit fully from the Food Enterprise Centre and the kitchen. However, she found the online Business Support Services very helpful, especially the advertising workshops and the opportunities to connect virtually with entrepreneurs in Istanbul.

Emel won seed funding in the fourth Mersin Business Pitch Competition, the LIFE Project’s first-ever virtual pitch event, for her idea to launch a product line focused on healthy baby food. She has already started to stock and prepare the necessary ingredients while researching different recipes, and plans to start marketing and selling her products in September. 

Emel plans to take advantage of the growing popularity of online businesses to market her products to a wide range of customers. She plans to sell and promote through Instagram and also start her own website, which will be available in both Turkish and Arabic.

For Emel, the LIFE Project was an opportunity to revitalize her entrepreneurial ambitions and grow her business. "The LIFE Project gave me motivation to continue strong. I think the best part of the project was the curriculum and the non-prejudiced environment that did not discriminate against me for being 60 years old. I was able to have the same opportunities alongside different entrepreneurs."

Emel’s advice for new entrepreneurs? "If you believe in yourself, start without doubts, don’t expect to become rich over one night, it is not an easy process, you need to face hardships and be realistic taking sure steps towards the accomplishment of your goal.”

Are you interested in Emel’s story or see potential in her business as an investor? Reach out to her directly on Instagram @piril_gida.