Brothers Moved From San Francisco to Ohio to Launch Walkway Startup

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with John Yuksel, 33, and Matine Yuksel, 29, two brothers who moved from San Francisco to Dubuque, Iowa, in 2020 to start Beltways, an accelerating walkway company. The brothers then moved to Cincinnati in 2022. Their company is based nearby in Northern Kentucky.

John: We’re children of immigrant parents who grew up in southern Arizona.

I’ve always known I wanted to be close to my brother. He’s my only sibling. We lived in San Diego for a few years after college, and then we moved to San Francisco in 2018.

Matine: San Francisco is amazing. It’s the most diverse environment I’ve been in, and it’s high-caliber for business, especially tech.

John: Matine was working for Walmart e-commerce and then later got a job with Apple. I was working as an attorney.

We were paying incredibly high rent but we had the best view, looking over the Pacific Ocean with the sunset in our windows each night.

But San Francisco was apocalyptic. During COVID, the streets were barren. It felt unsafe. I had my car broken into multiple times.

Matine: COVID helped us rethink and reprioritize things. Rather than work to release the next-generation iPhone, I wanted to make a new product that few people have ever heard of.

John: Beltways is really our father’s dream. Forty years ago, he was living in Istanbul and he realized today’s forms of mobility were not moving people efficiently. He thought up a modular design to make walkways 10 times faster.

John and Matine Yuksel with their parents.

John and Matine Yuksel with their parents.

Courtesy of John and Matine Yuksel

My brother and I always wanted to do something together and years after our father came up with the idea, we started looking into it.

Matine: We established Beltways in July 2020. We quickly realized we had to move out of San Francisco. It would have been way too expensive to do what we needed there.

John: It wasn’t the right place for our startup. We’re a big hardware manufacturing startup. It made a lot more sense to be near industrial clusters of technology. We wanted to be in the Midwest, where there’s still viability for manufacturing.

Matine: John met someone with experience in the walkway industry and he offered us a shop out in Iowa.

We moved to Dubuque, Iowa, in 2020

John: It was a very small town in the middle of the cornfields, an hour and a half from any airport. Dubuque is a beautiful, quiet town on the Mississippi River. We could drive anywhere in town in two minutes.

We basically lived in a mansion. We had a three-story, four-bedroom place for half the price of our condo in San Francisco.

Matine: The snow was definitely a change of pace. We got our fair share of workout shoveling.

It was a different way of life. We needed to be focused and Iowa was good because we didn’t have too many distractions. The two years we spent in Iowa went by very fast.

John and Matine Yuksel pose with their father in front of a Dubuque sign

The brothers said they had to adjust to small-town living after moving to Dubuque, Iowa.

Courtesy of John and Matine Yuksel

John: We built the prototype for the world’s fastest-moving walkway while we were living there. It was a hundred-foot-long system and it got us our first VC check.

That was a big milestone for us. We put all our money into this company. We left stable jobs. We refinanced our home. There’s been nothing more fulfilling than making our father’s invention something commercial.

Matine: It was a surreal day when he came out and rode the system for the first time. It was the icing on the cake to see his excitement standing on something he thought up so many years ago.

John: We needed to start scoping out the next spot for our company. The next step was to pilot our walkway. We were invited by several airports to do a pilot demo of our system.

We knew CVG Airport in Cincinnati had a real track record of innovation and taking care of startups. The area was also advantageous for manufacturing. It’s super cheap. The facility we’re currently in is only a little more expensive than my rent in San Francisco, and this is 20,000 square feet.

We moved to Cincinnati in 2022

John: We even moved our parents out here, too. We wanted our father to work with us and be part of the company in person. Our parents live three floors below us in our building in the Mount Adams neighborhood.

Moving to Cincinnati felt like we were back in a big city after two years in Iowa. We have major sports teams and a large hub airport. It’s a much more temperate climate.

The winters have been pretty mild so far. The spring is lush and green. You can kayak down the rivers, and there are amazing trails nearby. The air quality is great. And the summers aren’t 120 degrees like they were in Arizona.

I met my partner, and now I have a child that was born here in Cincinnati. The city has become home for us. The company is here, the whole family is here.

John and Matine Yuksel enjoy a football game in Cincinnati.

John and Matine Yuksel enjoy a football game in Cincinnati.

Courtesy of John and Matine Yuksel

We miss life on the coast sometimes. California is a beautiful place. We love that climate and the diversity of people. San Francisco is where tech starts and bleeds out from. It’s really the birthplace of a lot of amazing stuff.

Matine: But Cincinnati’s tech scene has also been very good to us. It’s growing. It’s a close-knit startup community. From the moment we got here, the community has been so welcoming.

John: And it’s a lot cheaper here.

Bringing our father’s dream to life has been incredible

Matine: We started Beltways in a humble garage in Tucson, where my brother built prototypes himself. Now, we’re in a 20,000-square-foot facility here in Northern Kentucky, right next to our first airport customer. And we’re US-made.

John: Our goal is to become an official partner of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics to provide temporary high-speed conveyance.

Cincinnati is a great place to raise a family and have a business. We see ourselves staying for the foreseeable future.

But our ultimate goal is to make our walkways commonplace and spread this technology around the world. So wherever we have to go to make that possible, we will. This is bigger than us.

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