The Rise of the Tech Start-Ups in Indonesia

By webadmin on 08:57 am Aug 04, 2011
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Shirley Christie

The Indonesian start-up community StartupLokal established itself as an entity about two weeks ago.
The community was started in April last year as a medium to gather start-up founders, tech enthusiasts, investors and the media, and has grown to become a prominent networking event. I got the chance to learn more about what its initiators’ have in mind for the upcoming years.

A year ago, the digital start-up scene in Indonesia was not as “bright” and “promising” as a lot of people say it is nowadays. Today, even world-class Internet executives like Google’s Eric Schmidt say the country is full of potential and is ready to take off. A BBC survey by international polling firm GlobeScan and the University of Maryland last May found Indonesia to be the most entrepreneur-friendly of the 24 countries surveyed. It was ahead of the United States, India, China and Australia. It also had the most people, 85 percent, saying their country valued innovation and creativity.

However, before StartupLokal was established, many budding entrepreneurs like Satya Witoelar were struggling alone to develop their creative businesses. Satya was one of those early participants at StartupLokal’s meet-ups. In May, the Jakarta-based start-up community received its first international exposure when Satya and the other co-founders of Koprol accepted an acquisition offer from US Internet search provider Yahoo. It may have been only a fraction of the $100 million that Yahoo offered to the world’s hottest location-based start-up at that time, Foursquare, but the deal created a domino effect for the whole industry.

An average of between 200 and 335 people participate on each StartupLokal meet-up and the community is always open to everyone. It is free of charge and even provides meals for the attendees. “The job of the initiators is to make sure these meet-ups are going consistently to keep the passion of local start-ups alive. We will ask competent speakers to share their knowledge on particular subjects,” said Natali Ardianto, one of the initiators.

When I met all four initiators — Aulia Halimatussadiah, Natali Ardianto, Nuniek Tirta and Sanny Gaddafi — earlier this year, I remember how enthusiastic they were about the community, despite the fact that they had to survive on a monthly sponsorship and borrow other entities’ names to be able to receive sponsorship money. “We had been wanting to establish a foundation called Yayasan Startup Indonesia since October last year, but somehow the plan did not become reality,” Natali told me recently. “Making a PT turned out to be faster and safer for us because we are already familiar with it,” he explained.

Natali said StartupLokal needed do do this because it did not want to continue depending on sponsors’ money to support its operations. “PT StartupLokal is more or less like our ‘cashcow’ to realize our target faster,” he said.

The quartet also found their way to create an incubator or accelerator for start-up entrepreneurs. One of the initiators, Sanny, decided not to continue his role as StartupLokal’s initiator and developed a boot camp for entrepreneurs called “Founder Institute” with two partners. The training center is a franchise from the United States. The other three initiators set up an accelerator center called Project Eden. “StartupLokal owns some shares in Project Eden and one of our revenue streams would come from the minority shares we get from the start-ups,” Natali said, adding that the initiators also plan to establish an investment firm in the future.
The idea of creating an incubator was inspired by StartupLokal’s visit to Dublin, Ireland, last March. During the trip, they learned a bit how to create a conducive environment for start-up entrepreneurs.

Project Eden is currently selecting several promising Indonesian start-ups and will start “incubating” the first batch this September. It will provide mentoring, access to capital, as well as office space in Central Jakarta’s strategic Menteng area.

A creative space like Ireland’s “Digital Hub”, which has attracted local and foreign digital tech firms to set up office there, also inspired StartupLokal to create a “hackerspace” (not in the literal meaning).
“There has been talks with someone who owns a 400-square-meter space in South Jakarta,” Natali said, without providing details. He said they were still exploring the plan.

For now, StartupLokal’s initiators are managing this year’s Pesta Blogger (Blogger Party), an annual national conference previously meant only for the blogger community in Indonesia.

“Business players are becoming more aware of the importance of online media. We want to bring together bloggers as well as business owners so that they can collaborate,” said Aulia Halimatussadiah, the chairwoman of this year’s Pesta Blogger.

The series of Pesta Blogger events will start this month and include competition for “new era teachers,” a workshop themed “Ideas Meet Opportunities” in 10 major cities nationwide, talk shows and discussions. For its two-day conference in October, the event will invite bloggers, government officials, experts and members of the business community to discuss the potential of blogs to work across different platforms. Last year, Pesta Blogger attracted no less than 1,600 participants.

“Our goal for the road show is to create ‘spark’ in places like Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, so that they can develop their own community in the future,” explained Natali, who is going to help Aulia as deputy chairman. The event will be supported by the US Embassy, which has been a keen supporter of entrepreneurial spirit.

With support from many institutions, including the government, I am sure that tartupLokal will continue to carry out its mission to create a better ecosystem for Indonesian technopreneurs.