Startup destination: Asia

Asia is calling entrepreneurs from all over the world. Europeans come to Japan to attend Slush in Japan, exchange ideas in China as part of the manifold accelerators that are launched more or less on a monthly basis or dig deeper into the Indian startup community by joining the RISE crowd. In October 2016, I joined the special “Startup AsiaBerlin expedition” powered by the Senate of Berlin to “explore” the startup communities in Asia: Stop #1 Bangalore; Stop #2 Manila and Stop #3 Jakarta.

Stop #3: Wonderful Indonesia

Indonesia is known for the beautiful beaches in Bali — one of my favorite snorkeling spots — the exotic jungles with unexplored fauna, the rough weather that causes bumpy flights and the delicious food. One of the hidden treasures is the startup and the coworking community in Indonesia. On my trip, I talked with Faye Alund, President of Coworking Indonesia — Indonesia’s coworking national association, and Fajar Anugerah, coworking aficionado and Senior Partner at Kinara Indonesia, that gave me valuable insights.

Where to go?!

Besides the many well-known nomad hotspots spaces in Bali that are a few startup communities in Indonesia to consider: Check out Bandung, Depok, Yogyakarta, Semarang, Surabaya, Denpasar, Medan, Padang and Makassar too — a list of 20 spaces can be found here. Keep in mind that as cities and provinces in Indonesia are very diverse, entrepreneurs in these areas also focus in certain topics, e.g. many startups in Bali tackle social and tourism issues. This is not the case in Jakarta or Bandung. According to Faye, the different focus areas can also been seen in the coworking community: “For example, Kumpul in Bali has a mix of non-Indonesian and Indonesian and we have a lot of tech/IT. Kekini in Jakarta is very strong in social activism, art and culture, whilst Conclave is more into tech startup scene and Coworkinc is strong in social enterprises.”(more of these spaces can be found here). However, many communities are still quite young and — apart from Jakarta, Bandung and Surabaya — the ecosystem is not really established yet.

PS: Many Bali coworking spaces are frequented by digital nomads from the US, Australia, Europe and even South America. If you want to meet local entrepreneurs, you have to explore the coworking spaces in the other locations.

Whom to contact?

Indonesia’s startup community is moving fast. Local entrepreneurs that run the local startup communities can give you the best tips on spaces & events. Before or during your stay in Indonesia reach out to the following communities — Thanks, Fajar, for sharing many of these contacts!

Where to open up your “office”?

“Currently we list up to 60+ spaces in Indonesia. This includes coworking spaces, creative hubs, business incubators and makerspaces”, said Faye, President of Coworking Indonesia. There are new coworking spaces coming up in Indonesia more or less every month. “Many very early-stage digital startups use coworking spaces — either the ‘independent’ coworking spaces or the ones set up/managed by their investors since VCs in Indonesia now have tendency to have their own coworking space or dedicated office space designed in open space/coworking style”, explained Faye. However, in many smaller cities, people don’t know yet about the coworking concept and that coworking is one of the key elements in building startup ecosystem. If you travel there, it will be hard to find a coworking space — especially one with English speaking teams. According to Faye, many “organically grown startups” that are not nurtured by big VCs, still prefer to bootstrap and work from either available spaces in universities or from their living room. “But the trend is starting. More and more startups realize that working from coworking space can boost their growth significantly”, said Faye.

PS: If you want to open up a coworking space, Indonesia might be your place! According to the experts at Coworking Indonesia “Coworking spaces in Indonesia have a very big opportunity to shape the direction of the digital ecosystem, simply because the government of Indonesia has the ambition to establish Indonesia as the digital energy of South East Asia by 2020, and coworking spaces are seen to be one of the crucial elements in building the ecosystem.”

What will you benefit from?

Living in Indonesia is in many ways cheaper than living in Europe. A single ticket for public transport is only 0,28 Euro. Uber is available everywhere. You can buy an apartment in a major city for an average of 1,600 Euro/qm. However, in special expat areas, living can get expensive. To ensure that it is worth the trip, you should check out the co-working space you consider, since their services differ. Many spaces offer access to mentors as well as program building activities. In the existing spaces you can find peers with diverse & complimentary skills.

Rates of coworking membership vary from Rp. 15,000/day (1 Euro) in Padang to Rp. 250,000/day (approx. 18 Euro) in Jakarta or Bali. Monthly membership ranges from Rp. 300,000/month (21 Euro) in Bandung to Rp. 4,000,0000 (285 Euro) in Jakarta or Bali. However, according to Fajar and Faye you can also book “hours” and “days” separately.

If you are on a super-low budget, you should check out the spaces powered by municipalities and state-owned companies, e.g. in Bandung, Jakarta Smart City and Surabaya. As I learned from Fajar, Telkom for example opened a network of spaces called DiLo (=Digital Lounge) instantly in 17 cities. The central government is also reaching out to young companies, for instance with the space SMESCO supported by the Ministry of Cooperative & SME. The best: All of the spaces established by state-owned companies and government are not charging membership fee. The disadvantage: Some are in areas hard to reach and many do not offer programs and community support.

My 3 learnings from the trip?

  1. If you want to mix work and life, Indonesia truly is the place to be! Indonesia is at a turning point and exciting times are coming up.
  2. If you want to explore the Indonesian startup community, spend some time in the coworking spaces in Jakarta, where you can mingle with the most advanced local founders. But be aware that many hidden champions are probably working somewhere in their living room or at University.
  3. If you want to run a startup, you need patience! Even if you did your homework, you reached out to the local community, you found a cool co-working space, traffic in Indonesia can still ruin any perfectly set up plan.
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