Executive Director Indra Purnama second from left

Last year, Telkom announced plans to build 20 digital valleys to help boost the IT-based creative industry in Indonesia. With digital valleys in Bandung and Yogyakarta already established as pilot facilities, which included co-working spaces, incubators and programs to bridge economic gaps, how have they fared over the years?

We met with Indra Purnama (pictured above second from left), Executive Director of Bandung Digital Valley (BDV), to find out what’s transpired since their 2012 launch.

Each year, BDV‘s Indigo Incubator looks to add 30 startups to it’s five-month-program which runs from June to November. What Purnama revealed during our interview, was telling of the pursuits of Indonesian entrepreneurs.

Although the program fielded 600 applications this year, only 15 startups were selected. Purnama said that there was a number of reasons why they didn’t fill their quota: Applications were lacking in terms of quality of ideas, competency of founders and the product fit with Telkom’s main business.

Indonesian entrepreneurs can be non-committal

“One of the major issues in Indonesia is the commitment. It seems like for startup founders, they have many options for their careers and it is quite difficult for us to convince them that being a startup founder is one of the most promising paths for the future,” he said and furthered that would-be entrepreneurs in Indonesia have that ‘fear of missing out’ syndrome where they don’t want to lose other opportunities such as a well-paying corporate gig.

“In Indonesia, they go to work for big companies while trying to do a startup, and if there is an opportunity for the startup to grow bigger and join an incubator, it still seems difficult for them to leave their full-time job.”

Based on Purnama’s observations in its third year of running the Indigo Incubator, is that Indonesian founders are plagued with the ‘entrepreneur’s curse,’ — they juggle too many promising projects at once.

He also revealed that it’s common for Indonesian entrepreneurs to build a service-focused business and also develop products on the side. While it’s a good strategy while bootstrapping your startup, the entrepreneur is unwilling to let go of their primary business to dedicate full-time to their prouct.

To counter this, the Indigo Incubator runs an education series focused on entrepreneurship on pertinent topics like ‘Focus and Commitment.’ These courses happen concurrently with BDV’s incubation programs which Purnama stressed — only accepts startups that are run by full-time entrepreneurs.

BDV's co-working space

BDV’s co-working space

And for those that are ready to commit, the opportunity is huge due to the sheer size of the market. Unlike startups in Singapore that need to think global from day one, Indonesian startups can test their product on a market of 240 million people before looking at neighboring countries. Purnama said one of the things he and the Indigo Incubator mentors always tell their startups is to tackle the local market first before looking to expand.

Running Bandung Digital Valley like a startup

As the other digital valleys continue to be developed, they’ll look to Bandung as an example on what works, and what doesn’t. As with all startups, even government ones, it’s necessary to pivot products when they fail. And that can be said with the BDV Bridge program, which was intended to connect market demand with startup solutions from Indigo Incubator. The program failed to take off simply because they had jumped the gun before laying the groundwork.

“BDV Bridge was not a successful program, but we’re looking to build another with a similar approach. The idea was to connect the demand with the supply,” said Purnama. “We initiated the program too early, so we didn’t have a strong connection to the market that time, but now we have the relationships built through the Telkom Group.”

As Telkom is a full-service network provider that targets the consumer, residential and business market, they’re looking to BDV to match them with startups that are related to their wide range of segments. Purnama said that every year, Telkom targets a different market which dictates the types of startups that Indigo Incubator accepts.

On top of the Indigo Incubator and BDV Bridge version 2.0, Telkom has also been developing Digital Innovation Lounges which targets very early stage startups. These lounges will be run as pre-incubation programs, like Founder Institute, which helps ready startups for a full-scale incubator.

As they focus on nurturing very early stage startups, it seems that the work is cut out for Purnama and his team to get newbie entrepreneurs to first realise the value in putting all their eggs in one basket.

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