Hubud Co-founder Steve Munroe is definitely the go-to guy if you want to know about Balinese startup scene, as represented by the island province’s first coworking space, which he co-founded in 2013 with Peter Wall and John Alderson.
“A lot of people thought opening a coworking space in Bali is weird, why not open in Bandung or Jakarta? And why Ubud [a rural town with strong art community], and not Seminyak [bustling seaside city near the province capital]? [The answer is that] the community that tends to congregate in Ubud is a very creative, eclectic mix … with strong entrepreneurial sense,” he said.
Since inception, Hubud has been home to around 200 members comprising freelancers, remote staffs, and entrepreneurs in various fields. It routinely hosts events such as the Bali Startup Weekend, and initiated the founding of Eastern Indonesia Angel Network.
e27 chatted with Munroe to understand what is happening on the ground, and why startups have a greater opportunity to go international if they are operating in Bali.
Here are the edited excerpts:
How is the local startup scene in Bali right now?
It’s getting stronger all the time. Even one year ago, I would say it ws still very small. But it is really kind of growing and I feel like I’m hearing new things every day.
In Bali, there are more people working in the freelance economy. There are people working for startups that are based elsewhere, but in the last six to nine months, there are more and more people coming up. They liked the idea of being based in Bali, but as the ecosystem grows, it’s getting more viable.
It’s still quite young, still very dynamic, but it’s growing for sure.
What’s the unique strength of Balinese startup community compared to Jogjakarta and Bandung? Is it because there are more international players in the field?
I think so. And this is something I discussed with people in Indonesian government, industry, and businesses … Bali is a wonderful place where Indonesia meets the world. It’s a very strong brand internationally as a desired place, so you never have to invite people to come.
For a lot of people, if they’re not 100 per cent committed to Indonesia from other place, Jakarta or Jogja or Bandung is a little bit less accessible than Bali is. There’s a really interesting mix of things that are happening, and can happen between international and local startup community in Bali. It’s a stronger opportunity here than other places.
I’ve been looking at past events such as the Bali Startup Weekend and noticed that many of the participants are expatriates. In your experience, how strong is the participation of local entrepreneurs?
Still 50-50 … The tech startups folks at Hubud told us that we probably have the most international Startup Weekend events in the world. It’s not surprising looking at how we are in Ubud.
So we are gonna hold two [Startup Weekend events] instead of one in June with a focus on eco-tech and social-oriented projects. And we’ll probably hold one outside of Ubud … So maybe we can get different make-up between foreign and Indonesians.
With the Indonesians community, the startup community is stronger in Denpasar, [because] Ubud is a bit of a small town.
Perhaps we can have a stonger mix when we held it downtown.
Are we going to see the next Go-Jek coming from Bali anytime soon?
Good question! I think we’ll definitely see a lot higher quality tech startups coming out of Bali. Bali is not a smaller version of Jakarta, it’s its own unique place.
I’m always a bit reluctant to say ‘How do you make Bali [into] the next Silicon Valley? How do you make it into the Next Something?’
I don’t think Bali will make the Next Something; I think Bali will make the New Something [instead].
I have a feeling we might see more interesting things coming out of Bali, not just e-commerce.
Do you think there has to be special efforts from stakeholders – such as an affirmative action – to encourage stronger participation of local developers in Balinese tech startup community?
[You mean startups in Indonesia should do] like in my home country Canada, where companies need to hire a certain number of First Nation people? I guess my answer’s no. I certainly don’t know anyone here who is doing such thing.
I think what can and should be done is to promote ‘entrepreneurism’ and the tech scene to Balinese and Indonesian generally.
What would create a difference is a programme that encourages Balinese and Indonesians to know what’s out there and how to tap into it.
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