#Asia Op-Ed: Hey, investors: Indonesia can do with more innovation

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Sure, e-commerce is sexy, but putting all the eggs in this basket is a big mistake

Waiting for the day when we would believe in innovation again

Waiting for the day when we would believe in innovation again

When Bruce Bateman stated that the problem with Asian investors is that they put revenue before product, my first reaction was to pray that he is wrong.

Dear God, please show the world that Southeast Asian startups are on the forefront of innovation. Show them that our engineers can come up with a breakthrough product that will change the lives of millions and our investors are also forward-looking people with faith in new ideas.

Last week, Bank Mandiri became the latest Indonesian state-owned enterprise to jump into the tech startup scene by announcing Mandiri Capital, its very own venture capital. Before them, telco giant Telkom had been actively involved through its incubator and acceleration programme Indigo Incubator.

This is supposed to be a good news*, no? There are more channels for startups to pitch for and secure funding, and it is even better that these channels are backed by the government.

Hold on.

Did you see that small asterisk? Yes, it is there for a reason. For once, unlike the Terms and Conditions page that we all only pretend to read and agree with, please see what it gets to say below:

*Not really.

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Months ago, I was sitting for an interview with the founder of a Jakarta-based startup working in social business. The startup had just won a particular business competition, and, during our interview, the founder mentioned that they participated in as many competitions as they could to validate their business plan and expand networking.

Once the recorder stopped, she told me about that one time they took part in a competition backed by one of the country’s telco giants.

“One of the judges came up to us. He said that we have a great business plan. If it were up to him, we’d definitely get the funding. But he said the judges have to select something to do with mobile apps for their Top Five, since it’s a telco company,” she said. “So we can only go as far as being the finalist.”

It is also important to note that even though it has not even appointed a chairman for the company yet, Mandiri Capital has already made it clear that it will have a focus on startups related to e-commerce, particularly those working in payment gateways.

If this continues, then it will seriously impact innovation.

While engineers might have good intentions when developing their work, and the management team that backs them really wants to get the product out there for people to experience, they can never go far without the resources and support from investors.

If, from the start, investors already limit themselves by funding only something that is in hot demand, then it does not encourage startups to look into various issues in the country and build solutions for them.

Hell, yeah, there are plenty of issues in Indonesia for startups to look into.

Jakarta falls into a coma with its bi-annual flood every rainy season. Pekanbaru is paralysed everytime a forest fire happens, and it happens every year. Doctors are so hard to find in rural areas. Farmers are having difficulty competing with imported rice. Indonesian students tend to score lowest in the subject of Indonesian language in national examinations, despite speaking and dreaming in this language everyday.

There needs to be an app for any, and all, of these problems.

Also Read: Internet banking accounts in Korea reach 115 million

Being Indonesian, I will admit that one of our failings as a nation is that we are so into following trends. Nadiem Makarim became successful with his Go-Jek, and now everybody seems to be owning an ojek. And I swear I am going to faint the next time I hear that a new restaurant-finder app is being launched.

If we really want to move forward, we need to shift our follower mindset into a trendsetter mindset.

Investors can play a great role in shifting this mindset. Especially for investors who are backed by state-owned enterprises as they are perceived as the extension of the government. Surely, the government believes in building the nation. At least, I think so.

As said by Steven Vanada, VP of Cyber Agent Ventures, there are many white spaces in Indonesia. Let us make this space colourful. In order to do that, we need a complete set of crayons — not just red, even though the colour does look sexy.

The views expressed here are of the author, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested to share your point of view, please send us an email to writers[at]e27[dot]co

Image Credit: Anisa Menur

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