Eileen Kamtawijoyo: COO & Co-Founder of Populix

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Eileen Kamtawijoyo. I am the co-founder and COO at Populix. I met with my co-founder, Timothy when we were studying at the University of Cambridge. I was doing my master’s and he was doing his PhD. When I went back for good, I worked at Djarum’s new business initiative, which is their fast moving consumer goods company. Since there were a lot of product concepts that needed to be tested, I found out how market research in Indonesia is very costly and inefficient. Not only does it take a very long time, but the data quality is lacking as well.

When Timothy came back to Indonesia for good, I had already been working with Djarum group for around two years. We were just sharing ideas and brainstorming together, and he was telling me about the advancements made in academic research abroad. Suddenly, we thought maybe there was something we could do to solve the problems here in Indonesia’s market research space.

Around three to six months after the initial conversations that we had, we jumped in and started the journey of building Populix together. Populix itself has been established since December 2017, but we just started running operationally in January 2018. During the 9 months of Populix’s existence, there have definitely been many ups and downs. However, everything has been very worthwhile; so many learnings took place that forced us to stretch beyond our comfort zones and beyond our capabilities imagined.

Populix is a technology-enabled research startup. We are building a consumer insights platform that bridges companies and survey participants. Participants can come onto our platform, register themselves, and fill out their data: their age, their income level, where they live, etc. They are then rewarded every time they participate in a study. Meanwhile, researchers also come onto our platform looking for participants of their target market. They can conduct the survey and have real-time data analysis in their dashboard. In the future, researchers can also buy off-the-shelf data sets from our library or subscribe to these reports on a periodic basis.

What did you find the most challenging as a first-time entrepreneur?

Back then, we were both effectively managing directors, because literally we were managing everything from the very little things to grander things like strategy of the company. You begin to remember the things that you took for granted when you were working in a big company, and you finally realize how much effort it takes to create your own thing. You won’t realize it until you experience it for yourself.

Another challenge was in terms of skill sets. I needed to learn a bit more about finance; back then, I really had no professional experience on finance. So I took some online courses and watched YouTube to teach myself. It’s important so that at least you can have some sort of a financial statement for you to present to the venture capitalists and stakeholders you’re sharing it with when you’re fundraising.

And then there was product development. Timothy and I are both not really tech people. We really have to try our hardest, even up until now, to learn how to communicate with developers, familiarizing ourselves with the different programming languages that we should use, and the reasons why.

We’re still learning as we go. It’s been difficult, no doubt.

What makes you want to continue being an entrepreneur, then?

Well, I’ve always wanted to become an entrepreneur. I feel like it’s so much more rewarding; when you see something that you created yourself — your own vision — coming to life, it gives you a deep sort of satisfaction within yourself. It’s truly rewarding.

And the deeper I go on this journey, I feel that same rewarding sense. It’s just a matter of setting up a strong mentality from the get-go. After all, it’s going to be tough. But you just need to persist. You just need to persevere.

What do you look for in a good co-founder?

I think what makes a good founder is that first you need to know what are the skill sets that you already have — what are your strengths? With the other co-founder, you want to have him or her fill in the gaps or weaknesses that you have, so that you can complement each other. For example, maybe I have more of a reserved personality, while Timothy is more confident. It balances well when we meet with investors or when we are presenting our startup.

What’s more, you both must really believe in this idea. At the end of the day, everyone is going to be against you — even your family and friends. This is vital since there will be times when you may be questioning yourself as to why you are doing this, and to have that someone who can keep rooting for the idea and to keep up the momentum will help you push on.

How is it like to be a female founder? Any advantages or challenges?

So far, it’s been good. I believe that in any organization it’s good to have a balance between males and females because diversity brings richer discussion and richer perspective.

I feel it’s actually advantageous to be a female founder in a way; whenever I was applying for our startup to pitch in competitions, for example, it always have women founders are strongly encouraged to apply, something like that.

I also know that there’s also a lot of organizations who actually are supporting startups with female founders. For example, in the US, you have Melinda Gates setting up an institution to fund women founders. So I think in a way it’s good. I don’t feel like any discrimination or whatsoever. I actually feel encouraged because women are being seen and supported now.

How was it like to be a female employee versus being a female startup founder ?

Perhaps, I just share a bit of my experience. After graduating from my Bachelor’s degree, I was working at Campbell’s Soup in the US, as R&D (research and development). Our CEO was female. It was really empowering for me to see how females can hold such important roles and leadership positions.

And then when I was doing my masters, I found a lot of female PhD candidates, working on amazing and groundbreaking theses.

So, I felt far more encouraged after these experiences than when I was younger. I grew up in a traditional Chinese family, where women are not necessarily encouraged into leadership positions. For instance, higher education and completing a PhD may not be recommended by my parents, since it may result in difficulty finding a spouse. Nevertheless, I feel my journey has been truly blessed, since I am constantly surrounded by many strong female personalities that all encourage me to follow my pursuits.

Do you have any role models?

I don’t have just one per se. I really like Jack Ma; he is really someone who went from zero to one hundred, making it super big. It makes me think that you can’t complain. Like this guy has been through worse. At least I have the advantage of education and having a supportive family. So what’s my excuse? I also really respect his grit and his tenacity of never giving up. He always shares stories of how he pitched countless times, got rejected, but kept on going. I really admire that of him.

Where do you want to be in 10 years?

I really want to make more of an impact, not just in terms of business but also social impact. Maybe I can assume a role in the government sector. Who knows? I want to be a part of shaping Indonesia for the better, for future generations to come.

Do you have any advice for other young women who are looking to start their own ventures or dive into entrepreneurship ?

My personal advice is to first find out what your passion is. It may sound cliché but there are going to be tough times ahead, so you need to really enjoy what you do. Then, really just dive into it since I believe that if you have the will, you will find a way.

And of course, putting in all the hard work, the long hours, and having the curiosity to keep learning is vital. Since there are so many things that we will never know, you need to constantly have that hunger to continuously learn. And meet a lot of people, because you will learn a lot from them. Ask for their advice – don’t be scared to ask questions. In a nutshell, be a lifetime learner, network a lot, and continually persist.  

Gitta Amelia: Founder & General Partner at EverHaüs

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Gitta Amelia. I am the founding partner of EverHaüs, a digitally-native venture capital company established in November 2017. We are a millennial-first team and our mission is to empower a new generation of entrepreneurs. I am a Venture Capitalist because I love how venture capital is the first financing product that levels off the playing field and gives people a chance to become entrepreneurs, regardless of biology or background.

At EverHaüs we’re focused on early stage investments, which we call our core investments. For these investments, we are hands-on investors. This is different from our non-core investments – which are typically participations in larger or foreign deals – where we partake as a silent shareholder. The reason why we are focused here is because we know this market very well, given our roots in Frontier Market Research in Indonesia. We believe that with the help of our partners and our other limited partners (LPs), we’re specially suited to help our portfolio here. We also take an ecosystem approach and are big on synergies. If an investment comes to the table where we feel like it could really synergize with all of our portfolios, then we give those opportunities a little more weight.

When we first started, we decided to enter the early stage because we sensed that a fund creep was happening, where a lot of the funds are getting larger and writing larger checks for later-stage deals. The first and second wave of Indonesian funds are now series B and pretty much focus on growth equity. When we first established ourselves, our brand recognition grew quickly just over the course of one year — the reason being because there aren’t many investors left at this age. As a result, our deal flow is very strong.  

My investment journey actually started four years before I founded EverHaüs. I was angel investing with my father. EverHaüs was established as an independent vehicle because I truly believe these startups need the right kind of support to succeed, independent of a corporate agenda. At the early stage, we must support the founder’s vision and mission when you invest in them.

What excites you about the Indonesian market? What investment opportunities exist?

From Frontier, we’ve built a very strong foundation in terms of our B2B relationships in this market. What’s exciting about Indonesia is that many traditional companies here understand the growing importance of the digital economy but have a hard time either targeting digital natives or transforming their company to go digital. So, investing in small teams is exciting because we have a vision of the future that involves these passionate teams.

From what I’ve seen over the past year – being very much on the ground and having heard likely over 500 startup pitches – I think there is indeed a new generation of Indonesian entrepreneurs sprouting up. The opportunity is always there; it depends where you look for it. On a macroeconomic standpoint, I do believe that we are about eight years behind China. We see that GDP per capita is exactly the same today as China’s eight years ago: that is, US$13,500. Mobile penetration is at similar levels. The same kinds of problems that we’re facing in Indonesia are the same as China’s eight years ago, such as financial inclusion.

About five months ago, I was in Hangzhou as an advisor to the Alibaba e-fellowship program. During the two weeks in the Alibaba Headquarters, everything that we believed about China and Indonesia, such as the time gap between the two markets, were confirmed for me.

Mirroring China’s generations of startups, you’ll see a lot of unicorns that will pop up in Indonesia playing a supporting role to the online economy very soon.

You mentioned the profile of the typical Indonesian entrepreneur is changing. What is that like now versus before?

So I think one thing will always stay the same: a startup founder needs to have this kind of “Wolf Spirit.” You can see it in their eyes and the way they talk about their space. That will never change, and it can come from anyone. No matter what your background is, no matter what gender you are, you need that spirit to succeed.

I think what’s changing is that entrepreneurs are becoming a lot smarter. They can spot opportunities a lot better and understand what investors want to hear. In the first wave of startups, founders are obviously going to be focused on more platform models. But nowadays, due to the strength of the platforms, you can think about things that play a more supportive role for these platforms or can grow together with existing platforms.

I believe in Indonesia, we are only at the beginning of a transformation.

How is the gender diversity of your portfolio?

Since November 2017, we’ve closed 10 deals, both core and non-core investments. Out of those deals, we have one portfolio with two female founders. I would love to have more female entrepreneurs in our portfolio but at the end of the day, it boils down to more than gender, because we look at the composition of the team and whether or not they have that wolf spirit. I believe that one of the reasons EverHaüs has to exist is to bridge this gender imbalance in the market. I don’t think we will get there by being idealistic, however. At the top of the funnel, it’s still very much male which translates down to our portfolio as well.

Female entrepreneurs tend to tackle female problems, and female problems are just as real as any other problem. We’re 50 percent of the population, and that’s a sizable market. Not to mention that consumer spending is still very much held by females. It’s usually larger than male consumer spending, and that’s true for most parts of the world. So I definitely want to see more female entrepreneurs. I think female entrepreneurs can be rest assured that when they are coming to EverHaüs, we do our best to understand what they’re trying to achieve.

Why do you think women are struggling so hard to find fundraising?

I don’t think it’s a matter of, “Is she competent?” It’s more like, a voice in the back of your head saying, “she has other commitments,” and one of the things that all VCs champion is the fact that your startup “has to be your life and breath.” VCs don’t like part-time founders or founders with other commitments.

But I think that besides work, we are all humans and as humans, we also have other priorities besides contributing to the economy. There is a bias towards thinking that males will prioritize their work more than females. This kind of stigma trickles down towards a lot of the seed-level investors as well, who say, “If I invest in this particular startup founder who happens to be a female, I’m not quite sure if she can raise series A or series B capital.” As an investor, you don’t want your startup to run dry.

The second issue is that I think a lot of females are tackling very female problems. A lot of them I see are going into things like fashion retail or maternity, which may be difficult for them to explain to a male VC. A male VC might not be able to understand the world that they’re trying to put forward. And it comes with all of these assumptions as well. So a lack of female representation in a fund’s investment committee is a another issue on its own.

Speaking of male and female VCs, I think you’re one of the only people I know who is female and in a high leadership position in a VC, and the only female co-founder and partner of a fund. Why do you think there aren’t as many female VCs in leadership roles, and how do we get more of them into these roles?

I think that women will face challenges regardless of industry or position. It’s true that the climate in finance is sexist and I get a lot of challenging questions. I think you just have to have really thick skin at the end of the day and not worry so much about what others will think of you. Instead, define yourself by your principles and your values.

Be that principled person. I have a couple of principles that I hold on to such as add value wherever you go, be humble, and respect everyone no matter what. Here at Everhaüs, we start off team meetings by reciting our values to remind ourselves that every interaction with a colleague, investor, or founder has to be value-adding. And that’s the kind of person that you start defining yourself as — not on the basis of your gender. When you hold onto those things as opposed to your gender, then I think you can really go further. It’s a lot about changing the mindset. And while it may be difficult to change everyone’s mindset, you could at least start by changing your own.

While there have been challenges as a female leader in the VC space, have there been any benefits as well?

Plenty. First of all as a female VC, you are in a unique position to make a difference and draw like-minded females towards the space.

Secondly, I think that women may have a greater tendency to develop more empathy. Venture capital is a very people-centric business. I studied finance but being in a VC is only 20 percent finance. 80 percent really is about connecting with people, understanding them and their motivations. For a lot of our core startups – we want to be their first call that they make if they run into a problem. And I think that’s one of the things that really makes me happy when I think about it, because it just shows that the relationships that we create with our startups go far more than just providing capital.

Has anyone ever imposed some kind of glass ceiling onto your ambitions?

There are always glass ceilings out there, but they’re glass. You can always break them.

The ones that are not glass are the ones that you create inside your head.

What’s the most rewarding thing about your line of work and your career? Has there ever been one moment in your career that has affirmed and validated everything?

There’s so many people in this world, and having the opportunity to talk to so many people and hear such diverse viewpoints is immensely rewarding. Such as meeting Jack Ma. (laughs)

Being in leadership position means that naturally, people ask what is the best thing about leading your company. I think startup founders and other kinds of leaders can basically attest to this when I say that the best thing is seeing people grow under your leadership. I have a very small team, but I think I’m so blessed that they’ve stuck around all this time. You also see good people become better; that’s what a good company culture does to you.

So I think that’s hands down the most rewarding thing about being in a leadership position. It’s looking back and seeing the impact you’ve had on the people inside of your own company.

Do you have any role models?

One of my role models is my mother. She was an entrepreneur and self-proclaimed soft-skill expert. I didn’t climb up a corporate ladder to get to EverHaüs. So that means being in a leadership position was essentially like being shoved off a cliff. Some hand larger than life pushed me and now I must fly. I get regular breakfast with my mother where I ask for her advice. Having been a management consultant for many companies and large corporations, she tells me stories of great corporate practices. I learned how to build Standard Operational Procedures from her. So even though we’re a very small company and still a very small team, our SOP is what sets us apart. I put a lot of time into investing into our defensibility to build a culture and minimize bias. Even though we’re small right now, there might be a time where we’re not going to be small anymore. So we need to be able to be ready for that. And I think investing in that means investing in the future. My mother has played a huge role in giving me this thinking.

Where do you want to be 10 years down the line?

I always say that I want to be a Limited Partner in my own fund. That’s the goal 10 years from now. My hope is that EverHaüs becomes the trusted partner for any new team out there and can continue to real add value to our economy. I think only God knows where it will be 10 years from now. But as I mentioned to you before, I think there is no real ceiling to our growth. And so we’re going to keep on moving forward.  

Do you have any advice for other young women who are looking to become fund managers or join the investment side of the startup world?

It’s going to be a place dominated with men, so be sure to strap on some very, very high heels. And I think the other thing is, don’t think too much about the challenges. If you do that, you’re only going to hold yourself back.

At the same time, be very strategic about it in terms of knowing your cards. Try to know everybody else’s cards, too. Every step that you make needs to have an intentionality that you must be able to defend. Because you’re going to need that kind of compass. There’s going to be many distractions people telling you that you cannot do something. So as long as in your mind you are clear with your goal, you can make sound judgements and execute accordingly.

ANGIN Women’s Spotlight: 50 Stories, 50 Woman Leaders in Indonesia

ANGIN Women’s Spotlight is proud to publish our 50th story highlighting the achievements and addressing the challenges of female leaders in Indonesia. To commemorate our milestone, we are releasing a mini-report detailing our project thus far. The report combines our project data with insights from Connector.ID’s data analysis to draw insights on the Indonesian entrepreneurial ecosystem through a gender lens. Check the report out now!

To nominate an outstanding woman for woman’s spotlight, kindly fill in the nomination form.  All partnership requests and collaborations may also be sent to Meredith at meredith@angin.id.

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Disclaimer: The data in the report is based on applicants who have submitted fundraising requests via ANGIN and Connector.ID. It is largely self-reported data or data based on the information provided from individual pitch decks. 

Anda Sapardan: Co-Founder of Sehati & TeleCTG

Can you state your name, your position, and your company?

My name is Anda Waluyo Sapardan. I’m the cofounder of Sehati & TeleCTG and in charge of the operations of the company. I’ve been in the medical industry for over 12 years. I’ve managed hospitals before, and I’ve worked in a general hospital as well as a maternity hospital – hospitals specially for women and children. Sehati and TeleCTG are products of passion — it all started from our concern with the quality of health of the next generation of Indonesia actually.

First of all, we are lucky that we have all the things that we need. We get access to information and to hospitals and healthcare. Not many Indonesians have that opportunity. So our concern is about how to provide equal opportunity — at least for information and for access to good maternal healthcare. And that’s where Sehati and TeleCTG come in.

Sehati and TeleCTG are technology solutions to track and monitor the first thousand days of human life. What we do are promotive and preventive measures. We try to provide early detection and warning of risk factors that could cause maternal death, infant death, as well as help to prevent stunting from the very beginning. A happy and healthy pregnancy is the right of every woman. Every woman should experience a very calming and happy pregnancy, since it can affect the outcome of birth and of the woman’s own life.

With technology, it’s easier for people to access information; even in remote areas, as long as you have Internet connection you can gain access. However, technology or innovation won’t reach its optimum utilization if we don’t empower humans themselves. So we tap into that as well.

What inspired you to start your own venture? What made you want to create something of your own?

It’s a bit crazy, because actually my husband and I, we sacrificed quite a lot to start this. We already had a stable income, stable jobs, everything we could have asked for. But the feeling of personal responsibility was too great. The rate of stunting in Indonesia is quite high. It’s like 37 percent of all the children. Just imagine the social burden of our own kids in 10 or 20 years from now. I gave birth to my eldest at a very young age. I was 19 at that moment and I experienced a wonderful pregnancy. And we feel that everybody should have that kind of experience. We feel that family planning and good monitoring during pregnancy is crucial. So that’s actually what really drove us to do this, why we chose to start our own business rather than continue working at the hospital. If we just worked at the hospital, then only the patients of that hospital will get any benefit. By doing this, we can reach far more people.

Have you faced any challenges as a female entrepreneur?

Not at the moment. Not really. It’s just that now I’m in the tech industry, and there are not too many women involved in this field. But it’s a good learning process. Actually, being a female should not deprive you or limit you from being an entrepreneur. As long as you have good intentions and and are willing to work your ass off, I think it is manageable.

Speaking of the lack of female entrepreneurs in the tech space, is that also true of the healthcare space as well?

Actually no, there are many women involved in healthcare. Our aim is to reshape how health services are being provided. Our long term vision is to make community-based healthcare and empower midwives, who are our partners in doing all of this. In Indonesia, midwives are all women, so in the healthcare industry, many women are involved.

What challenges do women face in Indonesia in obtaining quality healthcare and a positive birth experience?

For a positive birth experience there are multiple factors involved, from access to good healthcare to social factors such as a good relationship with your support system. And then there are financial factors. Having access to good information actually really helps; sometimes women who are pregnant have very wild imaginations and worry a lot. For many it is their first time and they are not sure of what to expect. If we can provide good and accurate information, then it would help them to understand the process and calm their nerves. I can say that because that’s what we experienced while we were managing a hospital in South Jakarta.

Sehati and TeleCTG opens access to information for not only mothers but midwives as well. We have three programs for midwives: financial empowerment, knowledge, and skills. From the financial side, we have already deployed one kiosk. We call it Kiosk Sehati for midwives due to their need for increased welfare. One midwife has already expressed that it’s really helped her in her life.

We teach the midwives how to use our technology. It’s really not easy because getting them to fill all the data and forms with the Sehati application rather than manually can be quite challenging. But once they know how to do it, it can really help optimize their work. At the end of the month, they usually have to give a report to the government using our application. That report can be automatically done via our app. So by the end of the month so they don’t have to go through the data manually for the report.

We created the kiosk not only to increase midwives’ welfares but also improve their livelihoods. The kiosks are equipped with a screen, Internet access, and a stove. We hope it can be a hub for people around the kiosk to get more information from the midwives, and provide educational videos through the kiosk screen. We’re already seeing good progress. Many children are coming to the kiosk and viewing the videos. The kiosk also helps to benefit the surrounding economy. Because there are many people coming to the kiosk, some entrepreneurial people – mostly mothers who live in the neighborhood – cook foods like meatballs, tofu, and fried dough and put their food into the kiosk to be sold. So there’s something like a sharing economy going on around that kiosk as well.

Why does empowering women matter in the first place?

There’s this saying that once you empower one mother or one women, you empower a lot of people behind them. Mothers are the pillar of a family, so once they are content and happy, I think all the people around them – the husband, the kids – will benefit as well. I think women really run the family, so it’s absolutely essential that they have their own income, that they are financially empowered, so they can also help the family to provide.

How is it like to be an entrepreneur while also having a family as well?

Being an entrepreneur is different from working for a company because you really have to think about all the details. Actually it is very good because then you will help a lot of people to find work and create jobs. But that also comes with a very big responsibility. Luckily our four children are already grown up; I started being an entrepreneur about three years ago. While my children were growing up, I was still working in a company. So, I didn’t have to face a challenge in that aspect.

How is it like to co-found a startup with your husband?

Up to this moment, it has been really good because we come from the same background. First of all, we have the same passion. And because we are married, we have more time to discuss our startup. While it’s not too good for our personal lives – because all we talk about sometimes is work – it’s been good so far.

Did you ever have a low moment in your entrepreneurial journey? One where you thought, “Oh my gosh, what did I get myself into?”

It happened a year after we started all this. Ours is in medical technology and it’s really not an easy thing to do. First of all, not many investors in Indonesia understand how the healthcare industry goes. I mean, it’s not a quick game. And our product involves both an application and hardware. TeleCTG is a medical device. It’s the first of its kind in Indonesia. So the challenges really were quite big. There were so many regulations, so much paperwork we had to fill. It’s very costly.

We started this business with our own money, so when we hit a point where we didn’t have any more resources to be allocated to the business, we really felt like, “Oh my God, why are we doing this?” It’s so crazy because there are quite a few people who said that we are a crazy couple. But I really believe what Elon Musk said, that if you believe in something, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.

So we kept going, and at our lowest point somehow the gates opened. I’m not saying that what we are pursuing is noble, but we are doing this with the intention of the good of the people. And so the gates just opened everywhere.

And has there been a moment in your entrepreneurial career where you thought, “I’m so happy I did this. This is the path for me”?

With every bit of progress we make, I feel that. I’m happy because I know to start this is not easy. Just to see our team happy doing their job. They are extremely dedicated. I don’t know how this happened, but somehow all the people that came to work on our team have the same passion. Some even chose to work with us with a lower salary than their previous jobs. We have a very good team, and that makes me happy. Secondly, when the midwives we work with tell us that what we do really helps them — the online classes, the kiosk, and how we facilitate everything — those are really good moments for me.

Lastly, do you have any advice for other young women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?

Being an entrepreneur is a challenging path. But if you really believe in yourself and your capabilities, and if you possess a strong mentality, I believe you can do it. But it’s not easy. You really have to work hard. Secondly, it depends on what industry you want to get into. Make sure you know the regulations and you have the right network before you start everything. And definitely make sure you have enough resources and financial capabilities. Finally, please do this because you have a cause. Do it all with passion and love. It is not easy work, so you will need to believe in this cause to make it through.

Arum K. Putri: Investment Analyst at Openspace Ventures

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Arum. I’m an investment analyst at Openspace Ventures, covering our Indonesian operations through deal sourcing and execution, as well as managing our existing portfolio companies such as HaloDoc and Sale Stock. Openspace Ventures is a Singapore-based venture capital fund investing in Southeast Asian tech-enabled startups, focused on Series A and Series B. We’re industry agnostic and focus on the product, traction, and founders.

I’ve been back in Indonesia for around 3 years now after attending school in Canada. I came back right at the peak of when companies like GO-JEK, Tokopedia, and Traveloka came into the spotlight, and quickly saw the immediate effect technology had on the Indonesian population. Jobs were created, livelihood security was improved, and new access to services were formed. There was no room for that sort of impact in North America, which was why I made the decision to come back and pursue a career in early-stage tech investing.

What is the kind of impact that VCs are making in the entrepreneurship space?

There are definitely many ways that VCs can make impact. For Openspace Ventures, given the early-stage investments that we do, we make sure to add unique, operational value to our portfolio companies and work very closely on the ground with our entrepreneurs to reach their next milestone. We help with all aspects of the business from corporate finance, capital raising, technology strategy, marketing, hiring, and international expansion. For example, recently I helped my portfolio company build their Series B pitch deck and full financial and operational model from scratch, my team helped several of our portfolio with their marketing initiatives, as well hiring engineers for their tech team.

We have a full in-house operational team in technology, HR, legal, and marketing to support our portfolio companies. We also leverage our network across Southeast Asia to help connect our entrepreneurs with other industry leaders, potential customers, partners, or even investors.  Openspace is also very involved in supporting tech founders and investor community in the countries that we operate in. After all, we do focus on building and backing the next wave of technology leaders. I think that’s the sort of impact that we try to make, particularly given the stage that we focus in where most of the founders are operating at a critical juncture.

Has there ever been like a moment where you’ve thought to yourself, this was just so worth it — this moment has made it so worth it for me to have moved back here?

Yeah, definitely. Growing up in Indonesia I’ve always been aware of the large lower income segment of the population that for the most part were largely ignored – those that did not have access to basic financial services or retail experiences in larger cities, and don’t have the same financial power. Several of our portfolio companies are actually changing that, and seeing the type of impact it has is definitely one of my ‘worth it’ moments.

For example, Sale Stock is a women’s fast fashion e-commerce company that enables women in very remote areas of Indonesia – such as Papua or the northernmost point of Sulawesi – who may not have been able to shop at e-commerce sites beforehand, to purchase quality and fashionable clothing at an approachable and affordable price. It’s very empowering. GO-JEK is arguably already transforming the livelihoods of millions through dramatically reducing poverty. I think that sort of impact, definitely had made it worthwhile for me to come back to Indonesia. I think growing up in this part of the world has allowed me to become aware and conscious of the pain points that more developed countries in the West are not aware of. Things like lack of financial inclusion, little access to education and resources, and income disparity were among the problems that I faced. And now seeing that there are technology advances that are alleviating these pain points but also having substantial social impact made my move back to Indonesia so much more worthwhile.

On the other hand, have you ever felt that being back in Indonesia is so challenging that it has made you think, “Why did ever come back here?”

Definitely. Gender inclusivity is an issue here and  challenge in itself. In North America , people have a lot more regard for women in the workplace. Whereas  here, I think the fight for gender equality is still in its early stages. I am fortunate enough to have grown up in a family that are  mostly women who are all very successful in their fields. But I have had experiences where I was looked down upon because of my age and my gender. A lot of times in Indonesia, the stigma is still like, “Women should stay at home, women should cook, women should do this and that.” Grouping women into what they “should” do is what makes me really upset, because I think women have the right to freely choose what they want to do. If a woman chooses to raise a family at home full-time or choose to become a founder of a tech company, then that’s their choice and that’s OK, I think that the idea of women having a choice in Indonesia is still something that’s stigmatized, and something that I wish is different.

Has there been like a specific instance where you’ve felt that gender discrimination or you know, that that kind of stigma against you?

At one point in my life, a colleague asked me why I wanted to pursue a professional career, why I was thinking of venture capital, and why I was deciding whether or not to pursue a graduate degree. He thought I should stay at home instead. He said to my face, “Oh, why do you want to work in finance? Why do you want to do an MBA? You’re a girl…taking care of your home and husband is important you know?” It was so shocking. I didn’t even know how to answer or how to react. I was so flabbergasted and so angry.

Female employees in Indonesia are often still seen as people meant for back office or administrative functions as opposed to having leadership roles. It’s very unfortunate and it makes me really upset that women need to put so much more effort just to be recognized.

What inspires you in this field? Are there any examples of women taking leadership and taking charge?

Something that inspires me is how Openspace Ventures approach female founders and investors. As of right now, we are almost at a 50-50 gender distribution; the partners actually make a conscious effort to have equal representation of women as part of our team, and in our portfolio we also have women-led companies and women founders, which is something that’s rare in Southeast Asia. One of our portfolio companies, Love, Bonito, is co-founded by two very strong women who are leaders in their field but are some of the most hardworking women I know who have come a long way. I definitely think venture capital is a more welcoming space for women to be a part of, whether you’re going on the founder or investor route. We have lots of room for improvement, but it’s going in the right direction.

How does gender play a role in your investments?

We make investment decisions based on the founder and the product, not the gender. However, I think there is definitely a discrepancy between the number of male founders versus female founders I have met. I think female founders only represent less than 10 percent of the startups I meet and that’s quite unfortunate. I think we need more female founders to come to the table.

So how do we get more female founders to come to the table?

Putting the conversation out there, educating and growing the female founder and tech investor community is one way to do it. I think now, more and more initiatives  exist to get more women in male-dominated fields together. There are initiatives like Generation Girl launched by female developers at GO-JEK that teaches coding and data analytics to young and aspiring  developers. There’s SheVC that is a solid community of women investors. Initiatives like those are good for the women community. In Indonesia particularly, access to network and resources are not as widespread  and the gap definitely exist for women who are looking for the right team, founders, investors, and business partners but don’t know where to start. I think from an investor point of view, given our platform we should create more  of these type of initiatives that not only give them the right access to resources, but also give them a space to have a voice and network with other women leaders.

On the other hand, how do we get more women in leadership roles in the VC community?

I think we are barely scratching the surface in terms of women having leadership roles not only in the VC community, but everywhere. It’s still very much male-dominated while gender is obviously not a measure of productivity in the field.  I’m quite thankful that in the VC community I haven’t had any instances with regards to gender biases, and so I’m very fortunate. But in traditional businesses or more male-dominated fields like engineering perhaps, it may not be the case. I think with any business in general they can benefit from gender diversity – I don’t think there is a reason not to. We can start with educating the workplace to having equal opportunities for women to take on leadership roles or even out the distribution in certain functions. Having a general open mindedness and conscious effort to have more women in these roles is a good start. Then slowly more concrete steps can be taken, like a distribution ratio, women-led panels etc.

How is female representation in the private equity industry? How is the dynamic like?

There is definitely less female representation in private equity than venture capital, especially because venture capital involves younger communities like the startups and tech advocates, whereas private equity deals more with more mature and traditional businesses. It’s tough but like with most businesses, more and more women are beginning to pursue leadership roles in male-dominated fields and that is a step in the right direction.

Do you think Indonesia is ready for an all-female fund with a total gender-lens approach?

I think it’s still early, but we’re moving in the right direction. More and more startups are starting to have women founders, but we still need more. Maybe the market is not big enough to address an all-female fund for women-led only investments now, but I hope it will be in the near future.

What is your advice on combating gender stereotypes and gender stigmas, whether it be in the workplace or from family?

Women need to have a voice and to start speaking up for what they stand for . They should  feel free to speak up and advocate for their opinions.I think now more and more women are starting to find their voice in whatever industry or situation that they’re in despite fear. I have been in cases where because I’m a girl, my decision to pursue a professional career is stigmatized because of the Indonesian tradition, but I’ve seen that change because I was able to be more vocal on my decisions, and people and my path are beginning to understand. It’s a process, but it doesn’t hurt to have a conversation

How was it like to be in like an almost all female family?

I think it’s a very rare thing in Indonesia. I come from an almost all-female family of 20 people of which I think 15 are women, down to my nieces. Those who are my age or from the first generation, are for the most part entrepreneurs or professionals. I am so lucky because I grew up with so many women that started from zero, made way through their adversities, and are now successful in their respective fields, which makes it difficult for me to comprehend when people stigmatize what I can or cannot do. I don’t know how I could have lived a different life, for example if I was to be born in a family that was not supportive of my career.

I grew up not knowing that there was adversity surrounding gender until I started working. I saw people in my family that were the only women in male-dominated fields and I thought that was normal. I realized soon enough that that was actually fought for, and that they worked hard in their careers to prove themselves and get to where they are. With most businesses still very much traditional in Indonesia, I think they had to work twice as hard. It’s definitely inspiring to be surrounded by very opinionated and powerful women, but it can also be very intense. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Who are the biggest role models in your life?

Definitely my grandmother. My grandma is 92 and she’s still working. She started her business in the garage, building the family business from scratch. She was very strong-minded, yet humble and so inclusive of her team and I think that’s what got her so far. She is a huge advocate for gender inclusivity and women in the workplace and she has taught me the importance of this from as far I could remember.

She started her career in the 1950s where gender inclusivity is nonexistent. She grew up during the Dutch colony, where women did not have access to schools and weren’t allowed to work. But she was fortunate enough to marry my grandfather who was always very open minded and actually helped her grow her business from very early on in their marriage, so in a way that was equally as important people closest to her. I definitely saw that was extremely inspiring, having a husband that was supportive to her pursuits, being rejected my hundreds of stakeholders from banks to investors but continuing to move forward, and having an open mind to continue learning and growing even at 92. She is very inspiring.  

Where do you want to be in 10 years? What’s your vision for yourself?

Maybe in the next 10 years I have founded a company in a field that I am passionate about. My hope is to bring gender diversity and inclusivity in anything that I do, so I hope to instill that as part of my vision.

Do you have any message for girls who want to start their own startups too and maybe encourage them to how they start their own startup or vc or in this industry.

I think my only advice is to just do it. The best pursuits often take a (giant) leap of faith and you never know what you’re up against unless you start, because that’s one of the most difficult parts.

Putri Athira: Founder of Her Dreams

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Putri Athira and I’m the founder of HerDreams. It started from my dreams to contribute to the education sector for girls, specifically for unfortunate girls. Back then, I was confused about my job and what to do in life. I’ve always dreamt of building a school for unfortunate children in Indonesia, but then to build a school would require more money and resources than I had. Still, doing something for girls and contributing to their educations doesn’t necessarily have to be done through building schools. I realized that I could share my own experiences and dreams with other girls and motivate them to reach their dreams also.

At that event, we share about how important it is to have a dream, and we teach them how to make a dream map – a visualization of your goals and future. We believe that if you write out your dreams and see them everyday, you can motivate yourself towards your goals. We also emphasize the importance of having dreams. Next, we teach them confidence and public speaking. Thirdly, we emphasize independence. We summarize all the materials that we have taught them during the program and contextualize it to being brave and independent. We share the value of independence, how to lead, and how to communicate with people.

Why is educating girls in ambition, confidence, and independence so necessary? Especially in Indonesia?

Before I started HerDreams, I visited some schools. I met many different girls, and they all really lacked motivation. They have dreams, but they were scared to pursue them because their surroundings were unsupportive and so they thought they could not achieve those dreams. So what I saw was that they needed some external motivation in order to believe in themselves. From there, I realized that the main foundation to be brave enough to pursue one’s dreams is confidence. That way, at the end of day, they can be independent.

What are some success stories from the program?

During one session, we told one of the girls to present their dream map and explain it to the audience. But there was one girl who cried due to a lack of confidence. She was afraid that her friends would laugh at her. After that incident, our team discussed internally and realized that girls not only need to have a dream, but they also need to be confident. Because of that situation, we added another session because we believed that changes don’t happen overnight, you know? After the end of the third session, we saw that the girl who had cried before became more active. She became more of a believer in herself, especially after other girls told her how cool her dream map was. She really wanted to be a designer.

What do you think is the biggest hurdle that Indonesian girls and women face nowadays?

I think the biggest hurdle is finding support because, as you know, many Indonesians tend to see women differently. People question what a woman will do with a higher education because at the end of the day, you’re going to be a housewife and you don’t need to have like a higher education to do that. But I think that’s wrong. Even to be a good housewife, you need a good education as well. And that’s the problem. We see in every session, every girl that we meet, their families are not really being supportive of them. That’s what is holding them back from pursuing their dreams.

Do you yourself face any challenges in the workplace or in finding support for pursuing your own dreams?

At first, yes. My family is very supportive with regards to education. But in choosing a career, it was different. I always had dreams to become a diplomat, to go abroad. But then, my family reminded me that I still need to think about my future regarding the way I take care of my future family. So when I was in the stage to choose the priorities I have in life, including my job choice, I came to the conclusion to hold myself back from that job and find another way to fulfill my passion.

How did you personally deal with not being able to pursue your dreams in diplomacy?

The main reason I wanted to become a diplomat was because I really want to represent my country. I really want to engage with other people and help others in many sectors.. But by the time, I realized that it is not the only way to fulfill my passion, I could still help others and share what I have in a different way. So rather than doing it through diplomacy, I’m doing it through HerDreams instead.

What’s your goal for HerDreams in the next few years?

I really want to reach more schools and more girls, not only in Jakarta area but all across Indonesia. I hope that in the next few years we can also go abroad and contribute to girls education with other communities or organizations. And I really hope that there will be more volunteers involved. Currently, we have almost 200 volunteers in our community, with almost 80 school girls in our program and an international organization that has partnered with us to help motivate the girls – including refugees that live in Indonesia.

What issues do female refugees face specifically?

They struggle to find the spirit to live out their dreams again; here in Indonesia, they don’t have opportunities to pursue their dreams because they cannot work and go to school here. So we have to motivate them; they have to believe in themselves and believe that something good will happen to them after this stage of their life in Indonesia.

How do you balance between a day job and running HerDreams?  

It’s all about time management. I always conduct program sessions on weekends, so I still can manage the needs of HerDreams and my day job. And also the matter of communication with my partners, the arrangement of the meeting time and the preparation.

What are the biggest challenges you face in running HerDreams?

So far, perhaps is the financial support. It is because nowadays, in Indonesia there are not many companies that willing to help. We still depend on personal donors, so yes, I think that’s the biggest challenges right now. However, in the matter of man support, we are not worried. Currently, we have almost 200 volunteers that have been registered in HerDreams. And seeing that enthusiasm, we still believe that there are still a lot of young people out there, both men and women who really want to help and contribute together with HerDreams.

Do you have any advice for other girls who want to become leaders or start their own organizations?

What matters most are to know what you are capable of, the problems you want to solve in the community, and to be focused. Because to build this kind of movement, you need to be focused on what problems you want to solve and how you will help. You must be focused and consistent in what you do, so your help will give a significant change in the community.

Reky Martha: Co-Founder & President of Hoshizora Foundation

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Reky Martha and I am co-founder and current president of Hoshizora Foundation. I started Hoshizora in 2006 when I was a student in Japan at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU). Basically while doing part-time jobs, my co-founders and I used our money to help out kids that were dropping out of school in Indonesia. My friends and I started a community to support about 14 street children to get back to school. We set aside our lunch money for one month to pay for the school fees of elementary school students. With more and more traction coming in, it just grew from there. We officially registered as a foundation in Indonesia in 2010. We’re also registered in the United States. Now we’re supporting 2214 students from elementary school to university. We have 25 full time staff, fully paid with benefits – a team in Yogyakarta and a partnership team in Jakarta. And we’re looking to grow more.

Did you always know you were going to be in the education space?

I have always been inspired to be an educator; I feel that Indonesia faces many challenges in education. For instance, public schools are supposed to be free but they’re not. Even today, almost 1 million students drop out of elementary school and never enter middle school. In Flores, for example, I saw so many little kids, with their tiny feet, walking for two hours to go to school. In the heat, you know, with no access to fresh water. How do you expect these kids to learn how to read?

As a person who was lucky enough to get scholarships to study in Japan and Canada and land a job in the United States, I feel that the only small way I can contribute back is by providing better education for Indonesian children. And right now we’re trying to reach the children who don’t even have access to school. We’re here to support whatever the government is doing and work with the private sector.

What exactly does Hoshizora do?

We are an organization that provides access to education through our scholarship program, from elementary school to university. We have about one thousand individual donors right now; 100 percent of these one-to-one donations go to the children (80% in the form of a fund, 20% for capacity-building programs). Apart from this scholarship, we truly believe that character-building is the main ingredient to a more successful education system in this country. We do this through our forum, and through meeting our children and providing mentorship every six months. Our area coordinators are closely monitoring our children monthly as well. We work to be sustainable by having various sources of revenue streams to maintain our operation and management professionally.

So Hoshizora pretty much provides scholarships, but not your usual scholarship. We do a lot of capacity building to help the children grow. We have our own Hoshizora curriculum book, filled mainly with soft skills, for children in every grade. It starts from knowing yourself and understanding your emotions, all the way to critical thinking and problem-solving. And it’s fascinating because we’ve been working with the same kids for 12 years now; one of my youngest kids back in 2006 is now in university and I can totally see the changes. They are not only growing as smart and curious people, but they also become empathetic leaders who now are able to create job opportunities for others. Seeing these longitudinal changes firsthand and through our data really validates our model.

What have been some of the biggest insights or takeaways that you’ve had running Hoshizora over the past 12 years?

I think first of all, education is a very important sector but the urgency is often forgotten because it’s not very sexy. When we started this, we did it as a volunteer activity community, but it wasn’t going to go anywhere like that. The reason why communities and nonprofits are dying so often is because we’re not viewing them as valuable as companies or enterprises. So after four years we realized that we cannot lean on volunteerism. We are still open for volunteers at specific events and giving a chance for young people to experience the work we do, but we do it full time now. And the people who are working full time with us understand that working in the education sector is important, and that they are as valuable as the people working at companies. So it’s competitive enough for young people to move from Jakarta to our headquarters to Yogyakarta, to be part of our team because we value them.

Second of all, sustainability is always a problem. In the beginning, we did lean on grants and donations. The reason why we have two revenue streams now is because we want to make sure that individual donors are able to see 100% of their donations go to the children. We built our own social enterprises that is contributing to our operations, and we also do brand activation for corporates and companies. And to ensure sustainability, we build three-to-four year partnerships with companies, rather than just one year.

Hoshizora is also learning that the impact we’re having on these children is deep impact. In twelve years, we’ve had 2,200 kids in our program.  We have a formula where our program strives for deep impact that is replicable in different rural areas in Indonesia so we can also scale up our impact.

How does Hoshizora Foundation balance public sector and private sector? Where do you fit in?

We’re looking at an ecosystem here, and I think if we break them apart we’re not going to get anywhere. There’s a lot of ego involved in it for sure. So we’re looking at how we can bring everybody together in the ecosystem. The ecological framework that we use is Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological System, which stems from child development theories. We need to stay true to our purpose, which is educating children, and we’re using a lot of positive psychology and social emotional learning frameworks in our work.

To bring people together, we build partnerships. Our closest partners right now are from the private sector looking to create shared values. Obviously we’re here to support the government, even though we do not have any direct collaboration with the them. They have their own system. We’re moving forward at a different pace. We tend to work with the private sector because they can move faster, with less bureaucracy. The impact can be fulfilled within months and we can measure it. A clear measurement is very important for us to know what’s working, what’s not working out, and to keep improving on that.

When we’re working with the kids, we get some social enterprises working with us; we give scholarships to children of mothers who are working for a specific social enterprise, for example. So we’re opening that collaboration where other social enterprises can work with the parents and make sure that these parents are actually delivering good quality of work so that their children can get our scholarship. At the same time, we’re opening a space for corporates to work with schools and teachers, mainly on capacity building. It’s building a whole community together with the hope that in few years we can exit when the quality of life is better for that community.

Is Hoshizora the only thing on your plate? What else are you involved in?

I am still trying to find out the best way to give access to education. I was involved in Humanitree, where I want to see if there is a faster way using technology to provide access to education. Perhaps not necessarily formal education; you know, education is not about getting a certificate but really getting skills that people need, such as critical thinking. So how can we give access to education to children out in Papua or Kalimantan, in a way that they can exercise their critical thinking and problem solving? Hoshizora is one way of tackling that challenge, in a deeper way. But it has to be paired up with something that can provide faster access to education. In a way, it’s just finding ways to tackling different issues within the education space while heading in the same direction.

As entrepreneurs, we cannot stop learning and exploring ideas. We need to stay focused on what we’re doing, but not closing the door to exploring other ways to tackle challenges. I find it very valuable to be in the startup ecosystem in Jakarta, where startups rise and fall every second. To survive and to find the best way to provide solutions to challenges, it’s quite challenging.

As one of the earlier female entrepreneurs entering the ecosystem back in 2006, how has it been being a female entrepreneur? How have things changed from 2006 until now?

Sometimes people are surprised that I’m doing this full-time and dedicating my life to provide access to education. When we incorporated Hoshizora as a foundation, that meant dealing with legal, tax, and building good organizational processes and structure. It’s a lot of work and I’m proud that I have two other strong female co-founders to go through these tough times. Oftentimes when people see this position being held by a female, they have doubts. Somehow they think that when a female gets married or has kids, obviously they’ll only work part-time. Sometimes when I walk into a meeting, I am assumed to be the secretary or PR person. So when I tell them, yes, I’m leading this organization 100 percent, full-time, it surprises people.

Half of my team members are male, so I think gender equality in leadership doesn’t necessarily mean having an all-female team. We need males supporting female roles. I find that in the past two years, there have been more support given to female entrepreneurs. A lot of attention is given. But I also encourage males to understand what females are doing and going through. Because if males don’t understand, it’s still going to be imbalanced. Men should still be encouraged to work with women. There should be equal opportunity within the whole ecosystem for men and women to work together.

What are some strengths to being a female entrepreneur?

Over time I learned that some of the strongest points of leadership are vulnerability, flexibility,  and adaptability – qualities that female leaders often possess. I can give you an example. So, being sustainable is a challenge for every non-commercial organization. We don’t receive a lot of grants for our operations and management. Two years ago, for example, I was worried about being able to pay my team. Rather than framing it negatively, I communicated it as,  “Hey, I’m trying to be sustainable. Give me ideas on how I can be more sustainable.” I think female leaders are quite good at articulating and sharing that in a more positive framework, and it results in leadership that is more agile, and partnerships that are more open. Saying, “This is our condition, give me ideas,” instead of saying, “We’re good to go, we’re okay,” or pretending that we’re okay because of pride, is far healthier.

And definitely over the past two years as a female leader overseeing 25 full time staff, I’m also growing as a person and I couldn’t do it without my team. Vulnerability, flexibility, adaptability, staying focused, and being persistent are all things I am learning everyday. Self awareness and self management – those are key to the recipes for creating a harmonious working environment. I think female leaders have the advantage of being able to be aware of what’s going on, nurturing that empathy within team members as well.

What challenges do you face as an entrepreneur?

Honestly speaking, it’s hard to balance a personal life and surviving in the startup ecosystem in Jakarta. Being on top of what you’re supposed to do and being in the community, it takes a lot of hours. My team is in Yogyakarta while I’m in Jakarta, so going back and forth takes a lot of time. It becomes challenging to keep up a healthy lifestyle. Being able to exercise every morning, cooking my own food, or even keeping up with other parts of life. I’m still learning how to do that.

Jakarta is a bubble in a way. When I go to Sumatra, Kalimantan, Flores, or other remote areas, the working style is very different. Leadership has to change all the time. When I’m back with my team in Yogyakarta, I have to switch back to what’s best for them. So that adaptability, while holding and stimulating the team to grow is quite challenging.

Have you faced any specific challenges as a female in this field?

Society – especially Indonesian society – has a lot of expectations for females. It can be challenging sometimes when people ask me if I have time to take care of a partner or whatever. I think debunking society’s expectations for females is quite challenging. Funny thing, before I moved to Indonesia I used to shave my head completely, just to debunk the notion that females need long hair to be pretty. I haven’t really found a way in Indonesia to challenge those mindsets, of what society expects from females.

What else do we need to do to support female leaders in Indonesia?

Engaging the men to talk about how to balance roles in society is important. Because if it’s just the females going strong, I don’t think it’s going to work out as nicely. The males have to understand what the females are doing and engage in active discussion. If a woman is exploring higher career options, what kind of actions can the male can do at home, for instance, to support that? It cannot go just one way.

And the feminist movement, it’s not just about females supporting females. It’s also about males supporting females and having open discussions on that. I don’t think we have a lot of those conversations in Indonesia — especially challenging male Indonesians to have an open discussion. What does it mean for them to support a female leader? More discussion is needed, and an action plan can come out of that, a movement of some kind. But changing mindset, especially in a culture where it’s quite patriarchal, it’s going to take some time. I think within the startup ecosystem, which is quite vibrant and increasingly run by millennials, if we start opening the discussion there’s going to be positive momentum to disrupt what exists. That can be a start.

How do you personally try to keep balance in your life and practice mindfulness?

Yeah, so I like climbing trees. It’s my meditation, but it’s not always accessible. So every morning for meditation and yoga, stretching is a must for me. My morning glory is my morning glory, and I do it at least an hour before I touch my phone. So that’s one thing that I can do anywhere I go.

The second thing is a component of social-emotional learning: practicing self awareness, self management, social awareness, social responsibility, and responsible decision-making. This can be through a practice where we check our intention every second. For instance, why am I doing this interview? What’s my intention? Will it be useful? Questioning everything has become a habit for me to help choose and prioritize. And it helps me make more responsible decisions.

Another thing is emotional literacy. I think in a country where most people are still in survival mode where the basics – how do I eat, how do I earn money – aren’t fulfilled yet, emotions are often the last thing people think about. We’re not told or taught to recognize our emotions and verbalize them. Sometimes we’re actually sad and lonely, but it comes across as being angry just because we don’t know how to label that emotion. What I’d like to do with my team is to encourage them to express and recognize their emotions, by checking in and saying, “Hey, I’m trying to understand what are your feelings, to help you in understanding and verbalizing them.”

So in a nutshell, we need to practice mindfulness all the time.. And I’d like to find more spots to climb trees in Jakarta.

What’s your long term vision for yourself?

The ultimate goal is to be an awesome grandmother, with a big house, so I can invite everybody to take a break from their lives and have meaningful conversations over a big meal in beautiful nature. That’s the long term goal (laughs). But, I think in the next five to 10 years I’m very keen on finding a better solution to reduce dropout rates. I’m super passionate about finding better ways to reach out to more children. It could be through Hoshizora, or through the digitalization of ways to provide access to education like creating learning tools for critical thinking and problem solving.

Do you have any advice for the younger generation – kids who want to be future leaders?

I think taking time to understand who you are is very important, especially in our world where technology, social media, ads dominate. Everything is changing so fast that it’s easy to think that something is our desire while it’s actually other people’s desire. For example, being a founder of something – a lot of the younger ones want to be a founder of something, but honestly it’s not the question of being a founder or not being a founder. It’s what problem you want to solve. You need to question yourself: why was I born in this world, what purpose am I fulfilling? Because everybody is an important piece of a larger puzzle. No matter how small they are, if you take out the other pieces, the puzzle won’t be complete. Every person is that important, but to know what function your puzzle piece serves is a different question, right?

And I think we are all running too fast, getting all this information without pausing and thinking, okay, is this what I want? Constantly check your intentions and ask, “Why do I want to do this? What is the greater benefit of this? How am I going to be sustainable?” Questioning yourself will activate the neurons in your brain and help you stay on top of your passions – especially if you are passionate in solving challenges through entrepreneurship. Being a reflective person is important.

Retno Dewati: Southeast Asia Regional Manager of Fenox Venture Capital

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Retno Dewati and I’m currently the Southeast Asia regional manager of Fenox Venture Capital, a global venture capital firm headquartered in Silicon Valley. We are managing 1.5 billion dollars Asset Under Management  and we have eight offices globally, Silicon Valley, Japan, Jakarta, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Bangladesh, Middle East and Eastern Europe. I’m responsible for the investment deal sourcing and business development for Southeast Asia.

Fenox was established in 2011 and so far we’ve already invested in over 110 companies across the globe. In Southeast Asia we have invested in over 35 companies. And I’m not only investing directly from Fenox, but also working together with my LP from Japan – Infocom Corporation. We are running another program called GnB Accelerator, which invests in pre-seed startups. Currently we’re running the fourth batch. So yeah, the journey has been interesting so far and I’m really excited to be working in this industry.

How did you get started in the venture capital industry?

Before I joined Fenox, I worked in a US-Indonesia Bilateral Organization. It’s a nonprofit organization focused on strengthening US-Indonesia relations. I worked there for nine months but quickly realized it wasn’t my passion. Later on, I found out that the startup ecosystem in Indonesia is growing, and a lot of foreign venture capital, a lot of funds are trying to invest in Indonesia. So I tried finding opportunities, how I could truly contribute or get involved in this growing ecosystem. Fenox happened to be looking for investment analysts, so I applied and got the position.

To be honest, on the first day I joined the company, they gave me some financial projections and reports of a startup. And I was like, what?! (laughs) Seriously, I didn’t know what it was. My investment manager asked me, “What do these projections mean? Do you think that this financial projection makes sense?” And I told him that my background is international relations, that I learned nothing about finance or accounting, but that I would challenge myself to learn. And I thought to myself, “I think I can do this.”

So yeah, my first week at Fenox was filled with very intensive training. They showed me how to read the financial projection, how to read a financial report and how to analyze the business of the startups. I found it to be extremely interesting. At the same time, our government was also trying to focus on the digital economy. So I was thinking, why not stay in this industry so that I can contribute more?

I know that this industry is male-dominated, but it doesn’t mean that females cannot stand out. So yeah. I am staying in the company, doing a lot of research for the startup ecosystem, for the market, and how startups do business. I’m so happy that I’ve stayed with Fenox. I built my career from scratch, joining in November 2015 before I graduated as an analyst. Later on in November 2016, a month after I graduated, I became a senior investment analyst. Most recently, in March 2017, I was promoted to Southeast Asia regional manager. What I’m trying to say here is that age and gender don’t matter at all. All that matters is if you have the passion and you challenge yourself, if you work on it, you’ll definitely prove to your company and to the whole ecosystem that you as a woman can stand out. Even in this male-dominated industry.

What kind of work did you have to put in to get to where you are?

When I first started, I was focused on deal sourcing, due diligence, and the LP report. So I gave some good deals to my investment committee and my LPs. I also challenged myself and told my boss that I think if I’m only doing this kind of thing – investment reports – I won’t go anywhere. I know that being a good investment manager is important, but I think being the face of the company is also way more important if you want to make the name of the company bigger. Investing in good startups isn’t enough, so we have to go out, you have to speak and then you have to be more engaged with the ecosystem, with the startup. So yeah, I gave a lot of good like investment recommendations.

I also manage the operations for the Southeast Asian office. Back then my boss was actually the regional manager before me. He left the company to go back to Japan and at that time my boss thought I was the right person to replace the position instead of hiring a senior-level person. And to be honest, when they promoted me to be the regional manager, I was also surprised. I was thinking, “Will I really be able to manage this responsibility?” Like dude, I was 23 years old! I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy because I’d be responsible for the whole Southeast Asia. I’d have to fly to other countries looking for deals, speaking at tech events.

But I just told myself, okay, I think I can do it if they believe I can do, and if I believe I can do it. And I did. So now I spend about 70 percent of my time for business development rather than for investment. Because for investment I’ve been there done that. So now I give it to my analysts and associates, and now my focus is become the face of the company, doing everything from marketing, business development, networking, finding partnerships with any stakeholders in the startup ecosystem, looking for potential LPs, and working with both the government and the private sector together to grow this ecosystem.

What’s your favorite part of the job?

Traveling (laughs). So yeah, as I mentioned that I spend 70 percent of my time for business development and marketing. So I travel quite frequently throughout the whole region and to the US, because Fenox’s headquarters is in the US. So I go to California two or three times a year and then report to my boss, to my investment committee, to the LPS. Aside from that, I also travel quite often within Southeast Asia, participating as a judge for startup competitions, being a speaker for tech conferences, or any other kind of public engagement opportunities where I can support and contribute to the startup ecosystem.

It can be very tiring, but when you meet all the startup enthusiasts or other VCs and how they are really excited and they’re really believe in this market, in this landscape, it gives you more energy. By the end of the day you forget about all those tiring times. Traveling, meeting new people, and networking with more senior-level people are the most exciting parts of my job. And especially since I met a lot of startups, it’s also a learning process for me. I learned a lot of practical business skills from different startups. I learned how every founder has their own different strategy in executing the business and how they are trying to disrupt or be the winner in the market.

Have you ever faced any challenges throughout your career trajectory? If so, how did you get over those challenges?

There are two things: age and gender. It’s an uphill battle. I’m young and I’m a woman. When I join any board of director meetings of the startups, or in any kind of very important meetings, I’m often the only woman there. And I’m the youngest of all. Sometimes all of the parties attending the meetings are senior-level men. Or entrepreneurs with five to 10 years of experience. Sometimes we cannot deny that they might underestimate us because we are young and we are women. But I don’t care about that. Again, that’s my principal – I think that age and gender don’t matter.

The first time I entered one of those meetings, I was a bit nervous. But then I realized that if you can deliver, then people won’t underestimate you. They won’t see how young you are. They won’t care if you’re a man or a woman. It’s just a matter of how you can be. You can speak out. Before every board meeting, I always prepare. If it’s a portfolio board meeting, I always try to understand what are their challenges. And then during the meeting, I always try to ask a lot of questions, try to show them that yes, I’m young, but I can be as critical as you are. I can be sharp, I can point out something that’s wrong in the company’s business strategy or structure. And then at the end of the day, people will think, yeah, age and gender don’t matter. I think that even though you already have potential, you need to show that your potential people will respect you and that’s how you actually can tackle all the challenges.

How is the VC industry in Indonesia in terms of gender composition?

It’s still a male-dominated industry. Even for analysts. If you see the ecosystem, most of the analysts and people working in VCs are still men. I’m actually also a bit confused as to why. Because the opportunity is open for everyone. I would really encourage women out there to take part in this industry. You are helping the country to grow the digital economy while helping startups doing business. I see more and more women now are getting interested in working in the VC industry. I would like to encourage them to challenge themselves so they can eventually be in top management in this male-dominated industry.

What is your view on the startup ecosystem from the gender point of view?

I think even the entrepreneurial DNA itself in Indonesia is still a bit low. Most people prefer to get a job in a big corporation instead of becoming an entrepreneur, because being an entrepreneur is not easy. It’s really hard to build a startup. You have to bootstrap first to get traction before you can come to the VC and pitch to them for investment. Right now, there are a lot of VCs that are trying to empower women by having specific funds set for them.. It’s a very good initiative and I really appreciate that kind of effort so that we can encourage more female to be a startup founder.

Being an entrepreneur is a challenge, but that now is a good chance for any females who are thinking of building their own startup. And again, even though you are a female, it doesn’t mean that you will get less funding compared to a male entrepreneur. In Silicon Valley, there are many female entrepreneurs building startups. And some even succeeded in building unicorns. And I believe that Indonesian women can also do that.

How long do you think it is until Indonesia has a unicorn with a female founder?

Realistically maybe in the next few years. But I would really hope that within five years, we can have a new unicorn with female founders. And if that happens, I would be really happy and I will be really proud to be part of this ecosystem and maybe I can be their next. investor. But right now I also already in some startup that actually the founder and the cofounder itself is also women. So for example, Hijup is actually one of my portfolio companies. And I also just invested in Travelio.

How do we get more women to become founders? Especially women who are not necessarily based in Jakarta?

It should be a joint effort. We should involve all the stakeholders from the VC, which is, will be the one that going to inject capital into the startups, any other private sector like corporation who might start interested with the startups and then the government, the policy stakeholder. I think we should work hand in hand to encourage them that they have the opportunity.  I am happy that even now, some VCs have fund dedicated for women founders.

I think it’s a matter of creating more programs from the VC side. It’s a good thing to have a dedicated fund for women founders. This could encourage more women to start their own ventures to build their startups. I also think the government should create more associate services and programs. Even if the government cannot support in terms of capital, they can at least support in terms of creating a better policy environment for startups and female founders.

What are the biggest challenges that Indonesia ecosystem faces today?

I think the biggest challenge for Indonesia is the awareness of the technology itself. If you’re talking about startups, it’s all about the business leveraging the technology in an innovative way. But the people still might not be aware about how to use it.

The second challenge is the ecosystem’s own maturity. We need a more mature ecosystem right now. Again, I would like to emphasize here that we need the help from the government. If you see Singapore and Malaysia, the government itself is more mature in supporting the startup ecosystem through policy. We really need that.

For example, the fintechs startups still face many challenges in terms of the license and regulations. So I think we really need to sit together with all the stakeholders, and with the government to make sure that these startups can work properly, that they won’t have any trouble running the startup just because of regulations. The biggest challenge right now is about the regulations. It’s tough, but I think our government is getting there. So I hope in the next year there won’t be any issue with regulations anymore. We don’t want to hear any startup fintech forced to shut down because they do not meet the government regulation.

What’s your long term game? Where do you want to be?

Of course, I want to have my own VC. That’s my long term plan. I’ve been learning how to close a deal with the startups, how to invest in startups, learning how to maintain relationships with LPs. Now I’m working together with my boss to fundraise and set up a new fund for Fenox VC. My long term plan is to have my own VC. Or at least, become a partner in a VC before 30. That’s my biggest aspiration so far. I am 24 now, and I am sure as long as I am working hard, I can achieve that.

Do you have any role models?

My role model is Elon Musk. I really like him to be honest. In my perspective, he is a perfect combination between an innovator, a visionary and a capitalist at the same time.  He build ventures not only to gain profit, but also to help people get a better life.

Do you have any advice for other young women looking to enter the VC or startup industry?

My advice would be, just challenge yourself because if you think that you cannot do it, then you won’t do it.. Work on your passion. It doesn’t matter if your background has nothing to do with finance or business. Everything can be learned. Don’t worry about that. You can learn, you can ask a lot of people who already have an expertise in this industry. If you have a passion, work on it. Age or gender, they don’t matter at all. The most important thing is actually your mindset.

I always say that sky’s not the limit here. The limit is your mindset. If you can do it, you can do it. So I would encourage more people – more young women – to work together and help our government, our country, to be the leading digital economy in this region. By joining a VC, it means you are going to help startups grow their business. The more startups we have, the bigger chance to achieve our digital economy growth. If I can be a regional manager at 23, you can also do the same thing. You can achieve more than I have achieved so far. You can even be a partner at the age of 24, 25. Who knows? It’s just a matter of challenging yourself and doing everything beyond your limit.

Indah Mariani: COO & Co-Founder of Infradigital Nusantara

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Indah Maryani and I am the COO and co-founder of Infradigital Nusantara. We built this company in December 2017. I’ve been partners with my co-founder for seven years now and it has been an interesting journey.

I have been in the payment industry for the last 15 years. I was a part of the first wave of digital wallets, and have carried out the installation and implementation of digital wallets in many countries throughout Africa, Europe and America. Seven years back when I met my co-founder, we were both working in a startup called Fusion Payment. As you know, the digital wallet market is very competitive, with big players such as GO-PAY and Tokopedia. We saw that the competition was very stiff, and we realized that in payment systems what you want is recurring transactions. Basically what we did was create a platform called Beruang, which allowed you to buy all the digital goods like pulsa, electricity, and water – goods that you pay recurrently every month – as products on our platform. However, we realized that everyone was playing the same game. Everyone was developing their own versions of digital goods products.

Back then, my co-founder and I were trying to onboard traditional merchants to do online payments through our product. It was very difficult because we were such small players; when we offered Beruang as a platform, they were asking questions about us and who we were, but they were excited about the fact that our product enabled them to digitize their billing and pay through any method they wanted. After that experience, my friends and I decided to quit our jobs at the time to create Infradigital.

 

What exactly does Infradigital do?

Infradigital allows non tech-savvy businesses to digitize their bills. For instance, schools, apartments and SMEs. There are many schools in Indonesia, and a lot of them had not tapped into the possibilities of technology yet. They did everything manually. Let’s say if you wanted to collect payment from the parents, you would hand over a paper to the student, who then passes it on to their parents. Basically, it was a very manual job. We helped these institutions digitize their bills and connected them to all the payment methods available now in the digital ecosystem. So, it’s not only using a bank account. Not only using banks, but wallets and retail markets too (ie. Indomaret). It applies to any kinds of channels that the consumer wants. From there, since the bills are already digitized, the bills could also be leveraged for other things, like student loans for instance.

 

What challenges have you faced so far as a one-year-old startup?

In a startup, time and money are very important. Naturally, you have limited time and limited resources. You have to move fast and prove that your product has a lot of traction, which requires a certain amount of focus. We launched our product in March and the first traction was only around 150 million Rupiah of transactions per month but now we are able to process transactions as large as 2.2 billion Rupiah per month. We are actually seeing a lot of traction, but it’s just that it’s always a busy day. Because you always have to find the right product with the right market fit, you always have to listen to your customers, but you also have to do things like fundraising simultaneously. So, juggling all these things at the same time is challenging.

 

You’ve been running your startup for less than a year and you’ve already grown to over 2 billion Rupiah worth of transactions! How did you gain traction so fast?

It’s funny because we actually sell our product door-to-door. First we visited around 100 schools per month and administered surveys to over 2000 parents. These schools weren’t even in Jakarta – they were in Depok and other pre-rural areas. We asked them whether they were ready to migrate to digital payment. Out of the 2000 parents that we asked, 80% of them were ready to do so. The schools and other partners were keen as well. We saw that there was a lot of interest amongst the parties and we knew that in the near future, offline payments would be obsolete. But capturing the market was not as easy as we thought, because the people we were targeting were traditional people.

So, we came to them selling door-to-door. Back then, the system wasn’t even built yet; we were just marketing a prototype. But still, people showed interest in our product. In the first month, we got 20-40 schools signed up, but none of them had started using the product yet. In our sales funnel, there are two processes involved: acquisition and activation. Because we saw a lot of interest, we provided the platform for free as long as they were willing to migrate to our system. Migrating was taking a lot of time because literally everything was done manually, so in order to create a database of students, our team had to take pictures of them one by one and upload them in an excel sheet. This migration process was pretty complicated, but after we were done we noticed that the parents were starting to migrate to online forms of payment, too. This was because everyone was really eager – especially the schools because their manual processes were a source of corruption. If someone took away some funds they would simply claim that the pages were lost or the payment wasn’t traceable, or the incoming money was being used for activities that the principal wasn’t aware of. This corruption ended up forcing the school to migrate their system digitally.

Nowadays, we are not doing it door-to-door anymore. We actually have monthly acquisitions now, and we have 6-10 schools every month. Some of them are referrals. You will know when you build your product and it delivers value to your customer, it just keeps rolling with more requests and referrals. We also believe that if we build trust in the market, we will actually get a return.

 

How do digitalization and a cashless future affect women?

I imagine that digitalization will open up opportunities for women and will enable women to make some moves. Moms decide everything for the family; they are the ones who make all the purchases, so financial inclusion will actually help women to manage their expenses more easily. Over time, I really believe that women will understand things like savings, returns and interest. I think it will impact women as they will be the first ones to respond to this kind of change, especially if they are the ones in charge of the family.

 

Why exactly did you decide to jump into financial inclusion?

Financial inclusion is actually a big market and it hasn’t been tapped into yet. If you go to the World Bank Indonesia SME Banking Study 2017 and look at their database, you will see that out of many small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs), only 3% of them are using internet banking and 97% of them are still untapped. Meanwhile, everyone is at war on the consumer side because everyone wants to become the next Alipay. When I went to the schools and saw the reality…it’s pretty sad, you know. 60% of parents don’t pay their tuition fees on time; 40% pay late, and 20% don’t pay at all. Imagine how much of a hassle that would be if you ran a school. On top of this, there is a regulation from the government that prevents you from notifying the student directly if their tuition has not been paid, so as not to discourage students from attending all the classes, you know? In Indonesia when you are talking about education, everyone is trying to make things better for the greater public and for the kids, and yet the reality in the market is that the schools themselves are unable to make enough money to pay for their facilities. So how can they even start thinking about their quality of education?

Meanwhile in the digital world, everyone is so fancy already. Everyone is talking about all these next-level innovations, but very few of these actually touch and are applicable in the current market situation. So that’s why we really want to focus on education. We want to help not only the parents, to allow them to have access to funding, charities and loans for educations, but also these institutions to help them grow and focus on building up their quality of education.

 

Are there any specific challenges you face as a female founder in Indonesia?

Sometimes, women’s voices are not heard. I have been in the payment industry for quite some time. Even now, I sometimes feel like when we voice something, your audience doesn’t take you seriously because your tone and your voice is different from that of the average man’s. I just find that a woman’s voice is not really heard, especially in a big forum. Men are perceived as more trustworthy in a forum than women.

 

Do you see that shifting at all? What can we do to change that assumption?

There’s a lot of things that we can do. I don’t like arguing, and I prefer not to be in the spotlight, I’m not sure if other women feel the same or if it’s just me, but I really do think that if women speak up more, it can change something. The thing is, in Indonesia because we have an Eastern culture, we feel as if we should be more reliant on men. That’s one of the factors that have been built into our culture. Over time, this will change because a lot of women now are very outspoken and smart. They tend to not take the spotlight, but this can be changed for sure.

 

On the other hand, are there any instances where you have felt more empowered as a female entrepreneur?

Yes – in my own company. Women are generally better able to multitask, so they can oversee many different problems and different situations. This is something women are very good at and men not so much. So, when you’re making important decisions – or any decision in fact – you have to look over a range of factors. I think in my current position, I need to be sensitive to many things and consider a lot of aspects as well in decision-making. I think most of the decisions are being made based on those considerations, and I think that’s where I am playing a bigger role.

 

Did you feel empowered to become an entrepreneur? Was there a lot of support and did you face a lot of doubt?

I think in whatever situation you are, regardless of your job title, the utilization of your knowledge and your wisdom can be empowering in many ways. I received a lot of support, especially from friends and family because they were not gender biased. I have friends who developed their businesses from the early age of 18; they were already entrepreneurs and they were always ready to help and gave us non-entrepreneurs the courage to start thinking of building a business. It’s actually a contagious act 🙂 When my friends (who are non entrepreneur) were talking about their jobs and how stressed out they were getting from their tasks, I asked them why they didn’t just become entrepreneurs – it’s something very challenging yet enjoyable. It’s full of ups and downs, but the thing is this feeling is something that I really appreciate, and I think most of the entrepreneurs who have been doing this business since an early age understand that and encourage other people to do the same.

 

What is it like to toggle being both an entrepreneur and being a mother – both 24-hour, full-time jobs?

It’s tough. It’s so, so tough. I always feel guilty if I don’t see my son for at least three hours a day, but the thing is that I love both my work and being a mother. Sometimes when I’m stressed and I don’t know what to do at work, I go home and feel so safe because I see my son and suddenly whatever happened in the office doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s a big challenge, but women should not give up their careers to become mothers. Because in order to be a good mom, you need to be a good role model, too. Full time moms are great, don’t get me wrong. But you don’t have to be a full-time mom to be a perfect mom. You can be both: you can be a successful woman as well as a mom at home. It does get really tough because if something at office is stressing you out, you tend to bring it with you to home and vice versa. So, you need to find a balance. I have to give myself some credit sometimes and tell myself I need to do this in order to be a good role model for my son.

 

Speaking of role models, do you have any role models that you personally look up to?

Yes, my mom. She’s a very tough mom. My childhood was not wonderful because my dad left and my mom was a single mother who raised three children. So, she has been my role model forever.

My mom was a victim of abuse from my dad; the abuse got to the point where she was in a coma for three months. After that, my dad disappeared and then no one was taking care of us. When my mom regained consciousness, the doctor told her that she would probably never walk again. She had never worked before, but she thought that if she didn’t get a job then how could she feed her kids and send them to school? She fought a lot and started walking again, which the doctors found miraculous. She juggled three jobs a day just to raise us and feed us and to give us proper shelter and education. That’s a lot to handle.

 

If you were to give a girl advice on becoming an entrepreneur, what would you tell her?

Just jump in, and you’ll find a way. If there’s a will there’s a way. Believe in yourself.

 

Michella Irawan: ANGIN Angel, Managing Director of PT. Etmieco, & Leader of NEXUS Indonesia

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Michella Irawan and I’m the managing director of PT. Etmieco, my family business, as well as a NEXUS Indonesia Outreach Ambassador and a part of the NEXUS Asia leadership team. I am also an angel investor at ANGIN. I’m actually very new to the angel investment scene – I’ve been at ANGIN for less than a month. I’m excited to learn more about what angel investment is, investing with impact around Indonesia, what people are thinking, and what they’re investing in. What the support, needs, challenges and gaps are in Indonesia’s startup ecosystem. And also I’m excited to meet other angels.

As for how I got to where I am, I’ve always liked social work but it’s always been very traditional like donating, going to orphanages, and volunteering. I came back immediately after graduating from university to help out with the family business, so I’ve not been exposed to any other world. Four years ago, I was invited to a NEXUS summit in Singapore. That was my first exposure to  impact innovation, creativity and how they can be used as tools for social change. Business is a big driver for change – there are those that contribute to negative impacts, and those that can actually change how things are being run for the better. I was just amazed and inspired to meet all these individuals from all sorts of backgrounds: students, next-gen leaders, mothers, and high-end investors. I saw what they are bringing to the table and how they are using their own unique creativity to really innovate on solutions and businesses.

What do you think is the role of angels in impact investing? How can individuals make a difference?

I think that for anyone who wants to support start-ups, they can start identifying and learning about the gaps that need filling. And after that, start thinking about what you have personally as a resource to support them. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of funding. Support comes in all forms – it can be your expertise, connections, time, or even just a brainstorming call.

As someone from such a unique part of Indonesia, could you tell us a little bit more about your hometown, Manado?

I will say that it is very special. It’s a special economic zone and has a wide variety of natural resources. If you go back in time, we had a special spice trade with the Dutch and Portuguese because of our soil. Whatever spice was grown in it would be the highest quality in the world, may it be cloves, vanilla, chocolate, or coconut. Manado is called the “Coconut City” and Bitung, where my family businesses is, is called the “Tuna City”. Ecology-wise, the soil is unique and fertile because of the active volcanoes all around. As for the ocean, we have a very deep cool water current flowing that actually creates a rich marine species diversity.

Another thing: Manado is instrumental in the One Belt, One Road initiatives. I think Manado and North Sulawesi are the first ones that opened it up. We hosted a Manado Investment Forum last year and are really opening up for tourism. Right now we have 18 direct flights from China and they’re opening more from Korea, Japan, and other countries. On the other hand, by having access to investors, there is also a high risk of us becoming like Bali or being overridden by people who really don’t care about our nature. So I think that it is a very interesting time because we’re getting a lot of funding and government support. But at the same time, the locals have to be empowered as well to take care of the land and make sure that the government understands that every investment deal has to have 10-15 years of thinking.

What is the business climate like in Manado? Do you see any promising startups there? What does the ecosystem need to thrive?

There isn’t much of a startup scene yet, because I think the ecosystem is not there. Then you start seeing all the youths going to Jakarta or overseas. This is a pity because when I talk to universities, actually they are really good and they have great programs and they really have a lot of local talent. But one thing’s for sure, we are more advanced because our industries have been there for awhile – spice or seafood, and tourism as well. I also would say the locals there are generally better off. Land is passed down from generations. So we’re not talking about, say, a city that’s really at the bottom of the pyramid. So if we want to start something, empower the local youths, and create an ecosystem, it’s already been done halfway.

How does it feel to be a woman business leader in your community?

Interestingly enough, there are a lot of women leaders in my community. The Mayor of Bitung’s wife is actually an ambassador for a local NGO called Selamatkan Yaki. She’s an advocate of the environment. I think in Bitung alone, there’re a lot of women general managers. All my admin are women. It’s where a lot of powerful women are. And I actually just looked into a WhatsApp group recently called “Perempuan for Environment.” There are women from all sorts of places in that group, from the Head of Police’s and Head of Military’s respective wives, college students, businesswomen, and more.

What can other people learn from these powerful women?

I think first of all, you need to let them meet each other. That’s why there are so many events and co-working things going on. Let them meet each other more and more, facilitate and build more bridges. And the magic will happen automatically. Women’s instinct will play its role.

Do you have any advice for young women who are looking to also become next generation leaders?

I would say it has to be coming from you because if you’re interested or not, and if you’re passionate or not. If you are interested in something, read on it more. If you’re passionate, go for it. Stop waiting. Even just by attending an event on something you’re passionate about, it’s a start. Meet people who are more experienced than you. Learn about their challenges and their successes, then reevaluate whether or not that’s really your passion. Because once you find it, and if you’re a leader by nature, you will automatically go forward.