Innovation immersion in Jakarta

28 December 2017 | Entrepreneurship
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The students and USP Director Assoc Prof Kang Hway Chuan (first row right) trying their hand at the angklung, a traditional Indonesian musical instrument at the Cinangneng Village in Bogor

Singaporeans may associate Indonesia with a weekend getaway but less known is the fact that the country is projected to have the fourth highest gross domestic product and fifth largest population in the world by 2050. These statistics embody the enormous potential for business opportunities, many of which lie in the country’s budding start-up scene.

As part of the inaugural University Scholars Programme (USP)-NUS Enterprise Innovation Immersion Programme held from 10 to 23 December, 14 NUS USP students explored Jakarta’s innovation landscape within the context of Indonesia’s social, cultural and economic environment. The dual focus on immersion and innovation provided the students with a well-rounded understanding of the political and economic forces driving entrepreneurship, as well as the needs of the society shaping innovation.

The first week saw the students participating actively in talks and Indonesian language lessons at Universitas Indonesia. The talks, delivered by eminent academics and industry leaders, provided an overview of Indonesia’s heterogeneous society, colonial and post-independence history, natural and human resources, and business landscape. The language lessons introduced the students to the Bahasa alphabet, numbers and common phrases — tools that proved useful while bargaining in shops or introducing themselves to strangers!

…the trip was a peephole for us to look outside of our Singapore bubble. We always think of Singapore as a unique place but it is humbling to know that every country is unique in its own right!

The “Innovation” half of the programme featured interactive sessions at BLOCK71 Jakarta, an initiative by NUS Enterprise. Workshops on Business Model Canvassing and Ideation using Design Thinking equipped students with useful frameworks to identify gaps in the market and convert them into viable start-ups. Conversations with start-up founders offered a realistic picture of the struggle, resourcefulness and delayed reward that comes with being an entrepreneur, thus counterbalancing the often glamorised conventional narrative surrounding the start-up industry.

The students also met young entrepreneurs from Universitas Indonesia and Bogor Agricultural University and brainstormed for potential solutions to problems facing some of the up-and-coming ventures. This helped the students apply their classroom learning from the week prior and appreciate the uniqueness of doing business in Indonesia. Year 1 NUS Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) student Annina Zhang noted how “the trip was a peephole for us to look outside of our Singapore bubble. We always think of Singapore as a unique place but it is humbling to know that every country is unique in its own right!”

During the programme, the students also met Mr Anil Kumar Nayar, Singapore’s Ambassador to Indonesia and Dr Anies Baswedan, Governor of Jakarta. Both leaders reiterated the potential of Jakarta as a start-up hub and reaffirmed prospects for doing business in Indonesia. Year 1 FASS student Dong Yunfan recognised this potential when he remarked, “Indonesia is so large that you can sell one pencil to every Indonesian and still make a fortune”.

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The participants met with Dr Anies Baswedan, Governor of Jakarta (centre in uniform), at City Hall

The multidisciplinary nature of this pilot programme meant that the students — hailing from diverse majors such as Business, Economics and Computer Science — were able to contribute to and gain from the ensuing discussions. Inspired by their two-week stay, several students expressed interest to return to Indonesia as part of the new NUS Overseas Colleges ASEAN short-term programme to be held in 2018.

By Joshi Atharv Abhay, NUS Engineering and USP