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Nicole Yap is nurturing Indonesia’s next generation of startups: Women in Tech

Hailing from Toronto, Nicole Yap is building Digitaraya into a world-class accelerator.

As a co-founder and managing director of Jakarta-based startup accelerator, Digitaraya, Nicole Yap is surely a familiar face in the Indonesian startup community. The firm regularly holds accelerator programs in partnership with various organizations, including bank BCA and online travel platform Tiket, and most recently, Gojek.

Born to Indonesian-Chinese parents, Nicole spent nearly her whole life in Canada and the US. Shortly after she graduated from the MIT Sloan School of Management in Massachusetts, in 2013, Yap was recruited as the entrepreneurship lead for the MIT Global Startup Lab. The Lab is a partnership between Google and MIT to teach entrepreneurship in emerging markets, one of which is Indonesia.

“The Indonesian program was held at the University of Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta. Over the course of the six-week program I taught students how to build a startup, all the way from identifying a problem to solve, to launching a beta product in the market,” Nicole Yap told KrASIA in a recent interview.

During that trip to Indonesia, Nicole met with Yansen Kamto, founder of tech startup ecosystem builder Kibar and investment firm Kinesys Group, who would consistently update her about the country’s digital economy development. Amazed at how dynamic and fast digital development was progressing in the country, Nicole moved to Indonesia in 2017.

“As soon as I left the airport, the sea of green helmets and jackets worn by every motorcycle driver in sight overwhelmed me. In the ensuing days, I learned how startups like Gojek had completely transformed the country in only a few years,” she said.

“It was on that trip that I decided to leave my life in San Fransisco behind and embark on a new journey, to do what I could to help Indonesia move forward,” Nicole added.

Yansen Kamto was the first person she called when she moved here. After many discussions, the pair created Digitaraya in 2017 to identify and support the most promising startups in Indonesia. As managing director, Nicole’s job is to oversee the growth of the firm, set the strategies, and raise awareness towards Digitaraya’s role in accelerating early stage startups in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. This includes speaking at various international conferences.

“Our mission is to be a world-class accelerator, focused on nurturing Indonesia’s next generation of startups. We give companies selected to join our accelerator access to our valuable network of mentors and experts from partners including Google, McKinsey & Company, UBS, and others,” Nicole explained.

Travel and tourism accelerator program by Digitaraya and Tiket.com. Photo courtesy of Digitaraya

Helping early-stage startups tackle common challenges

Digitaraya is fortunate enough to be the exclusive Indonesian partner with Google for Startups and Google Developers Launchpad. Through these partnerships, the firm can tap into Google’s resources, including access to local and international mentors and experts from Google and access to products like Google Cloud.

Digitaraya holds accelerator programs every month. To date, the firm has supported 73 startups from 12 countries. There are several criteria that Nicole and team take into account when they’re selecting these startups. A strong founding team with a product that fits market needs and already has good traction, are crucial. In addition, Digitaraya chooses startups that have already raised at least one round of funding.

Having worked with different tech startups, Nicole realizes that talent shortage is a key challenge for the former. It is also not uncommon to see early startups whose founders are not aligned, with different levels of commitment. This can cause challenges as the startup grows, Nicole added.

Therefore, all the startups who join Digitaraya’s programs are led through a one-day program by Google, which helps founding teams align on what and how each team can contribute. According to her, this module has been consistently ranked by the startups as one of the most valuable modules.

In the three years since she moved to Indonesia, Nicole said the country’s startup ecosystem never fails to amaze her with its potential and innovation.“I recently returned from a trip to Silicon Valley where there is constant competition to be truly innovative, where not only one but several companies are launching flying cars!” she said.

“In contrast, Indonesia is a huge market looking for simple but effective solutions to everyday problems. We don’t need flying cars, at least not yet. We need access to education, logistics solutions, and support for our millions of small business owners. Startups who are solving these challenges for the Indonesian market have tremendous potential and I am excited to support them,” Nicole continued.

Nicole Yap during Digitaraya’s meeting

Digitaraya also pays special attention to women-led businesses. Together with Gojek and Simona Ventures, it recently held an accelerator program that focuses on women-led businesses across the Asia Pacific, as an effort to improve the gender balance in the tech sector. As a female in the tech sector, Nicole understands the importance of having a good support network and role models. Therefore, this initiative has extended the network of women in tech beyond Indonesia and created a regional community to share and create solutions to common challenges.

Going forward, Nicole said that Digitaraya will continue to scale their programs. It wants to help their startups beyond the accelerator to become a one-stop-shop for all their needs.”I am constantly inspired by the startups I meet, who are doing amazing things and solving very real problems in Indonesia. They motivate me every day to make Digitaraya as great as it can be, to find the best partners and mentors to make sure that these startups continue to grow,” Nicole said.

This article is part of “Women in Tech,” a series by KrASIA that highlights the achievements of women who are a driving force behind South and Southeast Asia’s tech startups.