Jan 17, 2019

MDI Ventures' Nicko Widjaja On The Tech Game, Venture Capital, And The Next Frontier

Nicko Widjaja is considered to be one of Indonesia’s pioneers in tech investing. Today, he runs the largest corporate venture capital fund in the archipelago. You won’t see Nicko Widjaja at many tech networking parties. Nor will you often catch him at superfluous industry conferences where panel speakers spend the whole day pontificating. Instead, this investor is quietly building an ecosystem.

Those who are savvy about the nation’s tech investment game know that he is at the bleeding edge of it all. You wouldn’t guess it, but the executive, still in his early 40s, is actively inventing the country’s future, one tech company at a time.

Nicko is the CEO of a corporate innovation and venture capital fund under Telkom Indonesia called MDI Ventures. The fund operates in Jakarta, Singapore, and Silicon Valley. Its portfolio of investments spans the globe, and Nicko personally sits on the boards of numerous high-profile global start-ups.

MDI Ventures has funded dozens of digital businesses in the US, Singapore, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, India, Thailand, South Korea, and Indonesia.

As of late 2018, portfolio companies under MDI Ventures have created observable value for Telkom’s digital transformation. The fund has seen some of its investments pay off via mergers and acquisitions in just three short years. One of its start-ups even went public on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

At the centre of all this action, Nicko quietly pulls the strings. Experts will tell you that investing in Internet companies is not for those without true grit. Because his work requires a high-octane risk tolerance, Nicko has become skilled at walking a very specific tightrope.  

“My life puts me at the extreme ends of two spectrums. Some people play sports or relax on the golf course. For me, meditation is the magic that helps me achieve the right balance and make sense of it all,” Nicko tells Indonesia Tatler. “This gets my mind where it needs to be.”

He adds: “This industry is insanely competitive. People would think venture capitalists get to have fun like Santa Claus, but, in reality, the business is widely misunderstood. I basically live in three different time zones each day [...] Silicon Valley as the centre of innovation, Southeast Asia as the centre of opportunity, and India as the centre of development and engineering.”

 

Starting over

 

In 2011, he founded Systec Ventures, one of the earliest venture capital games in the country. While many regard the now-dormant Systec as one of the vehicles that brought tech investing into the nation’s foreground, Nicko laughs and fondly recalls the operation as his pioneering effort; a necessary period of trial and error.

The same year, he would go on to pen a book called Starting Over: The Story of an Accidental Entrepreneur, which recounts the saga of his own entrepreneurial attempts and never-ending education from the US and Indonesia.

“It has been a long and winding journey that brought me to where I am today. But I don’t believe in coincidences and I know everything happens for a reason,” says Nicko. “The next frontier I can see here in Southeast Asia is better financial inclusion for everyone via technology. That’s where I’ll be setting my sights.”

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(Indonesia Tatler)