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CONNECTING INDONESIA

Tyovan Widagdo is on a mission to foster cross cultural relations through his language learning application Bahaso.

It is well established that ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’ Indeed, this proverb couldn’t be more applicable than in the technology industry. In our modern, globalised world, the industry has put forth a plethora of options to suit individual needs. From shopping to banking, it seems we’ve got applications at our fingertips to suit our busy lives. To match the rigours of contemporary life — with its increased focus on networking far and wide — intellectual pursuits are now also part of the latest trend in mobile applications.

That’s where Tyovan Widagdo steps in. With his application, Bahaso, he has helped Indonesians learn and develop their  English language skills on the go.

Driven by a need to practice and develop his English language skills, Tyovan combined his interest in Information Technology with his business accumen and has developed an application that is widely used by Indonesians seeking to perfect their linguistic abilities.

But it wasn’t just a matter of writing code and selling his app. Indeed Tyovan’s story is one of sheer struggle and hardwork - which has reaped dividends for the erudite young man.

Born and raised in  Wonosobo, Central Java,  Tyovan says he was always a ‘tech person’. “I used to play video games everyday. My parents didn’t have a lot of money so I used to rent game stations and play games after school,” he says. He would also visit Internet cafes  on the weekends to explore his interest in gaming. Soon, he says, he began thinking about the idea of developing his own game that others could play and he could possibly capitalise on. Knowing that a degree in Information Technology was his ticket to realising this goal, the ambitious student began reading extensively on programming and similar topics in the field.

Over the years, through middle and high school, he tried his hand at programming — albeit by circumventing code and developing quick fixes for computer viruses — and then developed a web portal for his hometown, ewonosobo.com, a site that curated the city’s news and focused on drawing visitors to the tourist town most known for the Dieng volcanic complex. He then approached the city government and offered to help develop their website which was not maintained as it should have been. Initially rejected by the authorities — possibly because of his age as he was still in high school at the time — he persevered and eventually secured a meeting with the town’s mayor, who, in a meeting with representatives, requested that the high school student with ambitious drive be permitted to pursue his passion and develop the government’s Internet portal.

Thus began his journey in entrepreneurship that would take him to Jakarta and beyond.

During his second year of high school, Tyovan founded his own company,  Vemobo, which focused on online media, web development, web applications, and information systems for corporations. Combining his interest in IT with a sound sense of business, he was able to fulfill his need to assist people and make a career out of it.

After completing high school, Tyovan moved to Jakarta where he enrolled at Binus University to study Information Technology, which he paid for with his earnings from developing web sites and other computer applications.

In 2012, he was responsible for the development of a reporting and coordination system, a project from then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Alongside Vemobo, he developed several kinds of information systems for private companies, high state institutions, and ministries in Indonesia.

The following year, he was invited by Stanford University in California to represent Indonesia at a technology innovation competition. The prodigy impressed judges and placed 5th among 38 participants. It was now beyond apparent that his ability to master programming was truly his calling.

Following a few months in the United States where he spent time as an intern with Google in Silicon Valley, he returned to Jakarta and completed his studies.

For his senior thesis, he developed the now popular application, Bahaso.

Realising the importance of being fluent in English, Tyovan says he joined a popular English course in Jakarta but was disappointed that the programme was not as flexible as it had claimed. Based on computer programmes that required students to be present in a classroom at the brand’s various locations across the city, it was not the most ideal way of learning the language, Tyovan notes. So he set out to work on developing an application that would help people learn English on their own time — and still develop the requisite knowledge of the language to help them in their communication with the world outside Indonesia.

“We’re in the ASEAN economic area, tourism can be developed through better communication, our economic standing can also develop if we are fluent in English. That’s our mission at Bahaso”, he says.

Bahaso adopts the discovery method of instruction where users immerse themselves in an English environment that helps them absorb the material faster which leads to a better understanding of the language - particularly the grammar. Users are taken through the exercises via an interactive module via speech and touch commands. Tyovan’s team of 30 works on code, content and development, and include language experts who work on the instruction component of the application.

For his work on this tech start up company, Tyovan was chosen as one of the top 100  young innovators in the world by YouNoodle, a Silicon Valley-based company that connects top startups with opportunities for growth. He has also received several other accolades from various magazines and tech websites.

But Tyovan is not resting on his laurels. The serial entrepreneur is focused on helping society better itself and says his next venture is just around the corner.

The 27-year old hasn’t lost his lust for learning and continues to study and read up on various technology related subjects each week. “At the moment I’m reading up on Artificial Intelligence” he notes, “Next week it will be another topic. I have a list of topics I want to study more,” he says.

A frequent speaker on technology, education and entrepreneurship, he says “The most important thing for me is to live a life of meaning,”  adding that he is inspired by Mark Zukerberg and Bill Gates, who parlayed their success toward the greater good. “I got into this not just for the money but to make a big impact on society. It’s important to stay focused on what we’re going to do, and in the end, I want to help people improve themselves.” he says.

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