Dean Foley, a Kamilaroi man from rural New South Wales, graduated year 12 and decided to head to Canberra to pursue a career in the Australian Airforce as an analyst.
Around three years into his post, a colleague placed a book on entrepreneurship in front of him. Foley called that a "lightbulb" moment. He packed up and moved to Brisbane, motivated by the idea of changing the definition of "success" he'd always known; having a job and paying the bills was no longer good enough.
Foley told ZDNet he began reaching out to anyone he could in order to learn as much as he could. He began studying a graduate certificate in business administration at university while working part-time in retail. During that time, he got invited to an accelerator program run by the University of Queensland.
"I thought, why wouldn't it be good to have something, a very similar event, to promote First Nations entrepreneurship and bring everybody together and have a good time," he said. "A couple of months later, I ended up running the world's first Indigenous startup weekend, which was pretty cool."
What emerged was Barayamal, which aims to inspire, educate, and support Indigenous entrepreneurship.
"I knew there needed to be more done to support Indigenous entrepreneurs. Government has made all of these policies since the 70s to support Indigenous people and spent a lot of money with undesirable results -- I think they're on track with two of the seven 'close the gap' targets, after 10 years, so I thought I might as well try and do something, we need to stop relying on other people and do it ourselves," he said.
Foley began reaching out to programs across Australia and teamed up with corporate accelerator Slingshot to bring his idea to life.
"With a zero-dollar budget, ended up running the world's first Indigenous business accelerator end of 2016 and I was fortunate enough to get some more support from a law firm in early 2017 and officially kicked things off," Foley explained.
Focusing on running events and programs focused on First Nations entrepreneurship and technology capacity building within the community, Barayamal at the end of 2019 secured its first government contract with Victoria's startup agency LaunchVIC to run the state's Indigenous business accelerator program.
Barayamal is now running its second accelerator program at the Victorian Innovation Hub on 7 September 2020 -- providing COVID-19 allows -- thanks to LaunchVic.
Foley is looking around for five of the most innovative Indigenous businesses and is offering AU$50,000 in grant funding at the end of the three-month program. Applications close August 7.
"If you're looking to support actual First Nations entrepreneurship, which for me is community-based entrepreneurship, kind of like social entrepreneurship -- the more support the better, considering we're a small Indigenous charity competing against government and other organisations that get millions and millions of dollars," Foley said.
According to Foley, it's important to partner, but it has to be done in a culturally appropriate way with those that can add value.
"The people that we partner with are world class in their field, but also have a genuine interest in giving back and closing the gap," he said.
Barayamal's value comes from being First Nations owned and run. Culturally, Foley said his organisation can give entrepreneurs the right support, as it understands the challenges Indigenous startups face.
"Because I've faced them myself," he said. "When I was just kicking off, some of the most successful people were just like, 'Indigenous entrepreneurs?' they didn't even know Indigenous people ran businesses.
"I was fortunate that when I was just starting out there was a shift in the big corporate space towards genuine social procurement responsibilities compared to usual hardcore capitalism … because Australians are generally starting to catch on that the corporates should be doing more in the community."
On starting out, Foley said he had "no idea" what he was doing as he just wanted to learn how to run and grow businesses and hopefully become successful in the process. But he wanted to beat "those bad statistics" and be in a position to give back to community.
"I was just frustrated with the support and what was happening in the Indigenous entrepreneurship space so I said, 'If I don't do it, who will?'" he added. "I was surprised we secured a government contract, but by then we had the runs on the board and a great proposal."
Looking forward, Foley has a few partnerships in the pipeline, but he said "the more support the better".
Barayamal is hoping to stand up a platform to connect Indigenous entrepreneurs to investors to help with funding, as access to capital is one of the biggest challenges they face, mostly due to perceived discrimination and negative bias from banks not providing funding.