While it may seem that a new incubator or accelerator is popping up somewhere around Australia every week, bringing a new program to life isn’t as easy as the ever-increasing number of launches makes it seem.
That’s a fact Dean Foley, founder of Australia’s first Indigenous-focused startup accelerator program, Barayamal knows all too well.
The idea for the program, which just finished up its first pre-accelerator earlier this month, came to Foley following the first Indigenous Startup Weekend he organised earlier this year.
Held in Brisbane in August, the event saw 80 Indigenous Australians come together work on ideas around closing the gap and encouraging entrepreneurship in Indigenous communities.
“After the event, talking to the Indigenous participants and seeing they really enjoyed it, working on their ideas and collaborating and learning, I thought the natural progression from that was having an Indigenous accelerator program to help these entrepreneurs take it to the next level,” Foley explained.
Foley said he tried to get in touch with most of the accelerator programs around Australia to talk over his idea; most didn’t reply, however, but the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Accelerator Program gave some advice before Slingshot came back and said they wanted to lend their support.
“There’s been scepticism from some people out there…one of the most successful non-Indigenous startup programs in Queensland pretty much told us we should just run a pre-accelerator because they didn’t believe there were enough quality Indigenous startups and entrepreneurs out there to run a full program,” Foley said.
“We’ve discovered there are some people that have that stereotype in mind and have those assumptions about Indigenous people in business and don’t really rate Indigenous entrepreneurs.”
Thankfully, not everyone was the same. After getting Slingshot on board, Foley said he saw interest from a number of big corporates wanting to get involved in some capacity, while a local university and government are also looking at how they can support the program. Fishburners also came on to host the pre-accelerator at its Brisbane space.
Now, with the experience of a pre-accelerator behind him, Foley hopes the process of getting sponsors on board to provide the seed funding for the full program, to launch next year, is easier.
“My budget for this was zero dollars, because I didn’t have any funding. My marketing was just to go out to the people I know, the people who attended Startup Weekend, and asking if they wanted to participate,” Foley said.
Five tech-based Indigenous startups were chosen to take part in the pre-accelerator program, essentially a condensed version of the Slingshot program.
Among the participants were Yulngu App, a platform allowing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists to upload and sell their art direct to customers, and Realty Checks, a centralised live database allowing for property managers to keep information to, in turn, let landlords view statements, invoices, and previous inspections.
Also taking part was Virtual Maiwar, developing an app showcasing the First Nations cultural heritage of the Brisbane River as it might have been before First Settlement, Hum Drum, connecting musicians to music lovers, and Spirit of Country, linking tourists to Indigenous culture through tailored travel packages.
“My favourite thing was just having Indigenous entrepreneurs there, working on their ideas, learning, and having the opportunity to pitch their ideas to potential investors,” Foley said.
“One of the guys in program spent three years and tens of thousands of dollars on developing a social app, and at the end of the pitch night, he told me that he learned more during the four weeks than he had the previous few years developing his app. Some people still have that philosophy that if they build it, people will come, which works sometimes, but programs like this can really help too.”
Foley is now working on securing sponsors for next year’s program; he hopes to encourage them to provide seed funding for a lower amount of equity usually given in accelerators, positioning it as a social impact investment of sorts to help founders from around Australia relocate to Brisbane or Sydney.
“We’re just working very lean; it’s all about getting these Indigenous startups up and running and getting them to close the gap by increasing employment and economic development in their communities.”
Image: the Barayamal intake. Source: Facebook.