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Corey Brown and Goanna Solutions are nurturing the next generation of Indigenous tech experts

Jess Whaler -

Proud Gamilaroi and Dhungutti man, Corey Brown is an entrepreneur and owner of the successful Indigenous Tech company, Goanna Solutions Education.

Mr Brown shared his pathway to success and perspective on what is and isn't working for First Nations businesses and communities with National Indigenous Times.

On succeeding in business and as an entrepreneur, Mr Brown's message for mob is "Don't be shame, be game".

Growing up in the country town of Coonabarabran, Mr Brown was a talented rugby league player in his teens, having received several contracts which inevitably took his nine to five career in many directions before rediscovered a love for Information Technology.

"There was just no no real opportunities back home. It was either sport or AG - agriculture. And I wasn't wasn't really exposed to anything else," he said.

Mr Brown told National Indigenous Times he pursued professional football in Sydney and a career in the NSW Police Force, which saw him undertake roles in policy and programs and fingerprints and DNA, over the course of six years.

"I wasn't the most talented footballer, I just I gave it my all," he said.

As a young adult, Mr Brown found the transition to Sydney difficult, as his heart was elsewhere.

"I didn't want to leave my Nan and pop, and all my mob back home," he said.

Another opportunity soon presented itself with a new rugby contract, eventuating in a relocation to Newcastle where he commenced working in mining.

During this period an unfortunate accident occurred underground, severely damaging his shoulder and arm.

This event proved to be a twist in fate for a young Mr Brown as he was unable to play football or work for a period of time which led to "mucking around with some software platforms", a hobby which subsequently led to the development of his own business.

Information Technology was always an area of interest for Mr Brown.

"I considered myself a bit of a nerd back in school where I was mucking around with mobile phones as they started coming out," he said.

"I was always interested in tech but there was never ever a pipeline or any sort of opportunities for us kids out west.

Mr Brown said he started Goanna with the aspirations of creating "a pipeline of talented Indigenous technologists" across the country.

"I wasn't waiting around for government. I wasn't waiting around for policy or, or voices," he said.

"I just had a set of ears and I had some good people around me at the time who helped me along."

Mr Brown has always been inspired to achieve and go the extra mile in sport and career, however becoming a father at a young age played a pivotal moment in his life.

"I just always knew I wanted more for my kids. I wanted my kids to grow up knowing that there's more opportunities out there," he said.

"I particularly established Goanna because I wanted them to grow up on that social economic side of it, I wanted to be that change.

"My parents always worked and always worked hard. We were just stuck in the cycle."

With an aptitude for entrepreneurialism, Mr Brown, who is now a father of three, told National Indigenous Times his first business was a mobile phone repair shop and whilst he saw success with the small venture, he longed to be in a position of influence and do more for community.

Employment in the mines enabled Mr Brown to pursue his business ownership ventures on the side. After long twelve-hour days he would go home and work on his business which ultimately led to Goanna Solutions.

When starting out in business he said utilising support services that are available and networking were essential keys to success.

"I've linked up with the Chamber of Commerce. I've linked up with other indigenous businesses," he said.

"I've gone to Supply Nation events and just being around like minded and other indigenous business leaders and I looked up to them people and then I'd seen kids looking up to me, so I wanted to be that person that I needed when I was younger as well."

Living life to its fullest whilst running a business and managing family life is not all Mr Brown does.

He is currently employed by GHD as a New South Wales operator procurement.

"I just wanted to make sure that how that hey we're doing the right things here, and at least if I'm at the table, I can have a say, they've been quite supportive in my role, and we've hit some incredible milestones with some incredible businesses that we've worked with," he said.

Mr Brown said he's always had a growth mindset and tenacious nature.

"I'm very hard to stop... I've always had that drive," he said.

"Goanna is my totem, I've always been called the little goanna.

"My grandfather gave me the title because I was always little, but I never ever took a backward step. You'll never see a goanna walking backwards."

Mr Brown was fortunate to find a business partner that could see and share his vision for Goanna Solutions and Education.

The business now provides end-to-end ICT services and solutions, implementation deployment hardware and software and consultation.

In the last few years they have expanded to include education and are listed as a registered RTO.

"We developed a few micro to macro courses (and) we've partnered with AWS (Amazon Web Services) to run their global restart program," he said.

"We're developing real opportunities, real pathways and real education into real careers, not just jobs. Not just 'here's a couple of months worth (of) work', these are real opportunities.

"We just got tired of agencies coming into town and giving Cert 1's, Cert 2's and nothing attached to it.

"So we developed our own registered RTO where we partnered with the likes of the big four and other large corporates where a lot of our students are employed before they even start."

The company facilitate speed dating sites for employers and their students, where students can be fully informed on their options.

Goanna Solutions has grown to employ 60 ICT employees with a further 15 to 20 office staff working between the Solutions and Education portfolios.

Commenting on the challenges the business faces, Mr Brown said funding is an issue.

"A lot of our kids that come through the door, we're just erasing those hurdles, making sure that they got the right equipment, did have the right support around them, and what do they want to achieve at the end?," he said.

"It's not just here's your course, tick and complete and you're out the door. We work with our students."

The national business' head office is based in Sydney's inner southern suburb of Redfern,

"I wanted to be close to mob and I want to understand what's like on the fall," Mr Brown said.

"Now what's it like on the ground? What are people doing? What are people wanting? So and we like to reverse engineer everything, what's corporate need? What does that community needs? And we bring the two together."

Mr Brown said there's a "massive" underrepresentation of Indigenous peoples across Australia in the in the technology field in ICT.

"I want to start changing families, I want to start seeing more economic development in our communities. I want our kids to learn on country and earn on country," he said.

"I don't want to drag our kids out of community and away from their families. I know how much it hurts and I don't want that for our kids."

On higher education, Mr Brown said there's a misconception about needing a tertiary qualification to be successful.

"We do a lot of your micro to macro courses. So around your AWS cloud and infrastructure, data analytics," he said.

"So our kids are coming in ant they're not doing four years, they're doing six to 12 weeks at a time. With our boot camps, they're actually doing on the job training as well. So they're getting on the job training.

"Once their feet are on the ground, you're ready to rock and roll from day one. So that's why we work so closely with our partners".

Mr. Brown said Goanna Solutions has partnered with the likes of the Australian Institute of Computers in Ethics, Ernst and Young and Deloitte to provide career opportunities for employees.

"We've had our employees from our education line go directly from Goanna Education into Goanna Solutions and go into the ATO," Mr Brown said.

"We have that capacity. We have the capabilities. We've just never been given the opportunities. Just give us a seat at the table, let our business do the talking and once our business does the talking, it's all done.

"It's not just bring the Indigenous business in to tick a box or get that third quote. Bring us in to do the work."

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Goanna Solutions had worked numerous schools across Sydney including Redfern, whilst partnering with companies like Vodafone.

Working with kindergarten to Year 12 students, delivering STEM and Microsoft activities, Mr Brown said they saw attendance rates improve on the days they were visiting the schools.

"It worked incredibly well," he said.

"The kids were learning astronomy, Indigenous astronomy.

"We'd love to do more."

Mr Brown told National Indigenous Times First Nations people are tangible and kinaesthetic, with networking being a vital element.

He said Goanna courses are delivered in a blended manner so that students don't need to leave their communities, instead creating local opportunities and networks.

"What's in every community? There's a bank, there's a Woolworths, so we've got partnerships, so we let our kids stay in community and work," he said.

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