Built for purpose and driven by passion, Australia’s Indigenous business accelerator Barayamal is dedicated to changing the world through investment in First Nations entrepreneurs.

Barayamal was established in April 2017 and founded by Dean Foley, a Kamilaroi man from Gunnedah, New South Wales.

Growing up in a low socio-economic community, Foley set his sights on the Defence Force. It was during his five years of service in the Air Force that he first came across entrepreneurship.

“During that time a friend in the Air Force dropped a book on my desk about entrepreneurship, and that was a lightbulb moment for me,” Foley told NIT.

“Like most Aboriginal people who grew up in community, getting a job and having a roof over your head is the pinnacle of success.

“Once I learnt about entrepreneurship, it did inspire me to learn more and become an entrepreneur one day.”

Leaving the Air Force, Foley started studying a Master of Business majoring in Marketing at the Queensland University of Technology.

Attending a start-up weekend aimed at empowering and connecting young entrepreneurs, Foley saw firsthand the lack of First Nations start-up events.

“I thought, ‘Why hasn’t there been one around Indigenous people? Imagine a start-up weekend around Indigenous business?’. There are thousands of start-up weekends around the work, so I thought that was a missed opportunity,” he said.

With little experience and even less money, Foley put together Australia and the world’s first Indigenous Australian start-up weekend. From there he found another issue.

“From my own experience and from what I know from other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entrepreneurs, it was hard to find accelerator experiences,” he said.

“Again, with no experience and a zero-dollar budget, I started reaching out to accelerator programs across Australia. Many thought the idea was nice but didn’t want to help.”

Foley got his chance with Slingshot, who do corporate accelerator programs for QANTAS, HCF and others.

“They saw the value in it, so with their help, we put together the world’s first Indigenous Business Accelerator program in 2016,” he said.

Not long after, Foley found some legal support and established Barayamal.

“I don’t come from a wealthy background or have rich family … I was running a bunch of programs whilst studying and working,” he said. 

“It was very lean, but through those programs and through our events, we were able to build traction and success.”

Barayamal is built around a strong First Nations perspective.

“We believe that First Nations entrepreneurship can create a better world for everybody,” said Foley.

“I never set out to start an Indigenous charity, I just wanted to learn how to run a good business. But I guess I was thrown into it and if we don’t do it — who will?”

Foley notes that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been locked out of Australia’s economy for over 150 years, and that although small changes are being made — there is a long way to go to achieve equity.

“We still have a long, long way to go, I’m still unhungry in that sense,” he said.

“Government and corporates could be supporting First Nations entrepreneurs a lot more.”

Barayamal stays away from the common entrepreneurship stereotype of self-made money, gold watches and fast cars, and focuses on what economic empowerment can do for community.

“I think the main difference between western and Indigenous or First Nations societies is that community focus. Western society is very individualist, it has that individual focus whereas First Nations communities, here and around the world, it is community first,” Foley said.

“We have been around Australia for thousands of years so sustainability is in our DNA. When you have that sustainability and you’re thinking about upgrading your Toyota to a Ferrari, we instead focus on how we can help community. There are big differences.

“First Nations entrepreneurship is important to us, it’s important to our ancestors and it’s important for our country and the rest of the world.”

When it comes to advice, Foley recommends a lesson he was taught by a well-known Uncle.

“I grew up wanting to learn Aboriginal art, my Uncle is a famous Aboriginal artist. He never gave me an hour lecture on art, all he did was give me a pencil and said think about what you want to draw and draw it,” he said.

“I do think that ‘learn-as-you-go’ learning style is part of our culture and it’s a big part of the start-up community too. 

“I’d recommend having a crack, try to spend the least amount of money possible … Be as lean as possible and see if your idea works. If it doesn’t that’s okay, pivot and go onto something else.”

By Rachael Knowles