Barayamal shows Indigenous start-ups how to fly

By Leon Gettler >>

INDIGENOUS entrepreneurs are a growing group.  Dean Foley, who set up Australia's first Indigenous-focused start-up accelerator, Barayamal, said they are “coming from all over the place”.

Barayamal has been developing many Indigenous start-ups. They emerge from unexpected places and there is a wide range of Indigenous start-ups.

While some might think the only Indigenous start-ups are land-based agriculture businesses or art companies, they are, in fact, exploring unexpected areas.

Barayamal’s accelerator program had developed one cyber security business that had been making hundreds of thousands dollars consulting and then created a digital product. 

There was also a company that developed the technology and algorithms to help people save on medical costs by using their smart phone camera to take pictures of their teeth, for early diagnosis.

Then there was another start-up that was selling Indigenous fashion online.

“A lot of them are trying to focus on the broader community and market their products instead of just trying to sell to other Indigenous people,” Mr Foley told Talking Business.


Barayamal means ‘Black Swan’ in Kamilaroi language. Black swans were first seen by Europeans in 1697. Dean Foley said he chose the name to show that Indigenous businesses were different.

Proof, he said, was in the way the Indigenous entrepreneurial community was growing.

“It’s one of the fastest growing demographics in Australian business,” Mr Foley said.

He said there are now 8000 Indigenous businesses more than a decade ago.

“It’s the fastest growing (sector) compared to non-Indigenous entrepreneurship,” Mr Foley said. 

“However, because of disadvantage and everything that’s happened over the last 200 years, Indigenous entrepreneurs are still three or four times less likely to be self-employed compared to the national average – but there is good stuff happening with Indigenous entrepreneurship.

“Also with land rights and all that kind of stuff coming in in the past 20 years, approximately 40 percent of Australia’s land mass has been returned to Indigenous control which is obviously helping create assets and wealth in the community to try and combat poverty and the massive disparity gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.”


Mr Foley said Indigenous businesses still struggled to raise capital and there was a massive disparity gap.

“A lot of Indigenous people haven’t got inter-generational wealth,” Mr Foley said. “We can’t borrow from our parents because they have no money and they don’t own a house …”

Nor do they have the kind of relationship with banks that non-Indigenous businesses have.

“Banks generally make most of th eir money from mortgages and for any Australian to get a business loan, you need to have collateral because they’re very risk averse about entrepreneurship and maybe more so with Indigenous entrepreneurship, with stereotypes and that kind of stuff. Indigenous entrepreneurs might be perceived as more risky.”

Mr Foley said Indigenous start-ups were no different from other start-ups, starting small and building up from there.

One of the key differences was that more Indigenous businesses were practising social entrepreneurship

“It’s more community focused and the profits go back into running programs and making an impact, whereas commercial businesses are – generally speaking – there to make money for shareholders and that kind of stuff,” he said.

“It’s different focuses and that’s what I see as the difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous entrepreneurship.

“Indigenous entrepreneurship is probably very similar top social entrepreneurship, although Indigenous entrepreneurship has been around for a lot longer,” Mr Foley said.


Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at



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