Indigenous entrepreneurs are ‘more community focused’

By Leon Gettler >>

INDIGENOUS entrepreneurs are different and have faced more challenges than their non-indigenous peers, according to Dean Foley, founder and CEO of Barayamal, Australia's indigenous business accelerator and a world leader in Indigenous entrepreneurship.

Mr Foley said Indigenous entrepreneurs had their own unique perspectives on running a business. Compared with non-Indigenous business owners, they were much more community focused whereas non-Indigenous entrepreneurs were more individualistic and focused on profits at all costs.

“Their highest priority is community and how they operate the business and how they innovate is focused on community benefits, whereas in Australia generally, they focus on making profits for the owner and shareholders – so focusing on the individual benefits instead of the community benefits,” Mr Foley told Talking Business

“There are heaps of Indigenous entrepreneurs where they try to help and give back where they can. Like, we had an Indigenous catering business that would try and help community organisations by giving them discounts.”

Mr Foley said Barayamal had decided early to focus on revenue not only for revenue’s sake, but also the impact it was having on communities.

“Instead of just writing grants and that kind of stuff, we were looking at feedback from the community about some of the challenges, and what we can do and what we can build to have a bigger community impact instead of just trying to have more money,” Mr Foley said.


Dean Foley cited Rio Tinto blowing up the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge heritage site in the Pilbara last year, detonations which ultimately cost the jobs of Rio Tinto's chief executive, corporate affairs boss and the head of iron ore.

“If Rio Tinto was operating from a First Nations Indigenous perspective, that wouldn’t have happened per se because the benefit to the community, the environment, to the people would have been the highest priority,” he said.

Mr Foley said Indigenous entrepreneurs have their own distinctive challenges.

“They’ve been locked out of Australia’s economy for 150 years or so and there’s not much intergenerational wealth,” he said.

“When you look at some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world, most of them don’t come from average backgrounds. They come from quite wealthy backgrounds.

“Indigenous people generally speaking don’t have that kind of intergenerational wealth, a lot of them come from low socio-economic backgrounds. They’re just trying to survive.”

Mr Foley said access to capital was an issue for most Australian entrepreneurs, but Indigenous entrepreneurs found it even more difficult to get finance.

He cited studies showing Indigenous entrepreneurs faced other challenges where they were seen as “not being good enough”.


Barayamal had interviewed Indigenous entrepreneurs who said they did not have positive experiences with the banks. Even though banks had specialist staff focusing on Indigenous customers, they were found to be not that helpful.

“They don’t come from the average Australian background. They don’t really understand, or appreciate or connect with Indigenous people and Indigenous struggles, so access to finance, even though they have these tokenistic gestures, there’s nothing really happening there,” he said.

Mr Foley said Barayamal had reached out to venture capital (VC) funds, but got little support from the VCs. Also, most of the government funding for ‘closing the gap’ was going to non-Indigenous organisations.

“You see these big corporates and they’re always promoting corporate social responsibility in the Indigenous space, but you look behind the scenes, and they’re getting money from the government,” he said.

“The corporates got $90 million for Indigenous employment. These are publically listed companies that are making millions in profit and they can’t find the money to employ Indigenous people. They have to get it off the government.”

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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