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How Indigenous entrepreneurship is leading the country

September 18, 2019

Last week I had the absolute privilege to see 12 months+ of hard work come to fruition through the inaugural running of Dream Summit.

Backed by Minderoo Foundation, Dream Summit saw over 100 of Australia’s leading Indigenous entrepreneurs and business mentors come together for 2-days of intensive skills building and celebration of Indigenous entrepreneurship.

To say the event was inspiring is a dramatic understatement.

The following article shares my reflections from the event, including an overview of the businesses and entrepreneurs who joined the program, and the winners of $80k+ prizes awarded at the conclusion of the two-days.

Dream Summit Indigenous entrepreneurs and business mentors come together for 2-days of intensive skills building and celebration of Indigenous entrepreneurship

From little things, big things grow

The idea for Dream Summit was conceived over 12 months ago, as an initial meeting between Skills of the Modern Age and Minderoo’s Generation One team. With a mission to end Indigenous disparity, Generation One was exploring holding a hackathon-style event to support early-stage Indigenous-led businesses.

The Dream Summit organising team + Facebook (left-to-right): Incoming Generation One CEO, Shelley Cable; Chloë Constantinides; Peter Murdoch, Advisor for Generation One; Stephen Scheeler, former Facebook CEO A&NZ; Les Delaforce, Dreamblocks; Nate Sturcke, Skills of the Modern Age

From that simple idea, the vision for Dream Summit was slowly formed. Our focus narrowed and the design principles for the program became centred around supporting the already great work happening in the Indigenous business community, such as Melbourne Business School’s Murra program; Indigenous Business Australia; and Supply Nation.

Over 6 months, an organising team came together to drive the event forward, made up of Generation One’s, Peter Murdoch; Indigenous-lead Les Delaforce; myself and program manager, Chloë Constantinides. A special shout out to Chloë, who was instrumental in making the event a success. Chloë worked tirelessly to ensure all elements of the event ran smoothly, taking responsibility for coordinating the complex logistics of bringing 100 people throughout Australia into the room together.

A critical moment in Dream Summit’s inception was the establishment of the Indigenous Advisory Group, led by local WA innovation legend, Les Delaforce. This advisory group became a driving force behind the event, representing the needs of the Indigeneous startups and ensured the program met the expectations of the community we were serving.

Australia's Dream Summit 2019 Indigenous Advisory Group
Dream Summit 2019 Indigenous Advisory Group

As the program developed, an amazing collection of community partners joined the cause and offered their mentorship, support, and access to their communities. A huge shout out to the below organisations for lending their support and making Dream Summit 2019 a huge success:

Dream Summit 2019 — Community Partner Organisations
Dream Summit 2019 — Community Partner Organisations

With the support of community partners, applications for Dream Summit for the program opened in mid-July and quickly saw a flurry of interest from around Australia. In all, over 100 businesses applied to attend the Summit. From machine learning-enabled dentistry to wellness and fashion — the applications represented the strength of diversity that exists in the Indigenous business community.

Generously made possible by Minderoo, many of the successful applicants had their travel and accommodation sponsored to attend the event, coming from as far north as Kununurra, south-west as Albany and all across the eastern coast of Australia.

Indigenous entrepreneur with white baseball cap attending the dream summit

Dream Summit kicked off on the 12th September at the Sydney Startup Hub with a warm Welcome to Country from Uncle Allen Madden, respected Gadigal Elder and cultural representative for the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council.

His humor and acknowledgment of the deep history and wisdom that has come before us set the perfect tone for the next two days.

After an energetic keynote from Melbourne Business School’s, Geoff Martin, we launched into a jam-packed 2-days that saw the participants learning from some of the Indigenous community’s leading emerging business leaders and the Australian innovation community’s best and brightest minds.

Thank you to the following amazing speakers and mentors who shared their experience and wisdom throughout the Dream Summit, including:

  • The Wayne Quilliam Story — Wayne Quilliam
  • Business Model Canvas Masterclass — Katelyn Sharratt and Georgia McDonald, Wade Institute
  • Scaling Your Business Globally — Lasya Rao & Kathleen Lawler, Austrade
  • Startups, Business and War Stories — Shantelle Thompson, John Chambers & Rhys Hayes
  • Partnering for success — Dwayne Good, Inspire Travel & Leah Cameron, Marrawah Law
  • The Importance of Great Teams to Build a Great Company — Blake Solly CEO, South Sydney Rabbitohs & Alisha Parker-Elrez, GM Souths Care
  • The Facebook Story — Stephen Scheeler, former Facebook A&NZ CEO
  • The Rae Johnston Story — Rae Johnston, The Startup Show
  • Fireside Chat: Raising Investment — Rick Baker, Blackbird Ventures

One particularly impactful moment for me personally was hearing the story of NAIDOC sportsperson of the year, Shantelle Thompson. As a mother, 3-time world jiu jitsu champion and proud Barkindji woman, her story was not only inspiring but also eye-opening to the amount of passion, perseverance and amazing capability that exists in the Indigenous business community.

Shantelle’s impressive story was however not unique. Again and again, I had the privilege to meet founders who were reaching for incredible success in the face of many challenges and obstacles.

Shantelle Thompson with advisory group member and founder of Indigtek, Liam Ridgeway
Shantelle Thompson with advisory group member and founder of Indigtek, Liam Ridgeway

The pitches

Dream Summit culminated in what is likely to be Australia’s largest Indigenous-only focussed pitch event to date. 37 business were courageous enough to throw their hat in the ring and pitch to the mentors in the semi-final round, all vying for a share in $45,000 seed funding and $35,000 in business support prizes.

The 10 finalist teams for Dream Summit 2019
The 10 finalist teams for Dream Summit 2019

At the conclusion of the semi-finals, 10 teams were selected by the mentors to pitch in the finals, held at the beautiful Museum of Contemporary Art.

The finalist teams were:

  • SWELL College (Rachel Crawford; Queensland): An alternative schooling model for secondary school students.
  • Pearlii (Dr Kyle Turner, Dan Borthwick, Dr Gideon Aschwanden & Dr Michelle Mun; Victoria): AI image processing to scan photos of teeth, taken with a smartphone camera, to check for dental problems.
  • TJ Accounting Consultants (Jolene Elliott & Theresa Sapatra; Queensland): Accountants who are passionate about helping women entrepreneurs succeed by understanding their numbers.
  • Ochre Sun (Alana Kennedy; Queensland): Sunscreen made with Indigenous remedies.
  • WUNA (Dr Aaron Davis, Jason Davis; Northern Territory): Social impact business building stronger retention and transition.
  • The Jummi Factory (Adrianna Irvine-Stanes & Josie Alec; Western Australia): Indigenous botanical skincare products.
  • Jira Models (Perina Drummond; Victoria): Model management service supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into the industry.
  • Beelagu moort (Phillip Ugle, Narelle Carroll, Robyn Naylor; Western Australia): Natural, Indigeneous wellness and healing products.
  • Yingarna (Kirsten Atkinson, Ebony Atkinson & Bradley Woolstencroft; New South Whales): Online sales platform for Aboriginal artists and small businesses.
  • Kimberley Birds (Natasha Short & Kristy Brittain; Northern Territory): Collective consultancy of Kimberley Indigenous women.

The prize winners of Dream Summit 2019

Mother and daughter team ‘Jummi Factory’ — winners of $30,000 seed funding from Minderoo.

Minderoo Seed Funding Winners:

  • $30,000: The Jummi Factory — Josie Alec and Adrianna Irvine-Stanes (Karratha)
  • $10,000: Jira Models — Perina Drummond (Melbourne)
  • $5,000: TJ Accounting Consultants — Jolene Elliott and Theresa Sapatra (Brisbane)
  • Austrade Landing Pad:
  • Pearlii — Dr Kyle Turner, Dan Borthwick, Dr Gideon Aschwanden & Dr Michelle Mun (Melbourne)

Wayne Quilliam Art Prize:

  • Yingarna — Kirsten Atkinson (Coffs Harbour)
  • EY Growth Accelerator Program Winners
  • The Jummi Factory.
  • Pearlii.
  • Ochre Sun.

Reflections

We all have those moments in our professional life that in the rear-view mirror we understand are pivotal points.

These are the moments that surprise us and ultimately open our eyes to new possibilities and ways of looking at the world. During the event and on reflection, I am certain Dream Summit is one of these moments for me.

As a non-Indigenous person, I went into Dream Summit feeling uncertain and nervous. As an organiser, I was worried that we would be viewed as encroaching on what could or should be an Indigenous-only event. That our presence would be seen as an intrusion in what was meant to be an important moment for a tight-knit community that is mostly underserved and certainly under-recognised.

I couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

From the Indigenous Advisory Group to the participants, the entire group welcomed everyone present — regardless of their background — with open arms. The natural celebration of diversity and inclusion that exists in the nature of this community meant that we never felt like outsiders, but instead part of a family of brothers and sisters and Uncles and Aunties that stretched the length of the entire country.

I left the event feeling in awe of the founders I had met and with the feeling that the Australian tech and startup ecosystem needs to note of the amazing work happening in the Indigenous business community. We can all take lessons from the perseverance and grit present in these amazing business owners.

Dream Summit has been such a humbling experience and such a privilege to be part of. I can’t wait to see the seeds of Dream Summit grow in strength over the years ahead, and our the national business community watch as our Indigenous startup community leads the charge in solving tomorrow’s problems, backed by 40,000 years of wisdom and strength.

Chloë Constantinides Advisor for Generation One and Nate Sturcke, Skills of the Modern Age attending the Dream Summit, Australia

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