Former Gunnedah man Dean Foley has received recognition for Indigenous innovation.
The Kamilaroi man recently won an entrepreneurship award at the inaugural National Indigenous Digital Excellence Awards in Sydney.
Mr Foley is the founder of Australia’s first Indigenous business accelerator, Barayamal, which focuses on helping Indigenous start-ups and students become the nation’s new ‘indigipreneurs’.
The young man left his career in the Royal Australian Air Force to learn how to run and grow a business but had difficulty getting support, so he started his own business accelerator for Indigenous people.
“I wasn’t a good academic at school and thought I wasn’t smart enough to go to university so I joined the RAAF to serve in the Australian Defence Force like my grandfather [who fought in World War II and was one of the Rats of Tobruk],” Mr Foley said.
“While I was in the RAAF a friend gave me a copy of Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. I came from a poor family and it really opened my eyes – it was kind of a light bulb moment.
“From there, I looked at Richard Branson and other successful entrepreneurs. All I wanted to do at first was buy an existing business and grow it, but I wasn’t able to get the support I needed. So Barayamal was born out of frustration.”
Through Barayamal, Mr Foley is focusing on young Indigenous students, running classes and courses this year teaching coding to Indigenous school children.
“We’ve got a massive youth population – the median age of an Indigenous person in Australia at the moment is 23, compared to 38 for non-Indigenous, and employment is at 21 per cent,” he said.
“What we’re trying to do with these coding clubs is to empower them with the digital skills these kids will need in the near future to connect them up with jobs.”
Mr Foley hopes to obtain government support to enable the first start-ups to move into the accelerator next year and take advantage of its education and training workshops, mentoring, early seed capital, working desk space and demo days.
The Indigenous man has also secured Microsoft sponsorship for some of his events and was appointed to the Microsoft RAP Advisory Board in September to provide insights to help Microsoft achieve its Reconciliation Action Plan objectives in Australia.
Mr Foley said his business name, Barayamal, was symbolic and meant “black swan” in the Kamilaroi language.
“Black swans were first seen by Europeans in 1697 – before that, they had only ever known of a white swan,” he said.
“We use the black swan to represent Indigenous entrepreneurs who have not been noticed for their innovative businesses.
“Barayamal plans to show the world that Indigenous entrepreneurs exist and they can also build global businesses.”
Mr Foley is currently studying a Master of Business (Marketing) with the QUT Business School.