Reconciliation week 2024

Supporting First Nations entrepreneurs

National Reconciliation Week 2024

4 minute read
Reconciliation week 2024

Indigenous-led businesses contribute significant value within the Australian economy – not only in monetary value but also in self-determination and direct support to communities.

The latest Indigenous Business Snapshot 3.0 revealed that First Nations-owned businesses contributed $16 billion to the Australian economy, employed 116,795 people and paid $4.2 billion in wages.

Snapshot 3.0 also outlined how First Nations Australians are pursuing business as a vessel for economic self-determination in encouraging numbers – tracking a growth and footprint of 13,693 Indigenous trading businesses and corporations.

So, how can First Nations entrepreneurs be better supported in their business ventures?

Common challenges for First Nations entrepreneurs

Waalitj Hub Business Coach Katrina Mili said it was important to understand the challenges First Nations-owned-and-operated businesses were typically met with.

“Like any business starting out, it can be a challenge for Indigenous-led businesses to create their service market fit, and to access finance, startup capital and loans while also being competitive and providing services customers are after,” she said.

“For small startups, they’re quite often wearing a lot of hats and investing a lot of time in winning and delivering business, so it’s a constant juggle.”

With a host of in-house business coaches and direct access to independent professional support, Waalitj Hub aids the First Nations business sector to thrive in Western Australia.

“The purpose of Waalitj Hub is to assist Aboriginal-owned businesses to start, grow and sustain,” Ms Mili said.

“Particularly in the Indigenous business sector, there are some unique challenges faced, so the support Waalitj Hub and other services provide is critical to help build confidence, capacity and connections.

“Indigenous-owned-and-operated companies are also far more likely to employ Aboriginal people, so there is a flow-on effect of healthy and flourishing Indigenous business.”

One of many success stories to come out of Waalitj Hub is Koodaideri Innovation and Technology (KIT) Principal and Banjima man Shane Lewis.

KIT was founded to address live-running machinery maintenance issues that required technicians to be inside.

Following decades of experience in the mining maintenance field, Mr Lewis developed the world’s first remote hydraulic tuning system.

Five years and 12 international patents later, KIT’s Hydratune technology was ready to approach the market.

Through Waalitj Hub, Mr Lewis was coached on the approach to market strategies and connected with an expert professional service provider – Aboriginal-owned-and-operated marketing and communications business Impact Digi – to develop detailed pitch presentations, business cards featuring QR codes and a five-year marketing strategy.

“We have a lot of great success stories across a range of sectors – whether it be services in the mining and construction industries, the arts, personal and professional services,” Ms Mili said.

“As a coach, it’s so rewarding working alongside our clients in their business journeys, navigating their challenges, witnessing their successes, and celebrating their growth.”

Support from major banks

As securing finance is one of the biggest challenges faced by First Nations entrepreneurs, NAB First Nations Business and Community Banking WA Associate Director Annie Ashworth said major banks had a role to play.

“Historically, there is a lot of mistrust of large organisations such as banks,” she said.

“The key element is providing a safe place where customers feel supported.

“Owning a business is one of the most personal journeys anyone will ever take, particularly when it is the primary source of income to provide housing, food, education and health outcomes for their family.”

NAB recently set a new target to more than double its lending to First Nations businesses and community organisations to at least $1 billion over the next three years.

Funding is anticipated to jump more than 140 per cent to help stimulate First Nations business growth and create prosperity.

Ms Ashworth said one of the key focus areas for the Indigenous Business and Community Banking WA team was to support wealth creation across the Indigenous community to drive greater self-determination.

“The primary way we do this is through the support of Indigenous businesses with their banking needs, which may vary from working capital support, funding of specific equipment – which is linked into contract opportunities – or supporting strategic objectives for Indigenous corporations in the regions where they are looking to solve for community-specific matters,” she said.

“We partner with business chambers around the country, namely I manage the partnerships in place with the Noongar Chamber of Commerce and Industry here in Perth and the Northern Territory Indigenous Business Network, as well as Waalitj Foundation in WA and The Circle in South Australia.”

Ms Ashworth said Indigenous businesses were renowned for how they gave back to the community, which was often demonstrated through employment outcomes.

“Indigenous businesses are often referred to as social impact businesses, which stems from when an Indigenous business succeeds, they bring others in their community along with them,” she said.

“We see this far more than any non-Indigenous groups and there are some inspiring charities out there which have been created through Indigenous businesses doing well – the Bibbulmun Fund is an amazing example of this.”