A map of the Australian Indigenous entrepreneur support ecosystem
“For years we have walked on a one-way street to learn the white people’s way. We ask you to bring your knowledge and wisdom, but also to learn and understand how we live and listen to what the needs are.”
- Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM on receipt of the 2021 Senior Australian of The Year
The Australian entrepreneur ecosystem that focuses on Indigenous entrepreneurs provides an exciting opportunity to practically apply Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann’s request to develop a shared knowledge transfer and understanding of needs and desires.
Entrepreneurship has the potential to be a great equaliser, but only if it is intentionally directed to all aspects of the community. This map is one small step in developing a shared understanding of the growing ecosystem in Australia that supports Indigenous entrepreneurs. The map is not intended to be definitive but acts as the start of a conversation, an opportunity to raise awareness of those doing amazing work, inspire others to take up the call, and establish new connections and networks.
I would also like to acknowledge the Yagara people on whose land I write this post.
1. History and my role
I have been mapping the Australian innovation ecosystem at Startup Status since around 2016. Maps have been produced for focus areas such as creative industries, female entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability and climate change, roles such as university accelerators, and region-specific analysis such as Queensland. The purpose of publishing is to share what might be known, test assumptions, and ask for input into what is not known.
My role is as a researcher and cartographer, observing what is in place and sharing in order to discover and co-create through dialogue. I have had many conversations over the years with those actively participating in this map, enough to know I am by no means an expert. The map is based on my reflection and observation but has not been validated by those in the ecosystem. That is in part the purpose of this post.
I am not telling what it looks like as much as providing one interpretation to inspire dialogue. Similar to other maps I have done for female entrepreneurs, creative industries, or climate change proponents, I seek to understand and learn so we can collectively develop shared wisdom together.
I also pay respect to others who may be performing similar work including sailist, decodesystems, ramenlife / qihub / techsydney, startup galaxy, and LaunchVic / Dealroom. Additional perspectives help our collective understanding. My focus is specifically on the system by which entrepreneurs are supported, how different roles interact, and the nature of the ecosystem over time. The federal government also recently published the results of their two-year report Supporting Indigenous Business Project which provides good insights.
2. Scope and boundaries — what’s in and what’s out
The Indigenous entrepreneur ecosystem is a subset of the overall innovation ecosystem. For the purpose of this project, the scope or boundary of the Indigenous entrepreneur ecosystem is defined as:
Organisations that have programs and services that explicitly and exclusively support innovation entrepreneurship and startup activity for Indigenous people in Australian.
The edges of this boundary are admittedly blurry. Indigenous entrepreneurs are supported by many other programs not in the map, such as the youth-based programs Young Change Agents or the Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship. Other programs in the wider Australian innovation ecosystem may have a social impact focus like the Impact Boom or Impact Academy accelerators that are aligned with outcomes from Indigenous entrepreneurs.
Indigenous ownership of the space or program is also not a factor — only evidence of programs. Programs and spaces may be run by an Indigenous manager but may not have specific Indigenous programming. This is similar to the female ecosystem map, where a coworking space managed by a female will not be included but a female-focused school program for girls that is run by a male will be.
There will be many feeder programs supporting Indigenous communities that are not listed on the map. The ecosystem of Indigenous support is extensive, with a number of government and community groups support health and community needs. The map aims to pick up at the boundary of specific entrepreneur programs and spaces.
Entrepreneurship is broad and includes any engagement with starting a business. This includes street cafes, tourism businesses, and tech startups. It generally excludes support for established businesses or corporates, but this line is also not clear as many new ideas come from existing businesses. This is also why the map extends to traditional business support such as chambers of commerce.
The reason for the exclusive focus is similar to the reasons for exclusivity in programs for youth, females, or older entrepreneurs. Programs designed for everyone can have an inherent bias to the dominant population through language, program design, and culture. Targeted programs and agencies engage entrepreneurs who may otherwise feel the innovation ecosystem is not for them.
3. Geographic representation
Programs and spaces are associated with the region that is serviced. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken many programs virtual, so they are attributed to Australia. Others apply across the state. There are likely many local programs that have been missed as a result of time to drill into specific regions.
4. Not comprehensive — feedback is welcome
The map is indicative and based on personal knowledge and following online data trails. There are most certainly missing actors on the map. There may also be roles that may be positioned in different categories. This is a start and intended as a conversation starter. Feedback and conversation are welcome.
5. A note on design
I am not a designer and am usually slightly embarrassed by maps I put out, but I have made a study of different ways that people represent ecosystem maps to somewhat align with and learn from others. Graphical maps are engaging, albeit challenging to maintain as new actors are added and removed. Usually, they are just logos on a white background. I felt something more topical might work for this map.
There are many parallels to the natural network of ecosystems and the inherent design of Indigenous art. The nodes and networks of an entrepreneur ecosystem fit naturally over the backdrop of Indigenous networked design. For the design of this map, I used a background of traditional Indigenous art from Shutterstock for copyright reason, but it will be good to work with an Indigenous artist for a future version. I did not find any opportunities for shared digital rights purchases outside of stock photo sites. As a point of gratitude, I purchased a piece by Gracie Morton Pwerle from Aboriginal Art Australia that would have also made a great backdrop.
The map below is at a point in time of this post. Reflecting on the experience from past posts, there may be a series of updates a week or two after publishing. Apart from that, it is likely we will audit and review on an annual basis similar to other segments of the ecosystem.
You can find an up to date version filtered for Indigenous support at your.startupstatus.co.
The discussion below provides a brief overview of each category. View the live map for direct links to each program.
Accelerators / incubator programs
Accelerator and incubator programs provide support within a set time for a cohort and may include funding or other financial benefits. Accelerators specific to Indigenous entrepreneurs include Accelerate with IBA, Circulanation’s female-focused Ignite program, Barayamal, the Melbourne Global Innovation Program, and the Trade Routes Indigenous Global Growth Program delivered in collaboration with the RMIT Activator program.
Connection and virtual hubs
Connection and virtual hubs often act as a backbone structure to the ecosystem. An example in Australia focused on Indigenous entrepreneurs is Generation One based out of the Minderoo Foundation.
Innovation hubs usually provide some form of coworking as well as dedicated programming for entrepreneur support. Many innovation hubs would support Indigenous entrepreneurs. Hubs in this list have a dominance of programs and support for Indigenous entrepreneurs integrated across their portfolio. Two examples in Australia include Desert Knowledge Australia in Northern Territories and the Aboriginal Entrepreneur Hub (AEH) located in the Lot-Fourteen precinct in Adelaide, South Australia.
Coworking spaces provide short-term office space. Coworking that is targeted to specific groups provides access for people who otherwise may not initially engage with share working conditions. Once coworking space has been identified in Sydney in the NCIE Enterprise Hub.
School entrepreneur / STEM program
School programs include those focused on entrepreneurship and those focused on STEM, with some programs combining each to use technology to provide entrepreneurial opportunities. Four programs in Australia focused specifically on Indigenous students include CodorDojo First nations, CSIRO’s Indigenous STEM Education Project and Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy, and Indigital Schools supported by Microsoft and Telstra Purple.
Education and Support
Education and support programs provide information, mentorship, and advise. These are often not cohort-based, do not always require a business idea. The differentiation from accelerators or incubators is not always clean and some program-based approaches can consider themselves as accelerators. Examples in Australia include Circularnation, Indigenous Business Australia, specific divisions within PwC and KPMG, the Northern Territory government’s Aboriginal Business Development Program, Advance Queensland’s One Business program delivered through TAFE, LaucnhVic supported Ngarrimili, and Dream Spark now delivered out of Minderoo in Western Australia.
Hackathon programs on the list are recurring over the years. Baramoral developed the Give Backathon in 2017 and has a focus on Indigenous businesses.
Investment in the list includes programs such as angel investment groups, venture capital, or other funds with Indigenous entrepreneurs as part of their mandate. Indigenous Business Australia provides investment support and First Australians Capital is dedicated to Indigenous projects.
Media, tools, and advocacy
Media, tools, and advocacy is a broad category of platforms and systems to support awareness and promotion. For indigenous businesses in Australia, these are all directories with an emphasis on a region or type of media. Examples include Buying Black, Indigenousx, and Supply Nation at the national level, Queensland’s Black Business Finder, the Victorian Aboriginal business directory, and The Aboriginal Business Directory WA.
There are many research groups focused on Indigenous studies and outcomes and slightly relaxes the focus on the entrepreneurial pathway to accommodate a broader innovation perspective. Examples in ACT include the National Centre for Indigenous Genomics (NCIG) and ANU’s Australian Centre for Indigenous History, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, National Centre for Indigenous Studies, and School of Culture, History and Language. Two Collaborative Research Centres (CRCs) to note include the CRC — Developing Northern Australia in Darwin, Broome, and Townsville, and the CRC — The Lowitja Institute in Melbourne. Queensland examples include CQU’s Centre for Indigenous Health Equity Research (CIHER) and Centre for Tourism and Regional Opportunities (CTRO) and USQ’s Centre for Heritage and Culture.
Events / Pitch / Award programs
Major events, pitch, and award programs enhance networks and profile exemplars of entrepreneurship. There are other annual forums and events that need to be added to this list. Examples include the Dream Summit managed out of WA by the Minderoo Foundation, and Indiginous Business Month and the National IDX Awards.
Chamber of Commerce
Chambers of Commerce provide a central voice for advocacy and coordination. The Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce operates at the national level with other state-based chambers in Tasmania, South-east Queensland, New South Wales, and Kinaway in Victoria.
Industry groups are typically member-based associations for advocacy. However, the Queensland government-established Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Business and Innovation Reference Group is included in this list.
There are a number of government programs supporting Indigenous entrepreneurs across local, state, and federal levels. The Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations and the Indiginous Land and Sea Corporation are listed in the map as a starting point.
Other networking and support groups
Other networking and support groups include all other communities often found in Meetup groups or other non-Chamber business communities. Examples include Baramoral-backed First Nations Business Yarns, the Cairns Regional Indigenous Business Network, Black Coffee, and the Townsville FRegional Indigenous Business network.
As stated throughout this post, feedback and comments are welcome:
- If you are running programs or spaces on this list, I am keen to hear your thoughts.
- If you feel you should be on the list or know someone who is missing, please reach out.
- If you would like to have further conversations about what all this means for the overall entrepreneur ecosystem in Australia, let’s chat.
- If you are in another country and have insights about entrepreneur support for indigenous in your region, please share.
You can connect with me on LinkedIn, as well as through my roles as: