Written by Mary Lieu on the 3rd of November, 2017
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“We don’t have to be technologists to have great ideas for how we can do things differently in the world”
– Verity Firth, UTS Executive Director of Social Justice
It’s never been easier to start a business than now. Moreover, as technology has become more accessible, you don’t need to be a technologist to start a tech business either.
During Spark Festival this year, we were lucky to hear from three brilliant, Indigenous entrepreneurs with non-technical backgrounds about their startup experiences. These three entrepreneurs are using technology to support and advance their communities, from storytelling through augmented reality to a pitch platform to surface and fund ideas from Indigenous communities.
Meet Mikaela Jade, Jocelyn King and Melissa Lacey.
Amazing stories from indigenous women who brought their ideas to life. @sparkfestivalau @StartupDailyANZ @LendleaseGroup @academyxi #tech pic.twitter.com/byUnQASQbq
— Liz Leigh (@LizLeigh11) October 19, 2017
Melissa Lacey is the co-founder of Point River Networks, a company committed to developing capabilities and providing opportunities for Indigenous people to work and engage with technology, business and government.
Jocelyn King is the CEO of First Australians Capital, with a mission is to invest in Indigenous economic independence by linking 60,000+ years of Indigenous business experience with the modern marketplace.
Mikaela Jade is a SheStarts advisor and the Founder & CEO of Indigital, with an app that empowers people to learn more about the traditional stories and cultural significance of the land through augmented reality.
Where did the seed of inspiration plant for these entrepreneurs?
Driven by her passion to give back to the community and create opportunities through cadetships and traineeships, Melissa co-founded Point River Networks with her friend Sally, whom she met during a maternity meeting at the gym.
“Having the Indigenous Procurement Policy come out and having support from Supply Nation, I really thought I could do this with Sally,” she said.
I’m passionate about giving other Indigenous people the same opportunities I was provided with.
“I believe that education is the transformer to Indigenous Australians driving success in both their communities and professionally.”
With an extensive background in consulting and Indigenous economic development, Jocelyn was compelled to start First Australians Capital as a means to support Aboriginal economic development.
“First Australians Capital was established to help Indigenous people with access to both financial and social (human) capital to build their businesses. We’re raising capital for a fund that can be reinvested over and over again with Aboriginal businesses. That money will be lent to Aboriginal enterprises and once it’s paid back, we can re-lend it to other Aboriginal businesses.”
As for Mikaela, a chance encounter with augmented reality at the University of Canberra was the spark behind Indigital.
“I only spent five minutes with the tech and I went home, had a shower, got out of the shower and declared to my partner “I’m going to make AR Storytelling for our people”. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I knew nothing about coding, nothing about running a business; I had been a park ranger for a really long time. So I thought – I need money, how do I do this?”
This is what Mikaela did next. She applied for and secured an Innovation Connect grant from the ACT government and her startup journey began.
As Jocelyn, Melissa and Mikaela shared their experiences, their desire to support and celebrate their communities and culture was powerful.
The startup journey is a challenging one – even more so when you launch your business from a remote area like Kakadu, as Mikaela did.
“I took a really really long time to work out how to get the technology to work in a remote area with no internet. We did it though – and part of that really expanded my mind to the other possibilities for Indigenous people using technology,” she said.
We can’t just sit back and wait for the internet to get to our communities. We need to get into these communities and work with people to help amplify through self determination, what they want to do with technology and how it can help them. These are not bedtime stories, they are really important instructions for living on planet earth sustainably.
Jocelyn also realised the power of using technology as an enabling mechanism to grow and empower others to start their own businesses.
“We’re currently building a pitch platform which will enable Indigenous entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas using their mobile phone and crowdfund loans from mum and dad investors right through to social impact investors,” she said.
There is so much goodwill in the community these days. We’re hoping that the technology we’re developing will give people like you and the general public the opportunity to say ‘This is a practical way that I make a difference.’”
When the moderator asked the founders how important it was for them to be strong role models, in both the Indigenous and startup communities, Mikaela had this to say:
“I strongly believe in the concept of ‘If I can see it, I can be it,’ and it’s really hard to keep going when you have no one to look up to. Can this be done? I don’t even know if this can be done.”
I think it’s really important that there’s opportunities for all Indigenous women to dream.
It’s really important to give young people the opportunity to step up. I love having people walk with me on this journey, I’m not doing this all by myself. We can keep moving forward and show the people that anything is possible. Having programs for young people is amazing, but don’t leave the older people behind because they’re the ones with all the life experience, they set the law and context for a lot of the stuff that happens in our community, and they have the knowledge and wisdom that we have to draw from right now.”
We left the event inspired, blown away by the passion and grit of these entrepreneurs who are redefining what it means to be a tech entrepreneur.
It’s important that we keep sharing and shining a spotlight on these stories – with our communities and through great programs like Spark Festival, which bring together ideas and founders from all walks of life together for conversations.
At SheStarts, we’re committed to turbocharging female leadership in tech and innovation. We want to find, fund and accelerate ambitious women ready to kick-start their bold ideas – and share their stories with the world, to inspire other women and girls to get started.
SheStarts is possible thanks to the contribution of ANZ, MYOB, Microsoft and LinkedIn.
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