First Australians Capital pledges to help Indigenous entrepreneurs succeed

Seeking support — whether financial or advisory — is a tough gig for any startup. But Jocelyn King reckons it is even tougher for Indigenous entrepreneurs. Being a Bundjalung woman by descent, she attributes the disadvantage that Indigenous entrepreneurs face on structural barriers, such as racism.

“In business, we can see it from large financial institutional systems when they look at the six Cs of credit, character is the first one. If you’re not looking like someone that looks like you, you judge their character differently, and we definitely see that structural racism,” she told ZDNet.

“Individuals are more likely to say, ‘I’m not racist, I’d give anyone a go’, but the systems themselves that support those individuals’ work are quite racist.”

In a move to help Indigenous entrepreneurs overcome these barriers, King together with Leah Armstrong established First Australians Capital, an Indigenous-led not-for-profit organisation designed to provide Indigenous entrepreneurs with access to capital.

“We know Indigenous people have 65,000-plus years of enterprise experience on this continent, but we’ve largely been excluded from participating in the mainstream economy, so our organisation’s mission is to help bring that experience to the modern marketplace,” King said.

King believes Indigenous entrepreneurs can be vital contributors to the tech sector.

“There’s an enormous amount of cultural knowledge that they can play a role, not just in the tech sector but more broadly,” she said.

“Specifically, in the tech sector there’s so much knowledge about how to grow things on country for areas like agtech, that can be shared. We live in a drought-prone country, why do we grow things like wheat that needs a lot of water? I think the Aboriginal ways of managing country can play an important part and feed into tech development.”

The current priority for the organisation is to raise AU$100 million in funding that would be used to invest and support Indigenous businesses looking to take out business loans. FAC has so far secured AU$10 million from anonymous philanthropists, King said.

“Those funds can be used to guarantee loans with Westpac [an FAC partner] because a lot of those loans are outside of the Westpac lending criteria. So if you’re new to business and you don’t have two years of trading history or real property assets behind you, then we’re able to provide a guarantee on those loans, which makes it easier for the banks to lend,” she said.

She added funds will also mean Indigenous tech businesses do not have to settle for short-term investment capital.  

“Investors are always looking for that next unicorn. They want to invest a very little amount at the start for a significant equity stake, hoping to make big in the end,” King said.

“I think for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people, we’re in the process of raising an impactful investment fund so we’ll be able to invest in those enterprises at the early stage, so they don’t lose their equity stake because often those platforms can be bought by larger organisations, like Google and Facebook.”

The social organisation is also working on expanding its pro bono network to ensure Indigenous entrepreneurs receive the advice they need when starting out — covering everything from legal to marketing.

Some initial partners within the network include law firms, Arnold Block Leibler and MinterEllison, that offer pro bono advice to businesses within the FAC network to “make sure when they’re entering into contracts — whether that be for finance or investment — that they’re getting top tier legal advice, rather than the advice they can afford, which is often low-level legal advice”.   

“We know in business generally it’s not what you know but who you know, so you can have introductions to funders, family, and friends,” King said.

“There’s a whole range of things that enable business, but Indigenous entrepreneurs are largely being excluded from those networks. They’re not going to the right schools. They’re not mixing in the communities that have those networks.”

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