Weekly Wrap #5: Hitting Pause

We interrupt this program...

We created the Weekly Wrap to cut through the noise and bring you insights from the tech and startup world - translating our newsfeeds into something insightful and interesting, yet concise (we hope!).

This week, our newsfeeds have been filled with footage and stories of racial injustice. As we watch in dismay at what is going on in the US, we are not blind to the fact that racism exists on our home soil, too.

We couldn't do a weekly wrap without addressing this critical issue. Because silence is complicity.

We believe that we all have the power to effect positive change. And we live by Charlie Munger's (Vice Chair - Berkshire Hathaway) ethos, “Go to bed smarter than when you woke up”. For our team in the current context, that means:

We're pausing this week’s planned content. Instead, we are putting the spotlight on some inspiring First Nations entrepreneurial role models and organisations who are actively helping our First Nations people in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education and entrepreneurship - to elevate their stories and to say, thank you.

We hope that these stories and the links above inspire and guide you to reflect on the actions you can take to effect positive change in our world.


Role models: Inspiring the next generation

Role models - the people we look up to and who take up media space - play a key part in providing self-belief and a sense of belonging for under-represented people. They also help us to become comfortable with our differences.

Public Health and MedTech: Dr Kyle Turner of Wiradjuri and Irish descent

Kyle grew up in a lower-socioeconomic household in outback Australia (Dubbo) where he says "dental checks [were] a pretty low priority". Now an adult, he is faced with dental problems.

Kyle’s experience is reflected in the statistics. The Australian Medicine Association’s Indigenous Health Report Card 2019 found that First Nations people have two to three times higher dental disease rates compared to others due to a lack of access to fluoridated water or affordable dental care, amongst other factors.

Kyle left Dubbo and went on to complete a PhD in Epidemiology at Oxford. He is currently a lecturer at the University of Melbourne as a part of the Indigenous Epidemiology and Health team.

Through his journey, Kyle learned that almost all dental problems are preventable with regular check-ups and good oral hygiene. This led him to found Pearlii, a startup with a big vision: free dental check-ups for everyone in the world, regardless of income, education and location. Pearlii uses AI image processing to scan photos of your teeth, taken with a smartphone camera, to check for dental problems.

Clothing eCommerce: Narrun WilliamsBIG NUZZ”, a proud Yorta Yorta, Wiradjuri, Gunditjmara, Wemba Wemba, Gunai man

We stumbled across BIG NUZZ on Instagram last month and we think he'll go on to do big things! He started his clothing range at age 11(!!) because he is proud of his culture and he wanted to inspire his Koori kids community to “Be Brave, Stand Strong”. A year later and the BIG NUZZ label is still flourishing. Big Nuzz has big plans, with hopes of opening physical stores one day.

Native Ingredients eCommerce: Sharon Winsor, a Ngemba Weilwan woman

Sharon grew up collecting bush fruits and catching yabbies in Western NSW. From there, her story becomes a harrowing one of split families, domestic abuse and loss. But that hasn’t deterred her entrepreneurial spirit.

She combined culinary training with a deep knowledge of Aboriginal bush and bush fruits to found native ingredients company, Indigiearth in 2012. Indigiearth now offers more than two hundred native ingredient products including foods, candles, diffusers and an all-natural Skin Care range.

Not only has Sharon built her own business empire, but she also works with Aboriginal communities to set up wild harvesting businesses. In turn, Indigiearth sources produce and materials from these community businesses so that employment, income and education remains within the community.


STEM programs: Educating the next generation

In Australia, high paying STEM jobs are currently growing almost twice as fast as other jobs. That trend will only grow. However there is a substantial under-representation of First Nations students studying STEM subjects in universities in Australia.

Providing quality education and actively encouraging kids to take an interest in STEM-related subjects is one important part of this pipeline problem.

IDX

The Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX) Initiative is one example of an organisation working with schools and their communities to connect the next generation of First Nations entrepreneurs to technology.

IDX works with the schools to co-design workshops on exciting technology like robotics, coding, drones, virtual reality and gaming. Then they provide specialised tech training to young people, local elders and teachers to use the technology in real life - like using drones to help Rangers monitor land and wildlife.

NISEP

The National Indigenous Science Education Program (NISEP) trains First Nations school and university students to promote STEM-based activities to other students. They aim to give students the confidence, motivation and aspiration to finish school and pursue pathways to tertiary education and employment.

NISEP has trained more than 1,000 students in leadership roles. 8 in 10 students report having an increased interest in science after attending a NISEP event.

One of NISEP’s students is William Frazer, a Bundjalung man who is now in his final years studying a BSc/LLB at Macquarie University. He says:

[NISEP] definitely influenced my decision to study science at university and helped make that process a lot easier and more comfortable at the same time.

This is an awesome video of his journey over 2013-2017. At the very least, we recommend watching the first 30 seconds, which contrasts William as a confident university student, with a timid William in Year 9.


Startup programs: Mentoring and funding the current generation

We need diversity in tech for a host of reasons. One is that technology has become inherently biased due to the fact that under-represented people are not involved in the product development cycle.

Historically in the startup world, success has often correlated to “not what you know, but who you know”. Improving visibility, networks and entrepreneurial education helps to create opportunity. And those who thrive today will simultaneously build wealth for themselves and their communities.

LaunchVic Initiatives

LaunchVic, a Victorian startup government agency, has funded a number of organisations to deliver entrepreneurial programs that improve access and participation in the Victorian startup ecosystem for First Nations Victorians and other under-represented people, including:

  • Ngarrimili, which offers three programs for current and future First Nations entrepreneurs, representing their different life and business stages.

  • Barayamal’s pre-accelerator and virtual accelerator for First Nations people. Barayamal also runs CoderDojo, which teaches young First Nations members valuable coding skills.

  • Rampersand VC’s Addressing The Funding Gap Program. This week, the team shared some lessons learned from their research and reflection that are worthwhile repeating here:

    • There is no easy path for any entrepreneur, but for underrepresented founders things are that much harder

    • Given their experiences in life, the lack of representation and role models and the public information surrounding VCs and investors, many [under-represented] founders have — not unreasonably — come to expect they will be poorly treated through the fundraising process

    • There are many factors that can have an even greater impact on our chances of success: going to a ‘good’ school, having family members or friends in business, appearances, stability in the home and surroundings, family wealth and sometimes simply being male or Caucasian.

Dream Summit

Dream Summit held its inaugural event over two days in September 2019. Backed by Minderoo Foundation, Dream Summit saw over 100 First Nations entrepreneurs guided through a structured skill-building, mentoring and educational process. Mentors helped participants to refine, validate, prototype and pitch their work to VCs. Here’s a great debrief of the event.


That’s a wrap. Please share with your friends and reach out if you want to continue the conversation of the important themes in this week’s wrap.

We know we have so much work to do.

The team at Ignition Lane