Launch of first accelerator program for Indigenous food entrepreneurs  

[by Owen Craig]

Jida Gulpilil. Image: supplied

Australia’s first program focused on native bushfoods has launched with a cohort of 12 early stage native food and agriculture businesses selected from more than 50 applicants across the country.

 

This groundbreaking program, called Ideas2Business, has been designed specifically to support the next generation of Australia’s Indigenous food producers.

 

The 12-week initiative will help native food and agriculture entrepreneurs test their business ideas and build capability to develop and launch a wide range of new native foods and products into the market.

 

This native ag and food accelerator, the first of its type in Australia, is the brainchild of Food Futures Company, an Australian-based agriculture and food innovation design firm that works with entrepreneurs, SMEs, start-ups, researchers, corporates and investors around the world to accelerate the development of innovative agri-food technologies, products and services.

 

Co-Founder and CEO of Food Futures Company, Dr Christine Pitt, said the accelerator has been designed to help early stage Australian food-focused companies fast-track their growth and build a healthier and more sustainable future.

 

“Australia’s native ag and food sector has great potential to become a successful world-class industry, and we are working closely with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous entrepreneurs and businesses to help achieve this,” she said.

 

“The program is designed to develop their business ideas into offerings that will deliver economic, social, cultural, environmental and health benefits to First Nations people, other businesses in the sector with appropriate benefit-sharing, and the wider Australian community. This sector offers significant commercial potential, and we’re dedicated to helping increase efficiencies and traceability, improve decision support and value chain innovation, and innovate their business models,” Dr Pitt said.

 

Each start-up will undertake a tailored three-month program to help tackle their biggest individual challenges to growth, whether that’s branding, product development, market intelligence, sales or supply chain.

 

The program, delivered in partnership with ThincLab (The University of Adelaide), includes access to a panel of expert mentors and advisors. Indigenous fusion food Niyoka Bundle, one of the 12 participants in the Ideas2Business accelerator, is co-founder of Melbournebased Pawa Catering.

 

Ms Bundle founded Pawa with her husband and head chef, Vincent Manning. Together they create Indigenous fusions of native foods and western foods, drawing inspiration and ideas from everyday foods that people love. 

 

“I have loved to cook from an early age, so starting a catering business seemed a great way to do what I love,” Ms Bundle said.

 

“My mother is from the Gundijtmara people in Warrnambool Victoria and my Father is from the Yuin people of Bega in NSW, and whenever possible I like to use Indigenous foods from my family’s countries.

 

“We had been catering for large corporate functions, events and festivals, and 2020 was going to be our growth year, but COVID-19 put an end to that. Our biggest success currently is a new fusion pizza kit, and this is the business opportunity we’re focussing on in the accelerator. We’re looking to expand the product nationally, and then internationally when that’s possible.

 

“One of the most valuable parts of the accelerator is time spent with mentors to help us develop our plans. They are opening our eyes to things we might otherwise have missed, or could have done better. We’re now looking to diversify the fusion pizza kit into other offerings like a curry kit and some vegan options, which are both areas for growth,” Ms Bundle said.

 

Native aquaponics Dominic Smith, a Yuin man, has been operating his Pundi Produce aquaponics business at Monash in South Australia, near the NSW border, since 2014. He produces seasonal herbs and vegetables as well as natives like warrigal, rivermint, saltbush, sea parsley, sea celery and wattleseed.

 

“I’ve developed some good knowledge about growing native products, but after experimenting with my aquaponics system, I use even less water, land and labour than traditional agriculture,” Mr Smith said.

 

“In fact, it works so well I don’t have to use chemical fertilisers or pesticides. I’m a strong believer in using all-natural products which are more sustainable and produce a better food product.

 

“The accelerator is helping me to learn how customers choose what they buy and what motivates them, which all helps me when I’m working out what produce to grow and which markets to sell into,” he said.

 

With his proud heritage, Dominic wants to create more opportunities for Indigenous people to become involved in the native food sector, through employment and potentially owning their own farms.

 

There are currently opportunities for corporate partners, investors and funders to assist with the accelerator program, including direct sponsorship for the 12 inaugural projects in the Ideas2Business accelerator, or future program extensions.

 

Participants in the Ideas2Business Ag and Food Accelerator (Further details at Food Futures):

● Dominic Smith & Andrew Fielke ● Eddy Nye & Scott Triana ● Araluen Hagen ● Cory Robertson ● Tracey & Doug Goebel ● Hayden Marks ● Rachel McMillan & Sarah Drew ● Jesse Gurugirr ● Jida Gulpilil ● Leeanne Barlow ● Niyoka Bundle ● Susan Crocett

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