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Celebrating the Charles Sturt University Indigenous Entrepreneur Program

Last month, our Charles Sturt Indigenous Entrepreneur program came to a close, and we find ourselves already missing our regular weekly catch-ups with the founder teams. A big thank you to Charles Sturt University for the collaboration on the program, especially to Ged Bourke for opening up unique opportunities for the founders. We're equally grateful to all the dedicated founders for their immense contribution. The talented founders include Aunty Deb and Colette Geier; Clarence, Ajay, and Adam representing Bush to Bowl; Stacey Mathers from Native Fusion; Bek Shephard behind Edible Native Landscapes; Mindy Woods of Karkalla at Home; Jackie Price from Yield Lot 7, and Felicity Kerslake of the Australian Bush Food Education Centre.

Walking side by side with our founders has been an enlightening privilege. Their deep-rooted dedication to enriching cultural ties, elevating Country, Mob, and the expansive community is nothing short of remarkable. Every founder, through their individual endeavours, orbits around a mutual aspiration to heighten the role of native plants and foods in our daily life and environments. These founders are champions of eco-sustainability. Their approach, whether it's pioneering closed-loop systems that favour recyclable packaging or advocating efficient waste management, is a testament to this. Beyond this, they're preserving the ancestral knowledge of

First Peoples, ensuring that the intellectual property associated with native foods and products are respected and that there's a just system of benefit sharing and access. Their pursuit is holistic, evolving beyond the traditional scope of knowledge-sharing. It encompasses the enrichment of our dietary choices, invigorating our vitality, and imparting wisdom on nurturing native ingredients, ultimately enhancing global biodiversity and the wellness of our planet.

Mindy's perspective resonates with this vision, seeing food as more than sustenance but a catalyst for unity and restoration. As she poignantly states, “Food is a great connector and a catalyst for change. When it’s abundant, we celebrate and when it’s scarce it creates wars. I want Australians to connect with something that is all of ours to celebrate.” By weaving ancestral insights with contemporary strategies, our founders are crafting a narrative that pays homage to the land and its tales, seeding communities that are both resilient and harmoniously balanced.

Erin Earth, Wagga Wagga

The four-month program commenced in Sydney with a welcome to the Country, followed by an engaging Yarning Circle hosted by Aunty Norma, Wiradjuri Elder and a meal prepared by Sharon Winsor and the Indigiearth team. Subsequent sessions included interactions with representatives from Harris Farm and Woolworths and hands-on activities at Cicada Innovations.

From early on, it was clear that beyond professional ties, genuine friendships were forming. Felicity captured the mood perfectly on the first day, simply stating, "These are my people." This sentiment highlighted the essence of the program's collaboration and mutual support. This collective spirit was emphasised by the diverse insights and guidance from industry experts, governmental representatives, and academic researchers, all aiming to promote a sustainable food future. Reflecting on her experience, Felicity said, “I really enjoyed getting exposure to big clients such as Woolworths and Harris Farm, the exposure to business coaching and other participants who have had previous startup experience and others who are further along the journey as well. That’s been key and exposure to what else is in the industry. Things I hadn’t thought about and options I didn’t even know were there” Throughout the course of our program, not only did our founders benefit from weekly online interactions, but they also received personalised business coaching from Penelope Dodd and sector-specific guidance from Rebecca Sullivan of Warndu.

CSU Riverina Playhouse

Additionally, our sessions were enriched by the presence of numerous industry leaders who shared their expertise during panels, workshops, and masterclasses. This included insights from Sharon Winsor of Indigiearth, legal advice from Adam Broughton of Terri Janke and Company Pty Ltd, leadership experiences from George Gekas, the CEO of Badalya, and hands-on industry knowledge from Tawyna Bahr, the co-founder of Straight to the Source. We were also privileged to host Jessie Gurrgir of Lore Australia, co-founders Tara Crocker and Mel Davey of Yaala Sparkling, Ricky Chau of Taste Studios, and food scientist Naishad Dalal, the founder of Pipan Foods.

A pivotal moment in our program was at the Charles Sturt University innovation showcase, held at the CSU Riverina Playhouse in Wagga Wagga. This evening served as a platform for our founders to recount their entrepreneurial journeys and introduce their ventures to a captive audience. Reflecting on the event, Ajay from Bushtop Bowl mentioned, “The CSU showcase was really good and very productive. It broke down the barriers of people being shy and camera shy and talking about their business. It also gave us an opportunity to present in front of our people, the people we’ve just learnt with and the people we’ve just walked with. It also gave us the opportunity to promote what we’re about. What we’ve put together over a 4-month period in 3 minutes.” The event began with a heartfelt 'Welcome to Country' by Aunty Cheryl Penrith, a revered Wiradjuri Elder. She was later joined by Leanne Sanders, the CEO of Visual Dreaming, and Jack Jacobs, the Yindyamarra Research Fellow at Charles Sturt University, who steered the discussion with thought-provoking questions.

CSU Riverina Playhouse

Adding to the ambience, Jackie and Mindy showcased their products at stalls in the reception area, collecting valuable feedback from attendees. Jackie later expressed, “the feedback she received has provided invaluable insights into her products' taste, texture, packaging and messaging and the program has given her confidence to talk about her idea in public and contact like-minded companies to investigate different opportunities.”

Another highlight during our journey was when several founders showcased their ventures at "Naturally Good", an esteemed trade show catering to the organic and wellness product sector. This platform allowed them to forge meaningful connections with a diverse group of industry stakeholders and gather crucial feedback. Adding to the significance of the event, Christine Pitt, Co-Founder and CEO of Food Futures, led an enlightening panel discussion with our founders on the topic: 'Empowering Indigenous-Owned Businesses: The Challenges, Opportunities, and why it’s important to all of us'. This discussion was especially timely given the burgeoning interest in native ingredients. Many, however, remain unaware of the nuances around sustainable procurement and the imperative to ensure the wellbeing of both the land and the Indigenous communities. Reflecting on her experience, Mindy remarked, “I honestly think that programs like this actually not only offer a handout because money doesn’t help mob but a hand up, working together to get those tangible outcomes that we’re looking for. I’m feeling really supported and have great hope for the future”. We do too and couldn’t be more energised to continue to walk with these founders and watch their businesses flourish over the forthcoming years.

If you’re interested in collaborating on a program like this one or joining as a founder, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Program Manager Anna Phillips on 0432 624 614. Anna is always up for a yarn and is looking to work with like-minded individuals to support initiatives for better food systems, better food and a better world.

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