The Koori mail, Wednesday 22 May 2013 - Entrepreneurs get down to business

The Koori mail, Wednesday 22 May 2013

By Kirstie Parker

BUSINESS is all about sealing the deal, so ʻturning contacts into contractsʼ was a fitting theme for the nationʼs foremost conference, tradeshow and awards night for Indigenous supply, held in Melbourne last week.

Hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entrepreneurs attended the two-day Connect 2013 event coordinated by Supply Nation, formerly known as the Australian Indigenous Minority Supply Council (AIMSC).

They heard from Australian and international speakers on all things to do with the development of minority-owned – in this case Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander – businesses, including relationship building with government and corporate buyers, procurement trends, social return on investment, mentoring and recruitment.

One key philosophy that had a lot of resonance with delegates was that of ʻa hand up, not a hand outʼ, championed by United States guest speaker David Hinson amongst others.

Mr Hinson is the national director of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), an agency of the United States Department of Commerce that works to create a level playing field for businesses owned by minorities such as African Americans, First Nation, Hispanic and American Asian people, Hasidic Jews and women.

A level playing field meant the same access to capital, the same access to contracts, and the same access to any other economic opportunity, Mr Hinson told the Koori Mail.

The MBDA grew out of the 1960s and early 70s, a period of social and economic turmoil in the United States, when some parties began to realise that the economic empowerment of minority communities, inclusion and integration would be crucial for change.

“It was fundamentally recognising that a nation cannot prosper if all of its citizens donʼt have a fair and equal opportunity to realise their dreams,” Mr Hinson said.

“And so that consciousness permeated government, private sector, non-profit sector and there just became a movement to make a shift in the way that the nation engages minority communities. Part of that shift was making sure that minority businesses had an equal chance to compete and to grow.”

Mr Hinson urged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business owners to focus on being the very best they could be within their industry sector.

“They need to not focus on what they donʼt have and focus on what they do have,” he told the Koori Mail. “They need to think globally, they need to be willing to hire the best people, continue to innovate, and not think in terms of what they want to provide as a product but what their clients need and then manage or adjust to those client needs as those needs change.

“They need to operate as though theyʼre any other business and try to grow in that way even though there may be some perspective or perception limitations that they have to endure in this market place.”

Supply Nation CEO Charles Prouse said the emerging Indigenous enterprise sector had improved opportunities and created employment for all Australians and was a key driver in Indigenous economic development, job growth and reconciliation.

More than $55 million worth of business had been transacted between Supply Nationʼs certified Indigenous suppliers and corporate and government members during the past three years.

Mr Prouse said there was no reason why they couldnʼt generate $500 million worth or even a billion.

“Itʼll take a lot of work to achieve that, but Iʼm very excited about the potential,” he said.

Supply Nation chairman and CEO of Citigroup Australia Stephen Roberts echoed that sentiment while speaking at the gala dinner and awards ceremony that concluded Connect 2013.

“We have not even scratched the surface. Thereʼs so much more that we can and need to do,” he said.

“Indigenous success means Indigenous employment, Indigenous employment means Indigenous wealth, and Indigenous wealth means Indigenous independence and wellbeing.”

Originally a federally funded pilot program, Supply Nation itself is working towards becoming a self-sustaining organisation. Part of that will be a transition to membership fees for corporate buyers.

A further Supply Nation Connect 2013 event will be held tomorrow (23 May) at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Perth.