Dean Foley has no regrets about the turn his life has taken.
Mind you, he wouldn’t recommend others follow the same path.
The founder of Barayamal, a business accelerator program for Indigenous start-ups, left a career with Royal Australian Air Force to pursue his dream of getting into business in Brisbane.
“It wasn’t the smartest idea, leaving secure employment to live off zero dollars,” he said.
However, he was accepted into a Graduate Certificate of Business Administration at Griffith University and used his own experiences to launch the grass-roots, indigenous-owned initiative.
A proud Kamilaroi man, Dean Foley was born in Brisbane but grew up in Gunnedah, New South Wales.
Believing he wasn’t smart enough to go to university, he pursued another goal – serving in the Australian Defence Force.
His time with the RAAF proved valuable – teaching Mr Foley a range of skills, including discipline, and opening his eyes to the world outside his small hometown.
“Then I read a book on entrepreneurship – Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki,” he said.
“Coming from a poor family, I didn’t know what was possible in business, that you could become successful and financially free.”
The book had opened his eyes and he made the trek north.
“I wasn’t 100 percent sure what to do when I left the airforce, I probably should have read more books or something,” he laughed.
“But because of my Aboriginal heritage I went to people who were supposed to help Indigenous Australians get into business. Unfortunately, I didn’t find them too helpful.”
Things changed when Mr Foley was invited to a start-up weekend.
Amazed by the people around him and hearing similar experiences to his own, he was inspired to run a mini business accelerator program solely for Indigenous entrepreneurs.
And so, Barayamal was born.
He points to the fact that a recent ABS survey showed that 46 percent of Indigenous people are unemployed.
“Indigenous entrepreneurs are more likely to employ indigenous people – there’s a good correlation there,” he explained.
“Some people have very negative stereotypes of indigenous people – so it’s important for indigenous entrepreneurs to take things into their own hands, creating jobs and economic development.”
Barayamal hasn’t been without its challenges.
Mr Foley has had to overcome those stereotypes about Indigenous Australians and let his actions speak for themselves.
He was even told to change the business name, with many implying it was too hard to pronounce.
“I stuck with it because it’s good to promote indigenous culture and indigenous language, because of what’s happened in the past,” he said.
Barayamal itself means ‘black swan’.
“When Europeans came to Australia, they only knew of a white swan. Black swans are native to Australia.
“For me, there’s a comparison with Indigenous entrepreneurs. People aren’t aware of all the awesome Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entrepreneurs out there building really innovative and beneficial businesses that are helping the community and the Australian economy grow.”
Barayamal is working with a range of entrepreneurs, including people like Mikaela Jade, who has developed an augmented reality app to provide tourists with cultural insights for significant sites across Australia. Mr Foley said it’s not unlike Pokemon Go – but with Indigenous culture.
Mr Foley officially starts his MBA with Griffith University this semester, though he’s already got a few subjects under his belt, thanks to his graduate degree.
He praised the MBA team and its director, Chris Fleming, who have provided him with valuable support.
There’s no doubt Mr Foley is happy with how far he’s come since leaving the RAAF – but he does suggest others work on their business ventures while having a stable income if possible.
“For me personally though, I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said.
“It’s made me stronger and I’ve learnt a lot along the way.”
Applications are currently open for Barayamal’s Budding Entrepreneurs Program.