Les Delaforce is imagining a future where aspiring Indigenous businesspeople can approach a network of established First Nations investors.
Kind of like an “old boys’ club” – but made up of successful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesspeople instead of private school ties.
“We’re trying to create a network or a syndicate of First Nations business leaders and entrepreneurs to invest in the next generation of First Nations startups,” Mr Delaforce said.
Minderoo Foundation is partnering with the US Department of State to launch the Blak Angels Investment Network, an initiative for and by First Nations investors.
The Blak Angels, a delegation of 10 First Nations angel investors, will travel to the US in September to meet with Native American, Latino, and African American investors and other leaders in the US investment arena.
Ten American investors, from states including Oklahoma and Arizona, will travel to locations throughout Australia later this year to meet with the Blak Angels and other Indigenous business leaders and organisations.
Angel investors are businesspeople who provide money to companies just starting out, usually in return for a share.
Mr Delaforce, a Gumbaynggirr man originally from Kempsey, is the head of First Nations entrepreneurship and industry at Minderoo Foundation’s Generation One and a board director of StartupWA.
He has built a career in tech, innovation and helping to grow the Indigenous startup sector.
He believes to be an entrepreneur you can’t be afraid of failure.
“So, 90 per cent of startups will fail,” he said.
“I’ve made lots of mistakes on the way and we failed numerous times back in 2016 trying to raise venture capital for our app, which we developed to use AI to try and negate unconscious bias.
“It was really intoxicating and intimidating to be in a room with some of Australia’s most successful investors and entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, and it’s really daunting to come through and you’re pitching your startup.”
Mr Delaforce dealt with some ignorant and racist questions when he was trying to attract investment into his business, like being asked if because he was Aboriginal and from Kempsey that meant he stole cars.
He said having a network of Blak Angels would mean an encouraging environment for aspiring Indigenous entrepreneurs.
“Aboriginal businesses are up to 100 times more likely to employ Aboriginal people,” Mr Delaforce said.
“So if we can grow this network of First Nations investors to invest in the next generation of Indigenous entrepreneurs then they create more jobs for our mob and it’s trying to create that cycle of supporting each other and growth.”
Minderoo Foundation founder Andrew Forrest said the initiative builds on the previous work they have done through the Dream Venture program, which prepares Indigenous businesspeople to raise capital.
“Now, we want to empower those same successful businessmen and businesswomen to invest in the next generation of Indigenous businesses by becoming sophisticated investors themselves,” he said.
US Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy said the network is an example of the two countries working together to create economic opportunities for under-represented communities.
“Through these exchanges, investors will gain knowledge, experience, and the people-to-people ties that underpin successful businesses, all of which will expand First Nations investor ecosystems in both our countries,” she said.
Blak Angels founding member Morgan Coleman said he faced challenges starting his business.
“So to play a role in leading the next generation of entrepreneurs is a great privilege,” he said.
“There is growing momentum in the First Nations business sector and an initiative like Blak Angels will help to provide opportunities for First Nations investors and build more capacity within our communities.”