Credit: Tourism and Events Queensland

The story behind Australia’s first Indigenous Startup Weekend

Brisbane local and proud Kamilaroi man Troy Casey, 32, is proof there is no shame in asking questions.

With colleague Dean Foley, Troy read about startup business weekends Google were hosting and decided Indigenous Australia needed a bit of the action too.

Troy Casey
“We wanted to be part of closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia, but we wanted to attack it from a new angle,” Troy says.

“We could see better support for new Indigenous owned businesses who employed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander locals would help keep revenue within the community.”

While Troy and Dean were looking for ways to begin the dialogue around entrepreneurship and innovation, they came across the Google Startup Weekend model.

“So we just decided to call Google for Entrepreneurs and ask them some questions,” Troy says.

“They were really happy to give us the nod of approval to host our very own Indigenous themed Startup Weekend here in Brisbane.”

The pair discovered there had never been an event like this it Australia.

“We were really naïve about what it actually involved and the people at Google told us we’d need at least four staff members to pull it off,” Troy says.

“We didn’t have those kinds of resources but decided to go it alone and host the event at The Edge, Brisbane’s digital cultural centre.”

Troy applied for a grant from the Advance Queensland Young Starters’ Fund and was awarded $13,500.

“It was a massive boost in the early planning stages to actually get it off the ground,” Troy says.

“It was the first bit of financial support we secured and it gave us the drive to keep going and some much needed reassurance that we were doing something that could genuinely help our mob.”

In August 2016, 80 participants attended the first Indigenous Startup Weekend.

“One of the best things about that weekend was of the 80 people that came 75 per cent identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander but we had 25 per cent of attendees who were non-Indigenous,” he says.

“They were so eager to attend a startup weekend and brainstorm their ideas, so in the spirit of reconciliation we welcomed them to be part of it and build a better understanding of our culture.”

The ideas didn’t just come from those who attended.

For Troy, the very event he helped create served as inspiration for his own startup social enterprise.

“I was listening to one of the young innovators who put forward this awesome idea about encouraging healthy eating habits in Indigenous communities,” Troy says.

“She suggested having parcels of dry ingredients which needed only bare food essentials to be added to them for people to order online and have delivered. I was sitting there processing the idea and I had this lightbulb moment.”

Troy realised the food parcel idea was brilliant but the lack of affordable and reliable internet in Indigenous communities meant very few people could actually order anything online.

Breaking the digital divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people became a thundering passion for Troy.

“I mean, a lot of our mob don’t even have Telstra coverage,” he says.

“It made me realise the people who came to the Indigenous Startup Weekend were only there because they had seen it on social media.

“So how do people in communities get involved with our work if they don’t have Facebook or at the very least an internet connection?”

A few weeks later Troy formed his own startup Pinion Kinnections aiming to reduce the digital divide for Indigenous communities.

“Queensland is the centre of the digital economy at the moment and I would hate for the Indigenous community to miss out on being a part of it,” he says.

“We are story tellers from the longest living culture in the world. How better to get our stories and ideas out there but via the digital opportunities the rest of the country take for granted?”

Troy hasn’t taken any of his success for granted and as well as his personal startup, has taken on a day job with Brisbane-based agency Carbon Creative as Program Manager for the Advance Queensland ‘STEM.I.AM’ initiative.

“The program is a dedicated campaign to encourage the uptake of STEM-related studies by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth, and focuses on coding and robotics workshop; which ties in beautifully with my passion for digital inclusion,” Troy says.

Troy is very proud of the success of the Indigenous StartUp Weekend and says he would love to see it happen again and spread to other states in Australia.

“I’d love for a young inspiring indigenous community member to pick up where we left off and organise more events across Australia,” Troy says.

So, if you think you’re up to the challenge give Troy a call and ask him some questions.