‘A strong pipeline of Indigenous businesses’: Entrepreneur Ruby Heard says there are more opportunities than ever for First Nations businesses

NAIDOC-week

Founder and director of Alinga Energy Ruby Heard. Source: Supplied.

This NAIDOC week renewable energy consultant Ruby Heard is celebrating the abundance of opportunities available to Indigenous entrepreneurs and calling attention to some of the issues facing First Nations people today.

Running until Sunday, July 11, this year’s national NAIDOC week theme is ‘Heal Country’. It aims to embrace First Nations understanding of country as part of Australia’s national heritage.

Heard, who founded Alinga Energy in 2018, helps remote communities adopt more affordable and reliable renewable energy systems across Australia.

She tells SmartCompany she sees NAIDOC week as an opportunity for people who don’t usually think about Indigenous issues to reflect.

“NAIDOC week is a very busy week for me,” she says.

“I try to spread the message in my own way and that usually involves reaching out to the engineering community with Engineers Australia.”

Using renewable energy

Alinga Energy Consulting provides renewable energy and microgrid consulting services to remote areas.

The aim, Heard says, is to give Indigenous communities more reliable and affordable power “to help all of the things going on in the community that we can”.

Mostly, this involves helping communities switch from using diesel power generators to solar panels and batteries.

Heard says that while renewables play a vital role in improving the environment and tackling climate change, they’re only a short-term solution.

“Global warming is something that’s at the forefront of our minds right now and we’re starting to see the effects,” she says.

“I think the important thing to remember is that we don’t have all the solutions yet,” she adds.

Heard says solar and lithium-ion batteries are only a temporary solution because they use rare elements that are limited resources.

“But we’re on the right track by trying to harness things like the sun, the wind and wave energy,” she says.

A pipeline of Indigenous entrepreneurs

New research by the University of Melbourne shows Indigenous businesses contributed about $4.88 billion to the national economy in the 2018 financial year, and Heard doesn’t see that amount declining.

In fact, she says Indigenous entrepreneurs and startups now benefit from more opportunities than ever before.

“We should start to see a really strong pipeline of Indigenous entrepreneurs and Indigenous businesses,” she says.

From the Barayamal Indigenous Accelerator program to government support and grants, Heard says opportunities “pop up all the time” to help Indigenous-led businesses launch and grow their businesses.

Important issues

According to Heard, some of the biggest issues facing Indigenous Australians right now relate to health, COVID-19, and the threat of closure of remote communities.

“Indigenous health is a top priority and then linked in with that is this whole issue surrounding COVID-19,” she says.

In Western Australia, the government has closed communities off to visitors in an attempt to protect a vulnerable population, but Heard says it’s problematic because these communities rely on tourism.

Additionally, she wants to see the government commit to continued support for remote communities, so that people can live on country.

“This is very important to Indigenous people, that we have people living out on country and caring for country,” she says.

“The government is supporting a lot of those communities, which is wonderful, but it also puts those communities at the mercy of changing governments and priorities.”