Indigenous private equity firm Biripi Capital is ready to be a “disruptor” with an aggressive plan to take on the food giants.
Founded last year, Biripi Capital has signed a $20 million deal with hotel and restaurant food services firm Hudson Food Group in the largest known impact investment in an Australian Indigenous business.
Hudson’s stake in Biripi’s The Dreaming Food Group will bankroll plans for the start-up to give one third of profits to Aboriginal-led organisations who are working to reduce inequality.
Co-founded by business leaders David Liddiard and Michael Manikas, both Biripi men, Biripi Capital is determined to help achieve all 17 targets in the National Agreement on closing the gap, and improve life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
After weighing up possibilities in food and construction, the decision was made to create The Dreaming Food Group and channel future profits into their registered charity, The Dreaming Foundation to distribute.
They aim for revenue of $100 million within 24 months, supported by a manufacturing plant in Melbourne that is on track to open in 2022.
“What we really want to do is break the glass ceiling of Aboriginal businesses in this country and create a model that is respectful to Aboriginal culture and heritage,” Mr Manikas told AAP.
“But also creating opportunities by looking at a normal commercial business to create some serious funding into our foundation to close the gap.”
Mr Manikas said he is motivated by a significant history of generational trauma.
“My ethos is really trying to heal the damage that has been done over the last couple of hundred years but also create opportunities,” he said.
“Everything that I’m throwing into this business, and everything I’ve done over the past 30 years, is trying to help and grow professions, industries and especially opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country.”
Biripi wants to team up with companies that share their ideals, and that includes setting partners on the right path.
“Everyone should be given the opportunity to be able to do good and make up for past wrongs,” Mr Manikas said.
Chief Operating Officer Anthony Ward said they would not rule out partnering with mining giant Rio Tinto, which destroyed Juukan Gorge, the sacred 46,000-year-old site on Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura country.
“We have to recognise that companies as large as Rio do have the ability to really influence, by nature of the size of their spend, the success of businesses including Aboriginal businesses,” he said.
But mining is not an immediate focus and would be “approached with caution”, Mr Ward said.
Building relationships with supermarket chains, hotels and restaurants is the company’s goal for the next 18 months.
The food sector also has the attraction of federal mandates for government organisations to buy goods and services from majority owned Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses.
“Some of our biggest discussions are with corporates that are not motivated by the government dollar, they’re motivated by ESG-style (environmental, social, and governance) mandates that their boards are setting, particularly large businesses” Mr Ward said.
“But there is a massive trickle-down occurring into medium and smaller businesses to be looking at everything they do.”
Biripi is also building sustainable supply chains of its own, whether it’s processing the Kakadu plum or any other native food ingredient.
“When we’re creating something or selling it to someone, one third of the profits are being put in The Dreaming Foundation, and the foundation invests that in the community where the product came from,” he said.
Mr Ward said it was a very compelling model, and they would be taking on established competitors, including multinational companies.
“This is out of the norm. Aboriginal businesses in this country are typically quite small and they operate in quite niche markets,” he said.
“We’ve gone in, effectively, to be a disruptor.”