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October 27, 2022

Going full Circle

Government-run entrepreneurial hub The Circle is nestled in the heart of the city’s buzzing innovation neighbourhood, Lot Fourteen. It offers assistance free of charge to Aboriginal-owned businesses wanting to level-up.

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  • Words and pictures: Angela Skujins

“Doing this kind of work, and building great relationships with our members, I feel like part of something bigger,” says Kelly May, an Aboriginal woman from Western Australia.


The Circle
Lot Fourteen
Corner North Terrace & Frome Road, Adelaide 5000
More info here

Kelly is the operations manager of The Circle – an entrepreneurial hub nestled in the heart of Lot Fourteen in the CBD, offering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses in South Australia free career advice. “It’s about being able to have shared experiences with our members and relating on a particular level,” she says.

Aside from offering verbal help, The Circle is also a physical office and a co-working space. There are hot desks and staff available to give the 134 active members guidance on “capability growth” and the nous required to get into new markets. It’s one small part of the Lot Fourteen grand plan: bolster innovation in the state, wherever and in whatever form that may be.

Above a cluster of desktop computers and a hand-pump bottle of Nood (an Aboriginal-owned sanitiser brand), the Circle’s vision is clear. In fact, a cursive decal lays it out: “South Australia’s First Nations businesses are connected to a culturally respectful, professional and opportunity-driven service that fosters innovation, engagement, growth and business success”.

The Circle was first announced in 2019 after the Department of the Premier and Cabinet received $3 million federal funding over three years to “fill a lot of the gaps” in the local First Nations business sector, Kelly says. The project came off the back of the national 2018 Indigenous Business Sector Strategy, which highlighted the necessity for a pilot of three physical, fully staffed city hubs around Australia, tailored to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entrepreneurs.

Kelly May, second from left, with Diane Dixon, far right

Sitting on The Circle’s couch, with its upholstery popping in pastel swirls, critters and patterns, Kelly says witnessing fledgling businesses evolve from plucky DIY startups to sleek, professional enterprises fills her with pride.

“I feel like this is part of my journey, as connecting to my heritage and my culture,” she says. “I can see the exposure that we’re able to provide [to] the sector through Lot Fourteen is the beginnings of something really amazing.”

Since formally launching in August 2021, The Circle has delivered:

  • 157 formal businesses development sessions,
  • 13 industry events,
  • 92 referrals connecting members to industry opportunities,
  • 28 referrals connecting members to government agencies,
  • 23 employment referrals,
  • and has an average of 18 members per month access the hub.

Almost half of all the known First Nations businesses in the state are members, Kelly says, and 70 per cent of all of The Circle’s clientele are wholly First Nations-owned.

Diane Dixon, the state project lead for Lot Fourteen, says the magic at the precinct is the cross-pollination happening between tenants in the cafeteria and around the metaphorical water cooler. Although she couldn’t provide an example of an Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal business rubbing shoulders and connecting in this way, Diane says it’s “something we can [work on]”.

“[But] we’ve actually been able to empower Aboriginal businesses to be involved with Tarrkarri [Centre for First Nations Culture],” she says.

To provide an example of where The Circle does “walk the walk”, Kelly highlights the centre’s commitment to employing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff across all levels. This spans an Aboriginal-owned company who regularly cleans the space, to the three out of four senior staff identifying as Indigenous.

“We really want to lead by example,” she says.

“It’s really showing anyone that we interact with that one contract makes such a difference to an Aboriginal business.

“One of the things that we often say to other businesses that come to us looking to increase their supply chain with Aboriginal businesses is show us the last four or five invoices that you paid and we’ll try and match an Aboriginal business that can provide that service. It’s as simple as that.”

An AIATSIS map showing how South Australia is divided between different Aboriginal language groups and communities


The Commonwealth funding that got The Circle off the ground is set to expire in June 2023. Diane says now the challenge is looking at lengthening the centre’s lifespan in a way that isn’t dependent on grants.

Diane rules out the possibility of introducing paid memberships. “That’s not what we’re envisioning,” she says. Instead, she’ll analyse how other national hubs work. Making The Circle sustainable without federal funding may include corporate memberships, she suggests.


The Circle
First Nations Business Showcase SA 2022
Thursday, 27th Oct
Adelaide Entertainment Centre
98 Port Road, Hindmarsh 5007
More info here

On Thursday 27 October, all businesses housed under The Circle’s roof will demonstrate their wares and worth in The Circle First Nations Business Showcase at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre. Kelly says the businesses and stallholders will come from a wide range of industries, varying from maintenance to make-up to management.

“We work with education and training providers, those businesses that offer cultural services and cultural support,” she says.

“We’ve got a range of consultants, we have construction members, we’ve got the marketing and promotions, businesses, printing companies.

“All of our printing is done by First Nations businesses, our promotional materials are purchased through First Nations businesses, tourism, finance and accounting, marketing. The range is diverse.”

For more information on The Circle, visit the website.

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