On a mission to prevent anyone getting left behind in the digital economy, Aboriginal entrepreneurs Leigh Harris and Julie-Ann Lambourne are building Australia’s first innovation hub for minority groups.

D:HIVE will be a centre for digital innovation, learning, collaboration and startups to build useful solutions for Indigenous Australians, migrants, refugees and people with disabilities not just in Australia but around the world.

“I built the first indigenous iPhone app in 2006 – everybody thought I was crazy,” Harris tells StartupSmart.

“The day has come where I’m not so crazy; innovation has been happening in Cairns for 20 years.”

To leverage this, Harris and Lambourne want the hub to be a magnet for innovative thinkers in remote Australia to connect, learn and build a more inclusive digital economy.

“It’s giving them access to the special skills that can proliferate their ideas and possibly my ideas that are thrown to a group of Indigenous kids, and possibly new immigrants as well,” Harris says.

“Hopefully, we’ll get people in who want to learn about the digital world.”

The D:HIVE hub is expected to open in February 2017 and will be co-located at enVizion, an innovative non-profit employment and training agency for minority groups in Cairns.

It will accommodate up to 50 people at any given time.

Lambourne, who is enVizion’s CEO, says that while the hub will create more digital access, achieving social equity in the digital age will need active collaboration between governments, corporates, education institutions and its community.

“In the National Year of Digital Inclusion, the challenge is to imagine a more inclusive digital future for everyone, including regional and remote communities,” she says.

If D:HIVE progresses well, Harris and Lambourne – who are Advanced Queensland Community Digital Champions and newly appointed members of the Queensland government’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Business and Innovation Reference Group – will lobby for the establishment of more indigenous-led incubation hubs across remote Australia.

Harris says corporates and government have a real opportunity to help build up remote Australian towns by investing in startup hubs and initiatives in these areas.

“The city-centric focus of these things is ludicrous,” he says.

“Hopefully, we will get engagement from federal government. We have some engagement from corporates, they’re waiting to see the establishment of the place first.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by InDigital founder Mikaela Jade at the inaugural Vogue Codes.

“We shouldn’t all be sitting in a city doing digital stuff,” she said.

Innovative ideas brewing in remote Australia

Among the first initiatives Harris would like to lead at D:HIVE is the global expansion of Open Lingo, an online platform to preserve the most vulnerable languages.

“So it becomes a platform that not only protects Indigenous languages in Australia but optimises and engages people on an international level whether they’re in Congo or Zimbabwe,” he says.

“We’re also looking at the use of augmented audio in shopping centres and homes for people with vision impairment, so that will tell them, ‘This shop is here and it has these products’.”

D:HIVE will also collaborate with enVizion to grow some of its existing tech-driven programs for the community.

“Julie-Anne has a virtual reality bus that travels throughout Northern Australia that trains people on job readiness,” he says.

“There are so many things that could come out of it.”

With young and innovative people around Cairns already building new solutions, Harris says the possibilities of D:HIVE will be endless.

“It’s grabbing those sort of individuals and innovating those ideas,” he says.

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