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Ryan James masters MBA to fuel Indigenous business

Former NRL player Ryan James has graduated from Bond University with an MBA and immediately put his new skills to work, co-founding an incubator for Indigenous businesses.

The Bundjalung man and ADCO Sports Excellence Scholarship holder started his degree in 2019 after another crippling injury ended his season in a Gold Coast Titans jersey. 

“I had just done my ACL a third time so me and another player started our MBAs together and I slowly did one subject a semester, then the last two semesters I went full time to finish it off,” Mr James said. 

“Traditionally I haven’t been the smartest in the room so it was a great help to be able to reach out to the educators whenever and get hands-on help because everyone here wants to see you succeed.” 

Ryan James graduating

Mr James is being self-deprecating. He was first-in-class in one of his MBA subjects earlier this year, an achievement that he credits to his time in the NRL.

“During my football career I think I averaged a credit (in my degree) because you can’t give your whole time to uni. Then as soon as I finished I was getting distinctions - got first-in-class - and that just shows, everything from sport translates,” he said.

“Once you give something the time it deserves, it shows.”

Mr James enjoyed his Bond experience so much that he has decided to stay on and establish a business venture close to his heart. 

The idea was born out of his MBA capstone class and before he knew it, he was pitching the idea to Bond University Provost Professor Keitha Dunstan who agreed it would be a great collaboration for the university. 

As co-founder of Indigenous Innovation Ventures with Yohann Azlee, Mr James has created a space where First Nations business owners or entrepreneurs can bring their visions to life in a guided environment, forge networks across communities, government and industries and develop a culturally-aligned strategic communications plan. 

They hope building First Nations business leaders will have a knock-on effect, empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs that can uplift their own communities. 

In the space of a few months, Mr Azlee and Mr Ryan have hit the ground running, signing a deal with Ivey Publishing which will lead to much-needed research. 

“When we did our MBA on what we were planning to do, there was no literature on Indigenous businesses and the economic outcome in society for Indigenous communities, whereas now we’ll get to publish 10 papers next year,” Mr James said. 

“This will make Bond the top publisher of Indigenous business cases that show outcomes for Indigenous communities.” 

From next year, Indigenous Innovation Ventures will work with students at Bond, including Indigenous student and artist Imogen Clarence. 

Ms Clarence’s business Dreamtime Air was born out of a Business class and the plan is to launch the business further into the Australian market. 

“Imogen will be in here working with us, meeting everyone that we’re meeting and forging those networks,” Mr James said.

The ex-Broncos, Canberra and Titans player has already co-founded two other businesses, BSKT Wholefoods and Project Net Zero, so he has plenty of entrepreneurial knowledge to share.

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