Wiradjuri woman and founder of Yaala Sparkling Tara Croker has always loved experimenting with flavours and native ingredients. It’s something the Wiradjuri woman inherited from her grandmother who grew all her own food. "One of the ways I connect with the land is through food and drink," says Tara. "I like to try this flavour with that flavour and brew it together into teas and kombucha. We landed on sparkling water because it’s an inclusive drink.”

Tara says her small sparkling water business grew organically, just one small step at a time. But it was when she noticed brands with non-Indigenous owners starting to play in the native food space that she was energised to act on her business idea. “There’s less than 2 per cent Indigenous ownership across the entire [bush food] supply chain from farming to end product,” she says. “When I heard that, it put the fire in my belly. It blows my mind that the knowledge comes from First Nations people, and thousands of years of using these plants as medicines and foods, and yet none of the economic benefits are returning to where that knowledge comes from.”

It was this combination of passion and drive that made Tara want to show up in the space. Her small business got a much-needed boost when she appeared on the TV show ‘Shark Tank’ in 2023 and received a $125,000 investment from businesswoman Dr Catriona Wallace.

Here, Tara shares what she has learned in her entrepreneurial journey so far, and her tips for other new businesses.

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A close-up of Tara Croker wearing a teal vest jacket, holding and looking at some lemon myrtle leaves, with trees in the background. 

Find People Who Share Your Passion

“When you first start, you wear the hats of many functions [of running a small business] but we’re lucky that we have a wider team that we outsource to. It’s really wonderful to get similar-minded people together who believe in our vision and have lent in to strive for the mission of what we’re doing. Being able to bring people together is a bit of a superpower of mine.”

Small Businesses Need to Be Authentic

A product shot showing five bottles of Yaala Sparkling Water, three containing pink liquid and two containing yellow liquid, alongside some lemon myrtle leaves.

“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about our why, our brand, our vision, our mission, our purpose, and that sets you up from the get-go for decision making. I think people really understand what we’re trying to do, which is to celebrate and share culture and make a truly Australian drink that we can all be proud of.

“We’ve partnered with artists like Wiradjuri woman Leticia Quince, who did the [label] artwork to tell the stories of the ingredients we use. We work directly with our community out on Country who wild harvest our fruits. And we also focus on our supply chains and work with Indigenous suppliers and local farmers where possible.”

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Be Eager to Learn 

“My background is in corporate and marketing. To go into the beverage industry, you need manufacturing, logistics and to know what you can and can’t make work. There’s a lot of technicality to it with food regulations and safety, too. That’s probably been my biggest learning: in corporate you get to go, ‘Hey, Finance take care of that’ or ‘Hey, Legal’, but as an entrepreneur, you are that person. You need to surround yourself with people that have the expertise you don’t and are willing to share and take you on the journey with their knowledge.”

Frame Your Naivety as a Strength

Tara wears a teal vest jacket and sits on a grey lounge of a home holding a cocktail glass filled with the Yaala Sparkling Davidson plum and waratah sparkling water.  ‍

“The beauty of entrepreneurship is the naivety that you have at the start. If I look back on the last two years of developing the product, and said, ‘You're going to have to do all this’, then it probably wouldn’t have happened. But because you come into it with the naivety of, ‘Oh, I've got to do this thing’, you do it. You deal with it step by step.”

Connect With the Wider Small Business Community

“I’m definitely a growth mindset person who loves learning. Being able to connect to the Indigenous business community and the entrepreneur community has been really touching. I reach out to people I admire on LinkedIn that have made it and they’re always willing to spend an hour with me and give me advice. Embrace all the lessons along the way.”

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Take Chances

“I’ve always been a really big fan of the TV show ‘Shark Tank’. I would have loved to see a business like ours on a mainstream show like that, and I never had. When my friends said, ‘You should go for it’, I was like, ‘Of course I should!’. [When we appeared] we got to share what we’re doing with native plants and have a bit of dialogue about Indigenous business ownership.”

Tara’s Small Business Essentials

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