In celebration of World Animal Day and the final stage of the 2020 Wild Idea business incubator, we had a chat with Odonata founder Nigel Sharp about what inspired him to get involved with conservation, how not-for-profit Odonata is paving the way for contemporary conservation and the role partnerships play in connecting businesses to biodiversity.
For Nigel, biodiversity is the reason he gets up every day.
“As a businessman, I see biodiversity as an opportunity, where many consider it a burden,” Nigel says. “This is my driver – to use business to help biodiversity. My two passions coming together to support each other. That excites me every day.”
A conservation calling
It’s not difficult to see why Nigel got involved in the conservation space. His passion permeates everything he does. He’s an impact investor, conservationist, environmental business innovator, founder of Odonata Foundation and co-founder and CEO of Tiverton Agriculture Impact Fund (focussed on regenerative agriculture and natural capital) – to name a few.
This ‘conservation calling’ stems from Nigel’s youth growing up on the family farm in south-west Victoria, which he discusses in episode 1 of the Saving our Species Business of Biodiversity podcast. His father was a farmer, before working for the Soil Conservation Authority, and he would spend his childhood summers helping him with conservation projects to build their farm’s biodiversity.
He reflects, “As I planted trees along the creek lines and gullies, I knew I would, one day, pursue a career working and serving the land”.
Fast-forward to 2016 and after years of business success, including becoming an Associate Director for Knight Frank and then CEO of AAIM, Odonata was established in 2016 by Nigel to scale up the success of Mt Rothwell Conservation Centre. The centre is a 470 hectare predator-proof sanctuary dedicated to protecting and restoring some of Australia’s most endangered species populations.
With the humble vision of a world where humans and nature live in harmony, Odonata believe business is a major tool for positive biodiversity outcomes and key to inspiring Australians to live a healthy life in connection with the environment, through driving positive outcomes on biodiversity, economic value for farmers, nature-focused solutions for businesses, and profitable growth that can be reinvested in the organisation.
A crucial step to realising this vision is through designing and supporting the implementation of long-term and financially sustainable, biodiversity-enhancing projects and businesses. Enter – the Wild Idea Business Incubator.
Investing in innovative ideas
In 2019, a co-design partnership with Saving our Species (SoS), Odonata and NAB Foundation saw the launch of an Australian-first environmentally focused business incubator, Wild Idea.
Wild Idea is a free start-up business mentoring program designed to support innovators, environmentalists and entrepreneurs who are passionate about protecting our natural environment through business.
“We see new ideas from people who are inspiring, capable and want to make a difference in their field or have come up with an impactful, game-changing idea – but none of these would be achievable without the right support,” Nigel says. “We provide a vibrant ecosystem of businesses, philanthropists, experts and like-minded organisations to come together, while providing them with the business skills and information they need to start a business, manage risk and bring their ideas to life.”
These new ideas and collaborative approaches have already changed the face of conservation. For example, 2019 finalist Owlbnb has transformed from a backyard labour of love for hollow nesting birds, into a business with significant growth and potential. Although Owlbnb is still in its early phases, they are now a major provider of bushfire recovery habitat, while establishing biodiversity as a pest control solution for organic farming. They’re also currently trialling habitat boxes in the Northern Rivers with the support of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and SoS.
1 Million Turtles
In honour of World Animal Day, we asked Nigel to tell us a bit more about the 1 Million Turtles Project, which is proudly supported by SoS. Odonata and the Tiverton Agriculture Impact Fund are working with the University of Western Sydney across the irrigation area of the Murray River catchment to release more than 1 million extra turtles each year.
“We have established a cornerstone wetland for in Barooga, southern NSW,” he says. “This is a 7 hectare irrigation dam which is being revitalised to create a haven for threatened species, particularly freshwater turtles.”
The Sunland Orchard, one of Australia’s biggest privately-owned fruit operations, is also creating areas to maximise reproductive potential and survival of a suite of species for translocation throughout the region, as the dam and channel systems connect to the iconic Murray River where the Murray River turtle is of particular importance.
“This project has the potential to bring the eastern long-necked turtle, Murray River turtle and broad shell turtle back from the brink of extinction, with recent research by Western Sydney University showing a 60-90% decline of common species,” he said.
Onwards and upwards
Like us, Nigel believes that collaboration is essential to scale biodiversity needs and the SoS and Odonata partnership is actively driving a significant shift in the mindset of many conservationists about how to make a positive impact for biodiversity.
“We look forward to continuing to unlock the business of biodiversity with the NSW government and ensuring everyone helps to play their part”, he says. Us too Nigel!