Bobbie Racette, the University of Victoria’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business 2023 Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year, takes the honour seriously because it’s her goal to inspire other Indigenous people to venture into the business world.
The technology executive recalls taking part in a 45-minute-long round table in Calgary and meeting a young woman whose friends had raised funds for her to drive 12 hours to the event. That young woman, with retail dreams, cried when she met Racette in person. The two keep in touch and Racette provides business advice.
Racette, 46, was feted Tuesday evening at a gala at the Victoria Conference Centre. Her parents came from Saskatchewan; her partner, co-workers and investors also attended.
“My hope is that this inspires other Indigenous entrepreneurs,” she said. “When I was starting out I didn’t have that role model.”
Racette, who is Cree-Métis, is the founder and chief executive of Calgary-based Virtual Gurus and a brand-new app called VG on Demand, which responds quickly to perform tasks. For example, it could be used by a customer who needed something transcribed in short order.
Virtual Gurus has 1,100 dedicated virtual assistants (including those at the new app) working in Canada and the U.S. providing diverse online administrative services.
Her professional world is fast-paced requiring the ability to adapt quickly to new technology. The company spent the past year building up its artificial intelligence technology and preparing to scale up. “So we just kind of put our focus into growth.”
Virtual Gurus signed a partnership with Mastercard, unveiled last week, to provide its service to credit card users. This is “one of the biggest things that has happened to us,” Racette said.
The company is just closing on $4 million raised for growth in the coming year.
Racette is in demand as a speaker and last week, she was honoured as an EY Entrepreneur of the Year for the Prairies.
It took time for Racette to find her way into technology.
She left Regina, her hometown, at age 18, to spend 10 years travelling and working in a variety of jobs such as clearing tables in Europe, cleaning hotels in Mexico and picking fruit in B.C.
She eventually found herself in Calgary, employed as a safety technician foreman in the oil and gas sector. But that job disappeared in 2016.
It was while job-hunting that Racette figured out that online administrative services were supplied offshore and figured she could offer a similar service closer to home. She founded her company and hired her first virtual assistant in 2017.
• Past Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year recipients:
2022: Ratana and Arran Stephens, co-founders of Nature’s Path
2021: Anthony von Mandl, O.C., O.B.C. founder and CEO of The Mark Anthony Group
2020: Jim Pattison, chairman and CEO of The Jim Pattison Group
2019: Sue Paish, Q.C. CEO of Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster
2018: Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO of Slack
2017: Don Mattrick, former president of Microsoft Interactive Entertainment Business
2016: Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of Linamar Corporation
2015: David Foster, businessman, philanthropist and record producer
2014: Dennis Washington, founder of The Washington Companies
2013: Brandt C. Louie, president and CEO of H.Y. Louie Co.
2012: Dennis (Chip) Wilson, founder of lululemon athletica
2011: JR Shaw, founder of Shaw Communications
2010: Dr. Alex Campbell Sr., co-founder of Thrifty Foods
2009: Sir Terence Matthews, chair of Mitel Corporation and chair and founder of Wesley Clover
2008: Clive Beddoe, a founding shareholder in WestJet
2007: David Black, president of Black Press
2006: Gwyn Morgan CM, former president and CEO of EnCana Corp.
2005: Dave Ritchie, chair and former CEO of Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers Inc.
2004: Inaugural recipient Jeff Mallett, former president and COO of Yahoo!
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