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Celebrating Bobbie Racette at the Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year Award (DEYA) 2023

January 16, 2024

Bobbie Racette sitting on the stage across from Paul Lacerte in Victoria for Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year gala

It was a night to celebrate historic moments, love and remarkable courage. On October 18, 2023, at the Victoria Conference Centre, the 20th annual UVic Gustavson School of Business Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year Award (DEYA) gala took place. We celebrated Bobbie Racette, the founder and CEO of Virtual Gurus, an extraordinary entrepreneur and the first Indigenous recipient of this award.  

The room was filled with love, honesty and inspiration, from the blessings by Elder May Sam to the territory welcome by Dr. Skip Dick; the Westwind Drumming Group, who drummed Racette to the stage; and Elder Barb Hulme, who recognized Racette with a private blanketing ceremony—not for her success at Virtual Gurus, but for her generosity.  

On stage, amidst the vibrant décor, Racette sat with interviewer Paul Lacerte (managing partner at Raven Indigenous Capital Partners) to discuss her challenges, successes and journey. The gala brought us together to honor not just Racette’s achievements, but also the remarkable person that she is.

Bobbie Racette: Paving the Way for Indigenous Entrepreneurs

Racette graced the DEYA gala stage as the first Indigenous recipient of this award. Racette, who is Cree-Métis from Regina, Saskatchewan, is not only the founder of Virtual Gurus, a talent marketplace that leverages proprietary technology to connect organizations and entrepreneurs with highly skilled remote administrative workers, but also the visionary behind the VG on Demand app. This app is designed for swift and efficient execution of basic admin and concierge tasks, offering easy and instant access to a live personal assistant. Across Canada and the US, 1,100 virtual assistants are part of Racette’s mission to create employment opportunities for underrepresented folks.

Racette’s journey began after leaving home at 18, taking on various jobs, from clearing tables in Europe to cleaning hotels in Mexico and picking fruit in British Columbia. She eventually worked up to the role of foreperson in the Calgary oil fields but unfortunately faced a layoff during the economic downturn in 2015. Virtual Gurus was created from her own struggle to find employment. Realizing she could provide opportunities for other folks in similar situations, she knew she was on the right path. However, her challenges didn't’t stop there. As she worked toward growing the company, Racette was turned down by over 170 venture capitalists, many of whom advised her to conceal her tattoos and avoid talking about community and diversity mandates if she wanted funding.

One of the people who finally told her “yes” and believed in her vision was Paul Lacerte, whose firm Raven Indigenous Capital Partners is an investor in Virtual Gurus, and who joined Racette on stage at DEYA to talk about her journey.

Bobbie Tuesday: A Day to Be Bold, Be Brave, and Be You

The 2023 DEYA gala was a celebration filled with innovation, creativity and inspiration, with every aspect meticulously designed to reflect Racette’s unique spirit.

At the helm of this evening was Mark Colgate, Gustavson professor and repeat DEYA emcee, who rebranded Tuesdays as "Bobbie Tuesdays." It's not just another day of the week, Colgate claimed; it's an invitation to be bold, be brave and most importantly, be authentically you. Bobbie Tuesday is a day to embrace risks and authenticity, just like Racette does everyday.

Insights from Bobbie Racette:

During the Q&A with Lacerte, Racette shared insights and experiences that have shaped her into the leader she is today. Her journey is a testament to the power of resilience, authenticity and unwavering commitment to her motto, "be bold, be brave, be you."

Racette revealed that her path to success was far from straightforward. As a self-proclaimed "hardcore introvert," she had to challenge her own comfort zone. She emphasized a truth about entrepreneurship: "you're not going to be comfortable unless you're uncomfortable." It's the discomfort that often leads to growth and innovation, a philosophy she's lived by.

One of the challenges she candidly discussed was imposter syndrome, a feeling that plagues many entrepreneurs. Racette admitted that she too struggled with moments of self-doubt. However, she found strength in focusing on love – love for her work, love for herself and love for the journey. Love became the driving force that pushed her forward, even in the face of rejection.

One realization shaped Racette’s entrepreneurship path. She said, "I actually created Virtual Gurus to create a job for myself because I needed to create something for me." This realization was a turning point, leading her to create opportunities not only for herself but for countless others who had also been told "no" throughout their lives.

Reflections:

In honoring Racette at the 20th DEYA gala, we celebrated more than just an award. We celebrated a trailblazer, an inspiration and the importance of love, resilience and bravery. Racette’s journey, from her early days of diverse jobs to becoming a tech executive, reflects the essence of her motto, "be bold, be brave, be you." Her dedication to inspiring other Indigenous entrepreneurs offers a role model and a mentor for those who are on their own entrepreneurial journeys.

Racette's story is a testament to the possibilities that await those who dare to be bold, be themselves, and be brave in the face of challenges.

This amazing night wouldn't be possible without the support of our sponsors. We extend our heartfelt thanks to premier sponsor BMO Private Wealth; program sponsors RBC and Alacrity; event sponsor Reed Pope Business Lawyers; and media partners the Globe and Mail, the Times Colonist and Douglas Magazine. And to all the table sponsors and community guests who joined us in celebrating the inaugural Bobbie Tuesday – thank you! We couldn't’t do it without you.

— Breia Monti. Photo: Paul Lacerte, left, Bobbie Racette, right. Geoff Howe.