Cree-Métis creator of VirtualGurus hopes to inspire Indigenous youth to pursue business

Bobbie Jo Racette, who made it to the finals of the $100,000 pitch competition at Montreal StartupFest, struggled with discrimination herself but turned that on its head to found a thriving startup.

Bobbie Jo Racette was a finalist for $100K pitch competition at Montreal StartupFest.

Bobbie-Jo Racette created her startup, VirtualGuru, after she experienced racial profiling in the job market. (Submitted by Bobbie-Jo Racette)

Bobbie-Jo Racette is a Cree-Métis woman who sports tattoos — and because of that, she says, she's always struggled with discrimination and profiling while searching for jobs.

She knew she couldn't be the only one struggling, so she decided to flip the problem on its head and find a way to offer jobs to other people facing obstacles in their job hunt.

So in 2016, Racette launched a startup called Virtual Gurus, an online agency which connects people looking for virtual assistants with people looking for jobs.

Her startup made it to the finals of the pitch competition at Montreal Startup Fest, which offers the winner $100,000 to boost their project.

Racette didn't win, but she did grab the attention of the investors on the panel. 

Now she hopes to inspire Indigenous youth to go after success in entrepreneurship and business.

"Maybe they can see me and think: 'I can do it!'"

Racette says she would like to see more Indigenous entrepreneurs — and she hopes to help make that happen. 

Entrepreneur Bobbie-Jo Racette gives her pitch at Montreal Startupfest (Submitted by Bobbie-Jo Racette)

She is a mentor at Cape Breton University's In.Business program, which connects Indigenous business leaders with Indigenous youth.

"Maybe they can see me and think: 'I can do it!'" Racette hopes. 

Raclette is already creating positive effects for many different marginalized groups through VirtualGuru.

She proudly lists some of the people for whom her company has found jobs: trans people in the middle of transitioning who can't find work, people who have mental health and anxiety issues, and stay-at-home moms struggling to make ends meet but who can't afford daycare.  

For such people, working virtually as an assistant offers flexibility which is crucial for their lives. 

The upshot of virtual work

So, what does a virtual assistant do?

They're contractors who do everything you'd expect a run-of-the-mill office assistant to do: administrative work, bookkeeping, answering the phone, etc. They just do these tasks wherever they happen to be.

It's far from a perfect solution.

According to a 2016 study by a federal agency that does policy analysis, Horizons Canada, virtual work is expected to be a part of most Canadians' work experience by 2030.

While the work can be flexible, the study suggests it can also be more uncertain.

"A global online marketplace," the study says, "will increase self-employment and short-term contracts, making job security and financial stability more difficult to attain."

Despite these drawbacks, Racette remains optimistic about the future of her startup and positive impact it can have on people who might otherwise not be employed. 

She says that even though those who have found work through VirtualGurus are self-employed, many of them have stayed with the organization because it provides a virtual community. 

And for Racette, that's a huge part of the project: creating community.