Richards, the cofounder behind Ottawa startups numbercrunch and Givopoly, will take over the role from Nokia Networks’ David Ritonja. Mayor Jim Watson remains the other co-chair of the regional economic development agency.
Taking the reins of the local non-profit seemed like an opportunity to do more for Ottawa and its business community, Richards tells OBJ. She’s been on the Invest Ottawa board for the past three years serving as chair of the audit and finance committee, a role that gave her an “intimacy” with the organization that made the new position a natural leap.
Richards says her visibility as a woman chairing a board of directors also makes her proud. In her role with Invest Ottawa and as a member of the local business community, she says she’s starting to see better gender balance on boards in the not-for-profit sector, but the stats in tech remain “pretty dismal.” A report released last year pegged the female representation on Canadian tech companies’ boards at eight per cent.
Richards says while everybody in the room is supportive of improving diversity on boards, there’s a lack of urgency in making it happen. She says she’s in favour of government-legislated quotas to get the dial moving, comparing such a move with laws that mandate wearing seatbelts in cars.
“I didn’t think we needed legislation to get people to buckle up. I thought, ‘It’s such common sense,’” she says.
“But the reality is, we did need that to happen in order for a material shift to happen … I think this is likely another one of those situations.”
Numbers and gifts
In addition to serving on Invest Ottawa’s board, Richards is in the trenches of the city’s business community with two companies of her own.
At numbercrunch, her team provides virtual bookkeeping services to local companies, with about 60 per cent of the clientele in the city’s tech sector. The firm takes a high-tech approach to accounting, using mostly cloud-based solutions – “I like to tell people I’m allergic to paper,” Richards says.
The virtual CFO says she expected to have to educate the market about the value of accounting services, but there’s apparently no shortage of need in Ottawa for a tech-focused bookkeeper.
“Demand is really high for numbercrunch services, so we’ve definitely hit on a need in the ecosystem. It’s a very pleasant surprise for me.”
Richards is taking more time with Givopoly, a solution to help customers worldwide purchase gifts from local vendors. The bootstrapped firm has thus far had customers in more than 80 countries send gifts to recipients in Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto.
The startup is growing steadily year-over-year, but Richards says Givopoly is working through some experimentation before scaling country-wide.
“It’s all that engine work behind the scenes that … we’re playing with to get those mechanics right,” she says.
This leaner business model is something she suggests more startups try before blowing the bank on a product or concept that might not even work.
Sport of choice
On the Invest Ottawa side, the activity Richards is seeing at Bayview Yards is exciting to her. She believes that physical space is playing a role in bringing the city together, breaking down the silos that she used to see in Ottawa’s tech sector.
In terms of programming, she says Invest Ottawa’s programming has taken on a more holistic approach in recent months. She cites additions such as Nick Quain, who joined as vice-president of venture development earlier this year, as giving the organization the perspective it needs to help startups at each stage in their life cycles.
Whether she’s helping one of these companies with their books, managing the growth of her own firms or seeing it all from her new chair on the board of Invest Ottawa, Richards is liking what she’s seeing in Ottawa’s business community.
“I love entrepreneurs. Business is my sport of choice,” she says. “That’s the passion that drives me.”