Dick Richards is one of the founding investors in Unitus Ventures (formerly Unitus Seed Fund).
A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Mr. Richards immigrated to Canada before attending the University of British Columbia. He sold his own real estate company to Colliers in 1984 whereupon he took charge of the Real Estate Management Services Canadian Division. He retired in 2000 as the division Senior Vice President. Mr. Richards has also held numerous prominent roles in his community including Chairman of the Board of World Vision Canada where his efforts led to the founding of VisionFund International, a micro-finance (lending, savings, insurance) aimed at improving the lives of children in the developing world.
What drives you to invest in new funds like USF?
I have been very involved in providing micro-finance for the people at the BoP (bottom of the economic pyramid), and this is a new way of helping alleviate poverty combined with the expectation of a reasonable return on invested capital.
How do you balance your expectations of financial return vs. social impact?
Realizing that all investments have a level of risk, and that as a new concept the risk level in unknown, the social impact was a very important influence on my decision.
Why is investing in a BoP startup better than making a grant to a good NGO?
It is quite different to making a donation. Here there is a commercial expectation of a return and of capital, while making a difference in the lives of the poor.
What sectors do you think are most promising (education, ag, energy, etc?)
My top three sectors are education (hence employability), distribution of suitable products to rural residents are reasonable prices in reasonable quantities and healthcare.
10 years ago, very few people or institutions were investing in micro-finance. Today they attract billions in private and public capital. Do you think the same will happen with BoP startups?
Yes, as the market matures others will want to participate and earn a return while fulfilling social purposes.