Young Guns: Adversity Builds a Business


Crohn’s disease is an illness Cathy Richards has been living with since she was 12-years-old. But in her 20’s, when she became too sick to stay in her corporate position, she knew she had to make some big adjustments. One of them changed her career.In 2002, Richard’s founded Wellness Foods and rolled out with her first product, The Simply Bar. The protein bar was not your standard energy snack. it was designed to alleviate a problem brought on by Crohn’s that Richards constantly faced: finding a snack that didn’t upset her stomach.Originally designed for others with Crohn’s disease, today the The Simply Bar is marketed as a bar low in calories, high in protein and, most important, it is what is says it is: simple, with 8 ingredients in total.

With $500,000 in revenues this year, Richard says starting this company has been rewarding. “I would never have done this without Crohn’s, so it’s this mixed blessing.”Q. Where were you the moment you thought of your business plan?

A. I kept on thinking of the bars when I was traveling. I would be stuck in the car or in an airport thinking that there was nothing I could eat that wouldn’t upset my stomach and would fill me up. Everything had too much fat or sugar or milk. So there wasn’t one moment -- just a lot of little moments of dreaming of The Simply Bar.Q. What was the one thing you didn't know that you had to bluff your way through?

A. Making bars! I had no idea what I was doing. It was one big experiment!

Q. What is one life lesson that has helped you build your business?

A. Perseverance. In life, I have learnt that you just have to keep going sometimes. Crohn’s disease never goes away and I have learnt just to keep going and take one day at a time and not give up. This lesson was critical in getting The Simply Bar to where it is today.Q. Who is your role model or inspiration?

A. Dr K.N. Jeejeebhoy. He was my gastroenterologist for twenty years until he retired. He has always given me hope. At times of greatest despair, when it seems like there is no answer and indeed no one else has an answer, he always has one more idea. This has been a huge help in my life and is a lesson that carries over into business.

Q. How has Crohn’s affected your life and your business?

A. It is unlikely that I would ever have been brave enough to leave a corporate job if I hadn’t physically been unable to continue. I wouldn’t have started the business if I didn’t have Crohn’s.

My goals with the business are also probably different than they would be otherwise. The key goal is to make money but the other goal is also to afford me time to enjoy life. I get to do things like walk the dog with my Dad in the middle of the day, and I nap in the afternoon whenever I can. You can’t do that in many jobs!

Q. Has it been hard finding distribution in the U.S.?

A. Yes! The US market is ten times the Canadian one and just navigating it has been challenging. We don’t want a huge national distributor but rather want to partner with the right regional distributors. Still looking…

Want to know who's next? Check back every week for more Young Guns...And if you know a young entrepreneur with a promising startup, e-mail us at