The co-founder of ApplyBoard initiates Passage, a new venture aimed at tackling Canada’s shortage of skilled workers, securing a substantial $40-million seed round for the project.

Co-founder of ApplyBoard initiates Passage

Martin Basiri, the co-founder of ApplyBoard, has embarked on a new venture called Passage after dedicating seven years to helping international students apply for studying abroad with ApplyBoard, an EdTech unicorn based in Kitchener-Waterloo. The primary focus of his new startup, Passage, is to address Canada’s skilled labor shortage.

Established in the current year, Passage has secured $40 million CAD in initial seed funding, with Drive Capital, based in Ohio, leading the investment. The startup aims to create a software platform that matches international students and immigrants with the workforce needs in Canada and assists them in accessing financial resources.

While ApplyBoard mainly assisted international students who could afford to pursue higher education in a foreign country, Passage targets skilled individuals from other countries who lack financial means to come to Canada for learning and work opportunities. Passage will cater to job seekers as well as individuals seeking to apply for educational programs.

Martin Basiri explained that ApplyBoard primarily served international students with financial resources, while Passage adopts a more inclusive approach, encouraging those without financial means to apply as well.

The goal of Passage is to support talented immigrants interested in studying and working in high-demand fields like science, technology, engineering, mathematics, cybersecurity, and healthcare, but who face financial barriers hindering their migration to Canada.

Drive Capital partner Nick Solaro praised Passage’s initiative, acknowledging that Canada’s unfilled job positions are affecting essential goods and services, leading to a socio-economic crisis that requires attention. He expressed confidence in Martin Basiri and his team’s ability to address this issue effectively.

The Passage seed round saw support from undisclosed investors, some of whom previously backed ApplyBoard. ApplyBoard had recently raised $375 million CAD in Series D financing with the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board leading the round, valuing the company at $4 billion.

Martin Basiri stepped down as ApplyBoard’s CEO discreetly last summer and handed over the position to his brother Meti, a change that was officially announced by the company in early 2023.

Basiri had initially left ApplyBoard to establish a charitable foundation to address the financial challenges faced by international students and immigrants coming to Canada. However, he realized that the problem required a more comprehensive solution and decided to create a platform like Passage.

Passage’s approach involves considering various factors such as the targeted educational institution, field of study, degree type, skillset, city, profession, and job market to assess candidates’ potential future earnings. This data-driven approach is expected to help Passage find backers who are willing to support their vision and provide financial aid to newcomers in Canada.

With the seed funding, Passage intends to develop its software and operational capacity and aims to enroll its first batch of students in 2024. The startup also plans to execute its first pilot project, which will assist over 100 female-identifying students from Afghanistan in accessing education in Canada, focusing on fields with worker shortages.

Despite the challenging economic situation, Martin Basiri is determined to overcome the hurdles, believing that if Passage succeeds under these circumstances, it will thrive at any time.