Fredericton’s PLATO Testing, an Indigenous information technology services and training company, has raised $2 million from Vancouver-based Raven Indigenous Capital Partners and plans to roughly double its staff over the next year.
The deal is a step towards making good on a promise CEO Keith McIntosh made when he founded PLATO to eventually transfer majority ownership to Indigenous hands, since McIntosh himself is not First Nations.
The raise will also finance a hiring push that McIntosh said will make it easier to bag government contracts. He said government procurement processes are designed to operate at scale and favour large companies, as well as Indigenous-owned ones.
“The federal government needs to be able to spend their money in larger sums,” he said. “Once a business starts doing that, now that becomes an entity that the federal government can spend its money on.”
Founded by McIntosh in 2015, PLATO offers prospective employees several months of job training and then hires them — with the additional proviso that the employees are Indigenous.
So far, PLATO has 260 to 270 staff spread across the country. McIntosh plans to reach about 500 people by this time next year.
Some of the company’s employees have undergraduate or even graduate-level credentials, but others lack university degrees. So even as the company expands, PLATO’s training will focus on topics such as cybersecurity and software integration, which can be learned by people without formal IT training, but still offer opportunities for career advancement.
The $2 million from Raven follows a prior, $500,000 deal, for a total of $2.5 million invested. McIntosh said he hopes to raise a full $10 million by June, also from Indigenous investors.
He added that the structural and worsening labour shortages plaguing Canada’s technology sector have been a major driver of growth for PLATO, with companies looking to outsource work they previously would have done in-house.
“(Recruitment pain) is one of our pillars, for sure,” he said. “It’s hard to find people. The pandemic has made remote work acceptable, so that's helped ... And most of the Indigenous people we bring in are at a junior level, but they're growing." (in their careers.)