An Aboriginal software-testing company has ambitious plans after winning a business pitch competition in Ottawa.
Minutes after accepting the award at Ottawa’s Lockheed Martin Canada’s IMPACT Centre, Chelsea Griffith, team-lead for software Plato Testing, told ItBusiness.ca they want to grow from 60 to 5,000 employees in five years, and expand to 20 different locations across the country. Founded in 2015, Plato Testing currently has offices in four different provinces, and recently, decided to take their business to the next level by entering the Joint Economic Development Initiative’s (JEDI) business pitch competition in New Brunswick.
Expanding the company and gaining recognition among other tech entrepreneurs in Canada as a result of the win is a great feeling, says Griffith – it also comes with some capital funding – but what excites her the most, she adds, is the Indigenous communities and the aspiring tech workers within them who will now have a direct link to a wide network of tech and IT experts and entrepreneurs.
“This is something I’m really passionate about … it’s really hard to break into an industry when you don’t know anyone there,” Griffith told ITbusiness.ca, adding Aboriginal schools don’t often steer students towards science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). “But now, we can act as role models for youth. We have a whole network we can share with kids who want to break into this industry.”
The Aboriginal Business Accelerator emerged as part of JEDI’s New Brunswick Aboriginal Shipbuilding Engagement Strategy. It was launched in 2014 to help Aboriginal businesses participate in the federal shipbuilding program at Irving Shipbuilding of Halifax. The 10-week program helps participating entrepreneurs in New Brunswick turn their ideas into businesses focused on exporting and creating new intellectual properties. The final awards ceremony was at the Lockheed Martin Canada’s IMPACT Centre in Ottawa this year.
One of the accelerator’s previous participants and business pitch winner, Melissa Lunney, founder of the app Doorable, says the program does a great job of not only creating networking opportunities, but giving Indigenous people access to innovation tools. Doorable helps disabled people open doors automatically and is currently being tested in several buildings across Fredericton. Lunney is also the founder of AppDigenous Development Inc., an app developing company. In addition to Doorable, Lunney says she has several other ideas she’d like to work on.
“It’s hard to get people to innovate if they don’t have the innovation tools,” says Lunney. “[The accelerator] also helped me push myself, taught me about the risks I have to consider when starting a company … they taught me how to write grants. Then winning the pitch competition was one of the most fulfilling accomplishments of my life.”
Griffith agrees, and says schools in Indigenous communities don’t often steer students towards the science, technology, engineering or mathematics fields (STEM). In addition, many Indiginous people entering the STEM workforce have a strong desire to work and live near their communities, says Griffith.
“Software testing is something that can be done remotely,” she explains, while pointing to the company’s six-month training program that is a mix of both in-class and on-site training. “After that, we’re hired on full-time with Plato Testing.”
“This event has been a opportunity for this company and there’s no limit to how large the company can grow and we’re excited to be a part of it,” says Griffith.