How Martin Basiri Is Helping to Solve Canada’s Labour Shortage

His new company, Passage, helps remove financial barriers to immigration for skilled workers
Martin Basiri (Photograph: Passage)

In 2015, Martin Basiri and his brothers, Meti and Massi, started ApplyBoard, an ed-tech platform that has since helped 600,000 students study abroad at universities and colleges in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia and was valued at $4 billion in 2021. Now, with $40 million in seed funding, he’s starting another company, Passage. His new venture aims to address Canada’s labour shortage by removing the financial barriers to immigration faced by skilled workers and students in fields like cybersecurity, health care and tech.

Titile: CEO, Passage

Degree: B.Eng. in electrical engineering, Shiraz University, and M.Eng. in mechanical and mechatronics engineering, University of Waterloo

Age: 35

From: Shiraz, Iran

Currently lives in: Kitchener, Ont.

When I was a kid, I thought I’d grow up to be: An inventor. My dad was an electrician, and he taught me circuit design before I could read and write. One of my first inventions was a device that measured the conductivity of different metals.

The biggest takeaway from my education is: When I was in high school, I competed in the Kharazmi Festival, an invention competition for students. I didn’t win in my first three years, but in my fourth year I came in second nationally. It was satisfying to watch my inventions get better every year, and it taught me to look at every failure as a step toward future success.

“I love making people believe in themselves and achieve more than they think is possible”

A significant challenge I had to overcome was: I know how to build stuff, but explaining it is challenging. I only started learning English at 22. Growing ApplyBoard while learning business English was difficult.

Something that really needs to change in my industry is: Immigration to Western countries is mostly limited to people who have the finances. We need to take money out of the equation. Immigration should be accessible to everyone based on their merit, not their religion, race, gender or wealth.

The thing that keeps me motivated is: Sometimes I’ll hear from people that I’ve helped come to Canada and now they have their own start-up or a good job. That’s all the motivation I need.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be: Teaching. I love making people believe in themselves and achieve more than they think is possible.

When I need inspiration: I listen to poetry recordings. I really like the Persian poet Fereydoon Moshiri. He has a poem called “Hands” that’s about how, with just your hands, you can climb a mountain.

The advice I always give others now is: To be a successful entrepreneur, you have to think like you’re training for the Olympics. Have the mindset that you’re going for gold.

Rebecca Gao
Rebecca Gao
Rebecca Gao is a Toronto-based journalist writing about tech, business, culture and health. She has bylines in publications like Bon Appetit, Chatelaine, Toronto Life and Best Health.