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Bobbie Racette founded Virtual Gurus four years ago after Alberta’s oil and gas sector collapse left her and thousands of others without work.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Virtual Gurus, a Calgary-based startup that algorithmically connects businesses with remote workers, has raised its first venture capital funding to build out its client roster across North America and expand its network of freelancers, including those from remote communities.

Bobbie Racette founded the company four years ago after Alberta’s oil and gas sector collapse left her and thousands of others without work. Freelancing, she thought, could bring income to many people who had lost jobs. It has since expanded across Canada, with a particular focus on finding freelance work for marginalized groups including single mothers, people transitioning genders, people with social anxiety and Indigenous women.

The company secured $1.2-million in funding this month that will help it develop programs to train remote workers and expand into remote areas, including First Nations communities.

“There are people out there who want to work, and we want to be able to provide that work,” Ms. Racette said in an interview.

The venture financing round included contributions from Calgary investment collective The51, Vancouver-based Raven Indigenous Capital Partners, and Ryan Lailey, a Calgary-based startup investor.

“There’s a deep-rooted social mission in the business, and that was deeply compelling,” said Shelley Kuipers, co-founder of The51, which focuses on women-led businesses.

Ms. Racette, who is Cree-Métis and was Startup Canada’s 2019 Indigenous Entrepreneur of the Year, was working as a safety technician contractor when she was laid off in 2016. She was Virtual Gurus’ first guru, taking on enough clients over time that she had to hire her own assistant as she also built out her freelance marketplace with funding from family and friends. “I just did my market valuation myself,” she said.

Virtual Gurus now has seven full-time employees and works with about 150 contractors – who are almost entirely Canadian-based – to fill the needs of employers across North America, which have included Re/Max, Videotron and Vancouver studio Goldtooth Productions. The contractors handle tasks such as administrative support, copy writing and bookkeeping.

Participating employers are billed monthly recurring subscription fees. Ms. Racette says she’s already reached annual recurring revenue of $1.3-million and is experiencing strong month-over-month growth.

When employers enter their needs into Virtual Gurus’ website, its proprietary algorithm identifies the top candidates for the jobs. Its matching success rate, Ms. Racette says, is 92 per cent.

She says she hopes to soon partner with artificial-intelligence organizations to further refine her company’s algorithm. She also wants to eventually build in personality-matching capabilities to mitigate potential personality clashes between employers and contractors.

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