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Published in Small Business

GR tech startup raises $4.4M to help employers analyze staff competencies 

BY Thursday, June 30, 2022 02:00pm

After spending nearly a decade in workforce development, Katie Hall set out to develop software that allows employers to better utilize their current employees.

The efforts seemingly came at the perfect time, too. After launching Claira Technologies Inc. in April of 2020, the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying workforce kinks forced employers to rethink talent attraction and development.

Katie Hall COURTESY PHOTO

“The pandemic was awful and it’s still awful and going on — those are givens. But it helped our business big time,” Hall said. “I’d even go so far to say I don’t think we are a company without the pandemic primarily because it democratized fundraising. I couldn’t have afforded flying all over the country to fundraise, but VCs adapted quickly and started looking at areas they don’t often focus on. 

“I raised two rounds of financing exclusively on Zoom,” she added. “It democratized access to capital, especially for a female-led tech company in the Midwest.”

Claira is a competency analytics platform. The software, which maintains a library of 14,000 competencies, helps employers better understand the pool of competencies it has on its team so it can better use them. Raising around $4.4 million to date, the company — which is led by Hall, a Hope College graduate — can often help businesses avoid hiring new workers because they unknowingly already have the competencies on their staff.

“Right now, even the world’s largest companies still just use job descriptions and resumes — that’s how people get hired,” Hall said. “You post a job description, collect resumes and there is a pile of 1,000 of them. You get people, bring them on board and you try to manage them against the job description.”

“That’s obviously a bit outdated,” she added. “There’s a lot of chatter about these problems in the labor market because of the pandemic, of course. The pandemic has helped us because a lot of businesses are paying attention to these issues.”

Hall’s inspiration to create the software was rooted in her work with Ann Arbor-based nonprofit Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, which focuses on creating jobs through partnerships with government, businesses and communities. As a lifelong Michigan resident, Hall wanted to enhance and fortify the economy in her home state.

In doing so, she noticed a recurring theme.

“This competency stuff kept coming up,” Hall said. “You can find skill taxonomies in a bunch of countries around the world, but they’re hard to use. Competencies as a system work and companies were saying, ‘If this was software, we’d use it.’ The key is to make it super simple and usable for employers, so that’s what we did.”

Incorporated in early 2020, Hall raised $860,000 in a pre-seed round. In a seed round that closed in April, Claira Technologies raised an additional $3.5 million with Heartland Ventures, a Columbus, Ohio-based venture capital firm that focuses on high-growth tech startups, leading the round.

Claira’s first pilot program involved placing former hospitality workers in logistics jobs, where many core competencies overlap.

With the venture capital backing, Hall is working to develop a sales infrastructure for her B2B company and continue to invest in the engineering side of the product. Claira currently features an all-women engineering staff, which is unheard of in the tech industry and further allows Claira to stand out among other tech startups.

The pandemic also underscored the importance of this area of workforce development.

“(During the pandemic) millions of people were unemployed in a few industries and other industries were hiring like crazy and couldn’t get enough people,” Hall said. “The big question was: How do you move people from one industry to another really quickly? It pointed out all of the weaknesses in the current system. Competencies shine in that.”

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