If it ain't broke, break it!
The first week of #FriendlyFebruary
started with a presentation from Ashif Mawji. Ashif is a serial social entrepreneur and investor who has built & sold several enterprises and is heavily engaged in the community. He presently serves as a Venture Partner at Rising Tide (a San Francisco Bay Area Venture Capital firm).
Ashif's journey started in Kenya before eventually venturing to Canada (the family moved from Kenya due to security issues in Kenya) where he started selling video games and managed to even sell to Zeller's at 17 years old. In 1990, Ashif attended NAIT for Computing Systems and after graduating he started a consulting company that by 1995 he grew to over 100 people and managed to raise some money before eventually exiting.
Ashif now uses his experience growing companies and raising money to help entrepreneurs. He looks for passion, a strong team, and ultimately wants to know why each entrepreneur is doing what they are doing. Getting to the core of the entrepreneurs "WHY" that is built on passion helps Ashif decide who he can help through investment, mentorship, or by facilitating connections. Other important skills Ashif looks for are coachability and ability to listen - "you don't have to do what I say, but you do have to listen". In order to find investment, an entrepreneur should "remove the bullets from the gun"; think about any questions an investor is likely to ask you when you are seeking funding, and have the answers ready. Not only will this demonstrate competence but it will help the investor feel confident that you are a good potential investment.
Ashif also talked about the importance of the ecosystem in Edmonton, in particular how to get youth involved and an engaged community of entrepreneurs. "If it ain't broke, break it!" Ashif is an excellent example of community involvement, as not only the namesake of NAIT's Mawji Centre for Student Entrepreneurship, a guiding member of AMII
and the Alberta AI Initiative
, and a member of the newly formed EACOS
(Edmonton Advisory Committee on Startups), Ashif truly does lead by example and gives back so much to the Edmonton Innovation Community. According to Ashif, one of Edmonton's key strengths is access to both pre-seed capital and mentorship. There are so many big names in both areas who are open to talking, willing to help, and more accessible in Edmonton than elsewhere.
Ashif sees a lot of entrepreneurs in Edmonton who fail, usually because they fail to make money. He and a number of involved Albertans have pitched a proposal to the Government that will help match AI research ability with entrepreneurs who are passionate about scaling and have the skills to commercialize great ideas. This will be coupled with a leading and world-class accelerator that would be coupled with much needed pre-seed funding (something that is lacking in Alberta). This recipe has been deployed in various cities around the world and with great success, so Ashif and team are looking to achieve the same here in Alberta.
Ashif was awarded the 2002 Ernst & Young Prairies Entrepreneur of the Year award and in 2005 was named as one of Canada’s Top 40 under 40 and in 2007 named BDC’s Entrepreneur of the Year (Alberta) and has received Canada’s 50 Best Managed companies award three years in a row. Ashif received NAIT's Alumni of Distinction Award and was also recognized as one of the Top 50 Graduates in 50 years. In 2017, Ashif was named an Honorary Col for the 20th Field Artillery Regiment (Canadian Army) in addition to receiving the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee medals as well as the Alberta Centennial Medal. In 2017, Ashif received an Honorary Degree (Bachelor of Business Administration) from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT).
Ashif has serves/served on several boards, including Edmonton Police Foundation (Chair), Sarah McLachlan School of Music, Young Presidents Organization Alberta (Chair), Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation, Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation, Kids Kottage, Alberta’s Promise, Economic Development Edmonton, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Corent Technology, University Hospital Foundation, Citadel, Edmonton Opera and others. Ashif has also been a Prairies and National judge for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year program.
Ashif was named a Henry Crown Fellow in the class of 2015 (only one of four Canadians ever to be selected to this group, since 1996). The Henry Crown Fellowship is a part of the globally renowned Aspen Institute. Ashif is happily married and has two boys.