Serial entrepreneur Eli Fathi’s name today is synonymous with the technology industry in Ottawa, but he’s never forgotten where his journey began.
Last month, the Israeli immigrant who came to Ottawa as a student in the early 1970s earned one of the highest honours an alma mater can bestow on an alumnus when he was named a recipient of Algonquin College’s Alumni of the Year Award.
“To me, this is a badge of honour,” said Mr. Fathi, who has served as chief executive of five local tech firms in a career that has spanned more than three decades. “If you look at what I’ve done in the community from a high-tech perspective, it goes hand in hand with giving back to the community.”
It’s not the first award the longtime businessman has received for his many accomplishments over the years, but he knows precisely where it ranks.
“That for me is absolutely the top,” said Mr. Fathi, who is currently CEO of big-data analytics firm MindBridge Ai. “The other achievements are professional achievements. You could not have better recognition than from an academic institution that you went to. It’s recognition from the community as a whole, not only just the professional side.”
As impressive as his professional achievements have been – he and co-founder Aydin Mirzaee built survey software startup Fluidware into a thriving company that employed more than 70 people before it was acquired by California-based SurveyMonkey in 2014, for example – he said he gets even more satisfaction out of helping young entrepreneurs become successful businesspeople in their own right.
“To me, you cannot have corporate success without giving back,” said Mr. Fathi, who has been a mentor at organizations such as Kanata’s L-Spark accelerator.
“If you’re a smart person, it’s very easy for you to shine and to move on. But in many cases, people are smart but you don’t notice them. You have to give them the opportunity. Throughout my career in high tech … the interest that I have is to look at people that other people overlooked for a variety of reasons. It’s the most fulfilling thing when you see somebody excel.”
Algonquin president Cheryl Jensen said Mr. Fathi, who has served on a dozen corporate and community boards, embodies many of the best qualities the college aspires to nurture in its students.
“We are so proud to call Eli Fathi one of our alumni,” Ms. Jensen said in a statement. “His entrepreneurial spirit and his belief in the importance of giving back to our community really resonate with me because those are two mindsets we try to foster in all of our graduates.”
A graduate of Algonquin’s electronics technology program who went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering at the University of Ottawa, Mr. Fathi addressed a group of new grads at Algonquin’s fall convocation ceremony upon receiving his award. His message was clear.
“Focusing on yourself will only get you so far,” the 64-year-old said. “Aside from what you do for yourself, you have to make contributions to the community. This is the message that is really important in today’s age. It’s very simple – if I make a difference in the life of one person and you make a difference in the life of one person, we make the community a lot better. When we have a better community, everyone benefits.”
As a college graduate who went on to further his education at university, Mr. Fathi said he appreciates the increasing willingness of the two post-secondary branches to collaborate on programs that provide students with a more diverse set of skills than either colleges or universities can offer on their own.
“University gives you the breadth of thinking, being able to research, being able to dig deeply into important aspects,” he said. “It’s a much broader education. The education you get from Algonquin is very practical. You need both. I got the practical side and then I got the more theoretical (side) – communication, the soft skills. The two go hand in hand.”