Published on February 22, 2022
For his leadership as an entrepreneur and philanthropist, Ashif Mawji is the 2021 Distinguished Friend of the Institute
Ashif Mawji (Computer Systems Technology '92) came from a family of people who created things. They lived in Kenya, where he was born. His mother was a schoolteacher, and eventually founded her own Montessori school. His father worked for Honda, starting as a janitor, rising to the position of managing director of Africa for the company, and eventually go on to operate retail stores and hotels.
This enterprising and entrepreneurial spirit was not lost on Ashif. In fact, it would come to define his career in technology as a serial startup entrepreneur. Before he immigrated to Canada in 1987, Ashif had already developed a keen interest in computers and programming.
“I knew I would end up in computers, in some shape or form,” he says.
NAIT would be part of that. Ashif enrolled in Computer Systems Technology in 1990.
“It was wonderful,” he says. It was also comprehensive. “It was the right balance of fun and education, and I always felt welcomed.
Straight into startups
Many computer systems technologists quickly find work with large corporations after graduation. But Ashif had other plans, entering the startup space in his early 20s.
He founded a series of successful IT companies over the next decade. Most notable among those was Upside Software, a company he would grow to employ more than 150 people. In 2012, he sold it for millions.
Today, Ashif’s current ventures provide angel investing for companies around the world. His focus is on artificial intelligence and its potential application in industries such as IT, health care and life sciences.
A focused philanthropist
In 2017, Ashif, his wife Zainul and their two children made a $1-million donation to establish the Mawji Centre for New Venture and Student Entrepreneurship at NAIT. It was the largest gift ever from a NAIT graduate.
The Mawji Centre is dedicated to inspiring an entrepreneurial mindset among students through business mentorship, guest speakers, competitions, workshops and networking.
“It gives students a chance to look into entrepreneurship – dabble in it,” says Ashif. “Take some courses, lunch and learns, try a pitch competition. See if it’s for you.”
This is part of a long history of giving back. Ashif has also been committed to causes including Invest Alberta, the University Hospital Foundation, the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, TELUS Friendly Future Foundation and the Edmonton Police Foundation. He served on the NAIT Board of Governors for six years. The motivation for him is seeing the impact on the community.
“We believe we have to give back,” says Ashif of him and his family. "There’s always something to give back: money or time, or both."