After spending the past two decades keeping a watchful eye on the development of some of the capital’s biggest tech successes, Eli Fathi is now looking forward to witnessing a growth story even closer to his heart: the raising of his grandchild.
The legendary Ottawa entrepreneur announced late last week that he is stepping down as CEO of MindBridge Ai effective Wednesday. Fathi will be replaced by New York-based Leyton Perris, who joined the company as global chief operating officer earlier this year.
Fathi has been a driving force behind MindBridge’s rapid ascent since the trailblazing fintech enterprise – which makes software that uses artificial intelligence to detect potential fraud, accounting errors and other red flags in financial documents – was launched nearly six years ago.
Now, as the pioneering AI firm matures from up-and-coming prospect to established star in its field, he says the time is right to hand the reins to a new boss.
“We need to have a leadership team that will (take us) to the next level,” explains Fathi, who emigrated to Canada from Israel as a student in the early 1970s. “From my perspective, I’ve done it for six years. I’ve been in this field (technology) for 43 years, so it was about time to make a change.”
Now in his late sixties, Fathi says the birth of his first grandchild 18 months ago shifted his priorities from putting in 14-hour days at the office to spending quality time with the newest member of the extended Fathi family.
"He proved unequivocally that he is the right person to make things happen."
He also feels the firm now has the right succession plan in place. Fathi is confident that MindBridge is in good hands with Perris – a tech veteran who held senior leadership roles at a number of U.S. fintech enterprises and most recently served a stint as a sales director at Microsoft in New York City – at the helm.
“He proved unequivocally that he is the right person to make things happen, scale the company and move it to the next level,” Fathi says. “That gave me comfort. I trust him.”
But Ottawa tech boosters need not worry: Fathi isn’t riding off into the sunset completely. He’s staying on as chairman of the board at MindBridge, where he’ll work in concert with Perris to help plot the company’s long-term road map as it looks to expand into wider markets and acquire new customers.
Now at more than 100 employees, MindBridge is at the forefront of a small but growing number of upstart firms that are aiming to propel Ottawa out of the shadow of larger Canadian AI hubs such as Montreal.
Over the past few years, the company has come into its own, scoring more than $40 million in venture capital while securing partnerships with blue-chip customers such as the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England.
Last month, MindBridge further cemented its credentials as a rising industry star when it was named to Forbes’ list of the world’s 50 most promising AI companies.
“People recognize the need and where the product fits now,” says Perris, who will remain based in the New York City area. “It’s a phenomenal technology, which solves an enduring, emerging and increasingly relevant problem. I think all the tenets of a successful scaleup are there.”
The New Zealand native plans to tap Fathi’s wisdom at every opportunity as he settles into his new role.
“I can turn to Eli for his guidance and insights on almost anything,” he says.
In addition to serving on the MindBridge board, Fathi says he plans to continue mentoring other tech entrepreneurs and serving on an Invest Ottawa subcommittee devoted to boosting women founders.
Tech, after all, is in Fathi’s blood. After earning his master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Ottawa in 1981, the father of two grown daughters went on to help found several firms in the sector – including online survey provider Fluidware, which grew to nearly 100 employees before being acquired by SurveyMonkey in 2014.
“My biggest gratification is when people send me emails (that) say, ‘You changed my life,’” he says. “Giving back to the community and hearing from people that I make a difference in their life, it means a lot to me. It behooves all of us to make a difference in the community. That’s really the biggest reward.”