Riham is a female clinical neuroscientist turned entrepreneur in a male-dominated start-up field. She is the co-founder and CEO of MeVitae, a cognitive recruiting system that makes intelligent and personalised hiring decisions.
This piece originally appeared on Enterprising Oxford.
What is your background? Why are you doing this?
My background is a scientist and engineer - that’s all I ever knew until I came across entrepreneurship. I studied MEng Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London then came to Oxford to study Clinical Neuroscience. My research involved trying to model and understand the human brain (or connectome) using neuroimaging techniques. In other words, my research was trying to determine the structural and functional relationship of the brain. I was doing this because I loved blending neuroscience and technology, and that got me into building a tech start-up.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is stepping out of your comfort zone. I define it as taking the biggest challenges from around the world and solving them innovatively.
What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I didn’t decide to become an entrepreneur, it all happened by accident whilst studying at Oxford. I was going to be an academic – study for a DPhil then postdoc then lecturer then neuroscience professor. That was the plan and I was determined that nothing would change it because I wouldn’t let it, until I came up with the idea for MeVitae. Since then I never looked back.
So what would you say are the top skills that are needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
There is so many I wouldn’t know where to begin but the 3 main ones I believe are crucial are:
1. Sales – it’s a no-brainer really as to run your business you must be able to sell
2. Dedication/motivation – you should always remain dedicated so that you put 100% into your start-up. Surround yourself with people that motivate you to continue
3. Planning – a wrong step can ruin your business so sticking to a plan allows you to assess risk, come up with a strategy and align your budget to it
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
I love being able to apply my strengths to different situations and continuously learning as I go along.
What individual, company or organisation inspires you most? Why?
Microsoft. Microsoft seems to have it all. Graduates and women want to work there, they are always evolving over time to ensure they have a competitive edge. Microsoft love entrepreneurs and provide so many tools for start-ups: Microsoft BizSpark, for example.
If you could have 5 minutes with Microsoft, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I would love an in-depth analysis of Microsoft’s company strategy from the day it began to its future plans.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Having an office at the European Space Agency. Now MeVitae has become the first-ever company to use neuroscience and space technology in recruitment – it is an achievement I am very proud of.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes as an entrepreneur?
I made so many mistakes I've lost count. My biggest mistake is taking time to release a service. The problem with being a scientist/engineer is that you become very detail-orientated as you are trying to make sure that all your experiments run well, whereas in entrepreneurship you need to use a lean approach: build quickly, release faster and modify as you go along repeating the cycle. It took me a while to get the hang of that and I’m still trying to fully grasp this simple concept. It's easier said then done.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxford? And what's bad?
Oxford's size is a pro and a con. It’s a small city compared to London, so everyone knows everyone else but at the same time you are not reaching your full potential. I mostly grew up in London so I’m used to noise but the first time I came to Oxford it felt like a ghost town – I like it now though. Oxford University is definitely a network worth exploiting as it has a strong name and investors are easily impressed by it. One bad thing is that female entrepreneurs are so rare – there definitely needs to be more!
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship information or resources in Oxford, where would you send them?
LinkedIn. Everyone you ever need to know is there. You can connect with people for information, discuss topics and much more
Any last words of advice?
Do not forget who you are!