Dr Mona Kab Omir

I grew up in Denmark and I was always very ambitious and wanted to make a difference in the world.

My learning about philosophy at a very young age opened up a creative way of thinking about science. My background is multidisciplinary and includes 12 years of academic and industrial experience across disciplines such as pharmaceutical sciences, medicinal chemistry, biochemistry and nanomedicine. I did a PhD in University of Liverpool in the department of chemistry. I always wanted to experience entrepreneurship and thought I wanted to do something different and new, which led me to discover an accelerator called Entrepreneur First in London. It’s here where I met my cofounder Alex Sheppard I knew immediately that we complemented each other and with him I could deploy my skillsets in the space of diagnostics. We were both very aligned in our mission about democratising healthcare and make it more proactive. I remember that thoughout the ideation stage of the programme we kept making each other excited with new and novel ideas.

I’m delighted to announce that following this, I became the co-founder and CTO of Vatic, which has produced an innovative rapid antigen test for COVID-19 called KnowNow. Unlike others on the market, our technology requires only a saliva swab which is a lot more comfortable than a nasal swab.

My main responsibilities are to manage the scientific team both in the process of science, development and tech transfer alongside the design to execute research programme and generating intellectual property. What this essentially means is making inventions that drive the company’s technology forward, our commercial products and the technical support in regulations, supply chain and feasibility assessments of our products. I also have other responsibilities such as being a decision maker in the company operations, finances and company board.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I had a few moments of self-reflection based on my life experiences and I knew that I wanted to build something that can have a huge impact on the world. The choices I’ve made were based on the journey I went through in academia, industry and an earlier start-up experience. I felt that building something innovative in an institution was hard and I always found myself fighting against reluctant people. It was moments like these where I realised that I need to find an environment that allows me to grow and do something more impactful.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Throughout my career I was always told and felt that I wasn’t good enough. Despite this I always had a dream and ambition to do something different that can make a great and positive impact in the world using my philosophical thinking and skillsets.  This ambition led me to work much harder in the face of career challenges and blocks to achieve these goals.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest career achievement was the establishment of Vatic with my cofounder Alex – our company shares my vision and ambition. In the pre-seed stage of our company, when we were very small I made an invention of a mutation-proof covid antigen infectiousness test called KnowNow. This invention was patented, and with new team members, we worked on CE marking the product – all in 11 months. It has been an exciting journey to bring a new invention from benchtop to CE marking in such a short space of time. It’s also enormously satisfying to reach this milestone, having solved the many technical challenges along the way myself when bringing this innovation to life.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I think that e major factor of me achieving success has been working outside of academia which enabled me to be more independent and radical in scientific approach outside of structural institutional strictures. In the past I have found academic environments to sometimes restrict or stifle the freedom of innovation that scientists really need to bring inventions to life. I was determined to prove that success can be achieved in science outside of a university environment.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Find a workplace where there is an environment that empowers you to excel and makes you a visible part of its success, with supportive colleagues and values that are truly aligned with your own. Build into all of your working relationships open, honest and direct communication where feedback is continually and actively encouraged from all members of the team.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

It is very discouraging to be told that you are not good enough and that you can’t do well without help from a person in a position of authority in academia. Discouragement can have a negative impact on career progression for everyone not just women. My experience is that many people react negatively towards a woman that is self-assured and strong. These barriers can be overcome by creating a friendly environment that offers two-way feedback with the aim to proactively discuss all issues and concerns. I also recommend other women to be more upfront when they feel discouraged and uncomfortable about a situation as this will improve any team dynamic and strengthen your position.

What do you think companies can do to support progressing the careers of women working in technology?

Always have at least one woman on the list when hiring and include women in informal bonding activities!

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

My advice is simple –  encourage, credit and acknowledge women to get into tech.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Quite a few books! Becoming by Michelle Obama, Marie Curie: A Life From Beginning to End: 4 (Biographies of Women in History), Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA and also A Crack in Creation Jennifer A. Doudna (author), Samuel H. Sternberg (author)

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