Abi Mohamed

Inspirational Woman: Abi Mohamed | Co-founder, Community Growth Ventures (CGV)

Abi Mohamed CGV

Coding pro Abi Mohamed cofounded Community Growth Ventures (CGV), an angel firm which sets out to invest underrepresented founders, in 2017.

The 27-year-old software engineer has a Masters in Information System Management from De Montfort University and builds websites for government bodies including the Ministry of Justice.

An advocate for getting more girls into tech, Mohamed volunteers as an Instructor for Code First: Girls and recently also became a VC scout for Backed, a €50m community-driven seed-stage VC fund.

The tech leader has also been called out as a changemaker by publications including SciTech and the Evening Standard.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I was born in Sweden, but grew up in Leicester and I've been interested in tech since school - I loved making websites and learning about networks and databases.

After my Masters, I became a software engineer for city councils and government bodies. That really appealed because I felt I was creating something amazing for the public for everyone to use.

Most recently I started Community Growth Ventures to invest in entrepreneurs and the founders from diverse backgrounds across the UK.

I’ve always been a big advocate of ‘tech for good’ and creating a more sustainable world, but right now, because of the pattern matching landscape, not everyone can be involved. Generally in investment, for you to be backable, the investor themself has to see themselves in you, or to have seen someone who looks like you IPO.

For people of colour, if you don't fall in those categories, you're seen as more of a risk. And most VCs or angels won't take that risk because of their unconscious bias.

That's the reason I stepped in.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

When I picked my undergrad I felt a lot of pressure from my family to put tech on the back burner and study economics. After that, I worked in retail, but still really wanted a career in tech.

So then I just asked myself two questions: ‘What do I enjoy the most?’ and ‘What will get me the most money?’ Answering those questions lead me to my Masters.

You should follow your heart, find things that make you happy and people that make you feel comfortable. Doing that meant starting CGV came naturally, by being in the right places at the right time.

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

The biggest challenge I’ve faced came about when I was working for the government and I felt  a lot of ageism. I know I’m young, but I also look way younger than I am, and I had an issue with a colleague who had a similar role but was much older.

He didn't respect what I was inputting and he kept dismissing me, saying I should just listen to him. I felt undermined and like he didn’t respect my voice as part of the conversation.

I raised the issue with the scrum master and we ended up having this mediated open circle conversation about our feelings. I feel like, after that conversation, they could see that I was not the problem. I was able to move teams and they realised it was him.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Everything we’re doing at CGV. At first, we invested 26K (round included another co-investor) and now planning to invest again in another company. We are currently planning our angel syndicate.

The biggest achievement so far has been proving the concept with our portfolio company hair care brand Afrocenchix, showing that CGV showing that can invest in and help underrepresented founders.

After our participation in their angel round, they were able to win more money from the WeWork Creator Awards, and they had the opportunity to work with Backstage Capital, a big VC company in the US. From that, they’ve been able to expand their team with three successful new hires.

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

Keeping a positive mindset. I always say to myself, whatever happens, happens for a reason.

I think that increases your chances of success because a positive mindset attracts positivity.

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

I journal everything.

When you wake up, write down three achievable goals. They could be simple things like go to the gym, or make a healthy breakfast. When you come back from work say what you've actually achieved too, so can see your progress.

Sometimes we all have bad days, and it's easy to forget how much you've achieved in the last six months or one year. But having a journal that allows you to flick back into the past and remind yourself ‘I am great, I am still in this journey of growth’.

I also try to do quarterly updates on myself: one in public (on Medium) where I publish my ‘Abi’s Tweet Highlights’ and a private one looking back over my journal where I think about the stuff that did or didn't go well and what I could improve.

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

I think there are still massive barriers. There's a barrier for entry, where people outside of tech don't know how to negotiate their way in. But then, even when you’re inside it’s easy to feel stuck.

In my experience of the government side, there's still a lot of old white men who don't see the bigger picture. In my early career, I felt so, so lonely and didn't know who to speak to.

If you don’t see leaders in senior positions who you can identify with and aspire to, there's no clear journey or blueprint on how to move forward. That can be confusing and demotivating.

Progression can be a long waiting game unless you know the right people to talk to.

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

I have mentors in the VC space who are giving me advice and helping me grow, but I’d like to see more employers supporting in-house mentorship too.

We don’t need more outside organisations that pump out mentors, this should be naturally happening within our industries. To do that we need to teach and inspire senior staff to always look out for the people coming in.

Getting staff to meet across levels can be as simple as setting up clubs or events outside work (that don’t always revolve around sports or the pub).

There is currently on 15% 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? 

I would make payroll transparent.

We all know about the gender pay gap and that we should be paid the same as our male counterparts, but for that to happen we need more transparency.

When you go into an interview, you should have the ability to ask ‘how much does a person like me get paid?’ without using guesswork.

If you don't pay people equally, you are devaluing your company. Your female staff won't strive, they won't learn and they won't do their best work.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc? 

The best meetup I have been to is at Google for startups; there's a breakfast event that happens every month called #POCTech. That’s where I started my entrepreneur life three years ago.
My favourite podcast is called Techish and it's a show that talks about tech in general with lots of fun pop culture references.

And books, I’m honestly just into so much sci-fi. I've just finished The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, which is about aliens and black holes and other futuristic stuff. I don’t want to give too much away but it really is one of the best books I’ve ever read.