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LBS Mompreneur Diaries (Working Mom Edition): Asmau Ahmed

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I’ve partnered up with Capital One for another “Working Mom” edition of LBS Mompreneur Diaries, featuring women of color who are killing it at work and at home. Capital One is consistently recognized for its exceptional workplace culture and for supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives across the entire organization. That’s why I’m excited to present this series, because Capital One gets it. They’ve been ranked on Fortune’s “100 Best Places to Work” and Working Mother Magazine’s “100 Best Companies” to name a few.

Hopefully you read and loved our last interview with Alicia Thompson. This week’s featured mom is Asmau Ahmed. As a mother of two and an engineer turned entrepreneur, Asmau Ahmed is the founder of tech startup Plum Perfect and now a leader in Digital Project Management at Capital One. Asmau founded a venture-funded tech start up whose groundbreaking visual search and recommendation engine she nurtured from an idea to a product embraced by top retailers, major brands, and consumers in over 150 countries. Asmau is one of only 12 black women to have raised more than $1million in VC funding. We talked about her transition from entrepreneur to intrapreneur at Capital One, how she achieves work/life balance, the importance of STEM education, and how she’s helping to close the tech gap for women of color.

 

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Why did you want to become an engineer?
I’ve loved the sciences for as long as I can remember. My dad was an aeronautical engineer so I’m sure that was part of my influence. My mom nurtured my love for science at an early age and supported me. She actually turned our laundry room into a chemistry lab for me.

As someone who has been an entrepreneur, what insights are you bringing to your role at Capital One?
Most entrepreneurs thrive on the concept of having an idea and being able to see that idea turn into a product or service that people eventually engage with. With Plum Perfect, I started out with an idea to build a visual search engine that would utilize social media to build commerce and advertising. It was just a concept. Part of why I joined Capital One is that I’m able to do that same thing here. I get to have an idea or concept, build it out, and then see it go to market. I didn’t want to be at an organization where that concept got lost. At Capital One, there really is a culture of innovation.

Can you share how you bring balance to your life, managing family and work?
That was huge for me when I was contemplating this role. It was critical for me to be able to maintain balance. Most people say you’re never able to create true balance but I wanted to feel like there was an end to “work” and a start to “home”. I wouldn’t have joined the Capital One team if I didn’t feel that balance was supported. That’s the culture we have here. There were times that I wasn’t able to achieve that as a full-time entrepreneur. I remember there was an entire week that went by and I would leave for work before my son woke up and get home after he went to bed. That’s when I realized that lifestyle was not sustainable long term.

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With that said, it is a busy home and work schedule and I have obligations outside of those areas as well, like Plum Perfect. Capital One encourages me to maintain my ideas and experiences outside of my role here. I have worked at many organizations before, and I don’t think I would have the same level of balance that I do now if it wasn’t for Capital One.

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Why is STEM education important, particularly for little girls of color?
When people say STEM careers, most people think of engineering. But it really affects everything we do today. Whether you’re a writer, or a doctor or a driver, STEM careers affect and touch everyone. Having a STEM foundation will be important in participating in this new technology wave. Tech is defining an evolution in so many areas, even medicine.

Particularly with girls of color, there is a tech gap today. The tech industry can be biased. We build technologies based on our personal experiences. So when you have mostly white men building these technologies, you’re going to find a huge gap between what applies to us (as women of color) and what applies to them. And that gap is widening daily. I spoke recently at digitalundivided’s 2017 BIG Demo Day sponsored by Capital One. And there were so many brilliant ideas presented, by women of color, that might have gone unheard if it weren’t for organizations like that. So, it is important for us to have people in the driver seat who can build and cater to our experiences.

[Capital One is also proud to continue to support Black Girls Code. If you aren’t already involved, visit http://www.blackgirlscode.com/ to volunteer, donate, and learn more.]

What advice would you give to an up & comer who wants a STEM career?
Just get started. If you don’t have an engineering background, it’s ok. You don’t have to know how to code. If you know how to logically think through the execution of your idea, start there. That’s what coding is. Refine your idea and hire talent to help you. Get educated and stop second guessing yourself.

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As someone who has filled both roles, do you have any advice for entrepreneurs turned intrapreneurs and vice versa?
Build a team around you that understands how to build your business. As women of color, we face unique challenges that are hard to navigate if you don’t have the right partners in place. Surround yourself with the right people. You need the right investors, clients, and colleagues. One of the reasons I joined Capital One is because there is a culture of diversity and inclusion here. They were looking for people like me. For entrepreneurs that are looking to exit, look for workplaces that have the right cultural fit and figure out how you can cater to their market and help them increase enterprise value.

Is she inspiring or what? Be sure to keep up with our LBS Mompreneur Diaries series to keep up with other inspiring mommies. Leave a comment below if you enjoyed this!

This post is sponsored by Capital One. All opinions expressed above are my own and not those of the company.

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