Neuroscience & Recruitment – The Fascinating World of Riham Satti

by Bushra Anjum (FCA member)

Riham Satti

Riham Satti is a multi-award winning business leader and according to Forbes a ‘Female Founder Taking the UK by Storm’. As well as her involvement in the tech ecosystem and work with innovative enterprise companies, Riham’s main interests lie in applying her academic background to unleash human potential, supported by the likes of European Space Agency BIC and Oxford University. She holds a Master of Research in Clinical Neuroscience from the University of Oxford and a First Class Honour Master of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering from Imperial College London. Her years of academic research, includes publications in computational neuroscience, and thesis into the modelling and organisation of the human connectome.

 

Let’s start with the most obvious and interesting question, Recruitment Technology and Neuroscience sounds poles apart, how are you using both to solve interesting problems?

[Riham] My research involved trying to model and understand the human brain (or connectome) using neuroimaging techniques. In other words, trying to determine the structural and functional relationship of the brain. In doing this, I realised our brains are sub optimal. The aim of MeVitae is to use augmented intelligence (IA) to enhance human intelligence and optimise decision-making. The best place to unleash human potential is in the talent market( i.e. recruitment), because everyone has the skills to be a genius irrespective of your background. We use neuroscience techniques in our algorithms and currently experimenting with using neuroimaging to detect unconscious biases to make sure we can hire top diverse talent

 

You have two Masters degrees, one in Biomedical Engineering from Imperial College London and second in Clinical Neuroscience from Oxford. What made you choose this path of going from Masters to Masters?

[Riham] 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 PhD 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 opened up my mouth and came up with an idea. This idea is one that I didn’t know was going to stick with me for life and as I was continuing my journey I fell in love with the start world and journey. Since then I never looked back. As a result of this, turned my Oxford PhD to a Masters.

 

You have solid research experience during your M.Sc. Clinical Neurosciece that you completed with a dissertation. Did you ever consider continuing with a PhD program? Why or why not?

[Riham] No. There is a big difference between research and running a company. Research is all about specialising till you become an expert in a niche, though founders are more generalists, i.e. jack of all trades. I prefer to be the latter.

 

Your background is in neuroscience, but somewhere along the way you made it your mission is to solve the biggest challenges through the use of “technology”. How did you get introduced to the tech world? And how did you learn your way through it? (Did you read? Take classes? Had mentors?)

[Riham] It’s a funny story of how I was began my start-up journey. The idea of MeVitae came from a conversation I had with my now Co-Founder and CTO, Vivek Doraiswamy. At the time, Vivek was studying Computer Science at Oxford University and it was the time of the year where graduates look for jobs, and him being a big Microsoft fan the was determined to get a job there. However, competition is immense. Surprisingly this is the same with a lot of top tech companies, such as Apple, Google, Facebook etc. So I suggested to Vivek we need a way to by-pass the recruitment process. The question was ‘how?’. I suggested that we should prove to Microsoft that you a great programmer and to do that build a Digital CV app with Vivek’s CV in it and put it on the Windows Store. Vivek’s CV was live in 2 days ago we couldn’t get it published on the app store because his CV didn’t really serve a purpose to the wider community. So we went back to the drawing board and released the functionality to everyone with the ability to put their own CVs on there. A ‘CV in a pocket’ kind of thing. The app received >50k downloads in a few weeks increasing 60-70 a day, usage of 30 minutes per user per day and ranked the top Windows Store App without any marketing. Shortly after I started researching the human resource (HR) market and came to the conclusion that it was fragmented beyond belief.  Vivek and I saw this as an opportunity and thus spun this out to form MeVitae in order to solve the biggest challenges in the HR industry, from people analytics to diversifying workforce using artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data technology.

Everything to do with the world of business has been experimental, from sales strategy to networking. If you met me 4 years ago, I was very shy and much more introverted. Nevertheless, this would not have been possible if I hadn’t surrounded myself with numerous mentors, from the Business Development director at Microsoft to serial entrepreneurs. They have shared their wisdom with me and showed me great examples of what life can be like if you work hard at something, and eventually come out on top.

 

You are currently the co founder and CEO of MeVitae, with mission to target the biggest recruitment challenges, from diversity to skill shortage. How is the unique mix of neuroscience, technology and business helping your company achieve these goals?

[Riham] The biggest asset is my problem solving ability and the skill of viewing things from a different angle, or a multipotentialite; a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life. That means I am great at bringing together different ideas that would not normally fit.

 

The company started in 2014. How is it doing today? Any interesting products/projects that you would like to share with us?

[Riham] Great! Interestingly, we were in R&D stage for 3+ years, working long hours with boards and pens, and laptops to develop our technology. We were fortunate enough to receive funding of grants of over £250k from Innovate UK, European Space Agency BIC, Regional Growth Fund and more. We are now scaling the team and expanding the company. It’s nice to see your hard work starting to pay off.

The most exciting thing right now is that MeVitae is all about helping clients avoid unconscious bias in their recruitment process and hire top talent regardless of ethnicity or gender. We over 2 key offerings that can either work independently or together to optimise hiring decision-making :

  • Unlike existing solutions that rely on manual or keyword search, MeVitae cognitive system intelligently and automatically shortlists candidates while reducing time-to-hire and cost-to- It also takes into account historical hiring patterns into its matching
  • Using candidate profiles to remove components of CV that would show biases using the power of Natural Language Processing, without losing contexts

 

You have won various business awards and recognitions. Please tell us more about your business journey, which projects got you the recognition and why?

[Riham] My childhood and upbringing has everything to do with who I am. In fact, I went to one of the most under achieving secondary community schools in Westminster, London (shut in 2006). I never grew up with mentors and hardly knew the importance of them, however I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by friends and family to inspire me in the direction of success and fulfilment. During this time, I have had to learn the ropes of the business start-up world and realise my mistakes. It’s this ability that has given me the recognition to grow the company. My journey lends itself into a series of stages:

  • Research and Building: My first instinct as an academic was to research. I spent a long time (maybe too long) learning about the market, industry, current solutions. It felt like a thesis, but that was because it was my comfort zone. Shortly after, Vivek and I spent a number of years building our tech from scratch via our equity funding
  • Sales: The first 3 years, I was honing my skills to think my entrepreneurial, become more of a business woman and getting to market. It was all about business development and raising investment

 

How involved are you directly in the tech projects and research conducted by your company? Or are you more focused on the management and overall direction and have a team of researchers and tech professionals to carry out the vision?

[Riham] In the early years, I was much more involved in tech projects and research component as we just started off. Now I am more focused on the management and overall direction- a CEO.

 

You recently said in your Ted talk, “IA is the new AI”. Please tell us more about the concept and why it has the potential to change the world?

[Riham] We make choices every single day; what to eat, what company to invest in, who to hire, what to wear etc. The list is endless, however have you ever considered why we are not super humans yet? We have trillions of neural connections, the most sophisticated species of all, but there are several factors that limit us as human beings, e.g. unconscious bias, our memory capacity etc. Interestingly, machines do not have these limitations. It’s going to be a race of machine vs humans.

I don’t believe that should be the case. The troubles we are facing today in making efficient and optimised choices are beyond a neural capability. As IBM Watson states ‘the entity that’s going to solve the problem is the interaction of humans and machines working together to make an integrated intelligence’. NASA confirmed that allocating roles and functions between humans and machines is essential to defining an effective architecture. Through technology we can make data-driven approaches and thus intelligent decision-making. I believe the new ecosystem will capitalise on the strengths of humans and machines while compensating for weaknesses. As you recently seen Elon Musk say “Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.” Augmented intelligence is using machines to enhance human intelligence. Its not machine vs human, but machine + human. This will be the largest industry known to man.

 

How do you see your company and mission progressing in the next 10 years? And how do you think each of the three fields, neuroscience, technology and business will help with that?

[Riham] The overarching mission will always remain the same: Using augmented intelligence (IA) to unleash human potential. Our focus will always to be the forefront of innovative research and building different techniques to achieve this goal. Of course this is not going to be possible without a strong team behind my co-founder and I.

 

There is a perception that there is neither enough respect nor recognition for those who work cross disciplines. What has been your experience? And how would you say to someone who is reluctant to engage in interdisciplinary work ?

[Riham] I haven’t found this to be the case in the UK. Interdisciplinary work is at the cusp of innovation and creativity.

For anyone reluctant to engage in interdisciplinary work, the question to him/her is ‘why are you reluctant?’ Society, economy and civilisation will not grow if we do not have cross disciplines. All of life’s best inventions are interdisciplinary.

 

What has been some of the barriers that you have faced when engaging in interdisciplinary research and projects? Looking back, what do you think would have helped you prepare (and respond) better?

[Riham] Mindset. Being an academic, I was more risk averse and worried about failing. It’s all about gearing my brain to think differently. There is a huge debate about whether entrepreneurs are born or made. I am made.  Attitude is everything. I would love the opportunity to share my experience with other women and motivate them into a successful and meaningful career, whether it is in academia or starting their own business.

There are a few key things that helped me prepare:

  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.
  3. Surround yourself with people that motivate you to continue, including mentors

 

Your advice to young researchers and practitioners who would like to start a career at an interdisciplinary junction?

[Riham] Just go for it! Do not overthink.

SaveSave