Mariam Jimoh, Biomedical Sciences BSc
I’m a Londoner, I’ve lived in London my entire life and I wanted to stay in London to go to university; being on a city campus was something I was quite interested in.
When I was considering my options, I was thinking about studying medicine. I’ve always had good grades, and UCL is one of the top universities in London. When I went to come and see UCL it was super cool but also super international which I liked.
I applied for both Biomedical Sciences and Biochemistry and got into both. A big draw was the ratings; it was clear these were strong medical programmes and had world-renowned lecturers.
Can you tell me about your experience studying in London?
London is the best place to be in terms of social life, networking opportunities and placements. In terms of social, I felt it was good because you could go to a million different kinds of places and meet so many different people, whether they were at UCL or not.
You were just bumping into other students continuously; people doing cool things, and that really helped me to build my network. It was one of the reasons I was able to build my first business, which was a network for black women. It started off being a network connecting the black women in London universities to each other, which was really doable because we were in London. If I had been in a different city, I think it would have been quite hard to build that network, but it’s now turned into a 7,000 strong network of black women across the UK. I think London is a great place to start some of these things, where you’re connecting to people from different universities but you’re only five minutes away.
Socially as well, there are a lot of places to go, whether you like to go out to eat or drink. When I speak to my other friends, they might say there are one or two clubs where they are, but in London you can go to a different club every week. I think that’s more exciting.
I also think that the opportunities are unparalleled. I interned every single year within different industries, primarily finance and banking. I don’t think it matters where you want to intern – if you are based in London, you will probably find a connection to the companies you want to work with.
What is your favourite memory of UCL?
I think for me it was interacting with some of the societies. I was a Sponsorship Officer for the African and Caribbean society and that was quite exciting. I was able to get involved in all elements, even if it wasn’t to do with sponsorship. There was a cultural show every year and I actually ran it, alongside another member of the team.
I think being involved in those sorts of community orientated things helps to inform the way you do things. So, the business I’ve set up right now is about connecting people to their cultures and their food and groceries. The grocery delivery app is a business based on that sense of community, and I think I got that sense of community from being a part of the African and Caribbean society at UCL.
What have you been up to since graduating?
I went into finance, into investment banking. I was doing mergers and acquisitions, and it was very long hours. I then went on to do some consultancy work around finance, strategy, and operations whilst I was building my company, which I’m running now. We’ve just closed our investment round, to help build the business and grow it over the next year or so.
I had undertaken internships and was going to go straight into banking, but I took a year out to work for a start-up company, and that’s where I got my interest in start-up businesses. Then I got my grounding in banking, and then went straight into my business.
How do you think UCL helped you to get where you are today?
I think the good thing about UCL is that it encourages you to be a well-rounded student, as well as getting your degree. During my course there were other elements that you could pick up; for example, I did a maths course, and I joined some societies. That was helpful for me as I’m the kind of person that likes to have their foot in a million different places. I was like that before UCL but UCL definitely nurtured that and allowed me to be in a position where I could do different things.
I think the alumni network is strong too. Even today, I meet people who went to UCL and there’s always a strong connection and understanding of the background we had. I feel we’re all kind of similar and quite entrepreneurial.
UCL is just a great university. When you tell people that you went to UCL they know exactly where it is, and I think people have a lot of respect for UCL.
What inspired you to start your own business?
For me, it’s always been about solving a problem. I’m an executer and I like to get things done so if I feel strongly about a problem, I’m like ‘well I don’t want to feel like this so how can I fix this? And is this a problem other people are facing as well?’.
With my first business, which I started during my time at UCL, it was because I was applying and undertaking internships but when I’d get to the organisations, I would never see people that looked like me. So, I thought there should be some form of support or network for black women who want to go into the corporate world, so they didn’t feel like I was feeling – like there wasn’t a place for me here when of course there is.
With my current business Oja, I was working in banking and I was working such long hours, which meant if I ever needed groceries, I had to order them. But when I was ordering my groceries there was a huge amount of products that I was used to using when I was living at home that I just couldn’t get access to. It made me think, even when I was at university, somewhere as multicultural as London, I still had to go home to get some of the products I wanted to use, or my mum would bring stuff to my halls. It made me think that this must be a problem for more people than just me. So, the company I’m building right now aims to solve that problem. It doesn’t matter where you are, you should be able to get the products that you recognise and that remind you of home. That’s our mission.
What is your favourite part of owning your own business?
I think it’s being able to create a culture. There are a million different ways to work, and everybody thrives in different ways, so it’s having that ability to create a culture that allows people to thrive. It’s something that I haven’t had at every stage of my career and I think it’s really important.
I’m also just really passionate about solving this problem, our mission. It’s really collaborative, and I think building the team is one of the most exciting parts.
How does it feel to be named in Forbes’ 30 under 30?
It’s always an honour to have your work recognised by outside parties and people who think you’re doing cool things. It’s really motivating and helps to push me forward which is the biggest thing. It’s always good to be validated in that way, especially so early on.
Do you have any advice for current students?
I think my advice would be just be open to opportunities. If you are, you will surprise yourself as to where you can get to.
If somebody had told me when I was at UCL that I would be a CEO of a grocery start-up I wouldn’t have believed them. I think it’s always good to be open-minded and open to any opportunities, even if it doesn’t align because you never know where you’ll end up.
That’s one of the good things about going to a university like UCL. You have all these different departments, and you can learn so much from your network and meet people that may be able to open doors for you to do things you never imagined you could. So, my advice would be to keep your eyes open for opportunities, and don’t be afraid to seize them.