Posted on December 07 2016
This week's Wednesday Woman is the incredible Monica Mwanje, founder and Managing Director of MM Creative Solutions which provides specialist services for the nuclear industry including engineering/tech review, project delivery, marketing and business development. Here is her story, from Chemical Engineering Grad to founder.
Danielle Newnham: What were you like growing up and what led you to Chemical Engineering?
Monica Mwanje: I’m from a fairly large family (I’m one of six children) and I’m the second youngest child so there was always play and fun and laughter due to having siblings about or cousins over. (My parents had some good parties back in the day). At school I was a fairly studious child; I liked learning and was always curious about nature. I love to read and I often had my nose stuck in a book - I remember my mum regularly taking me to the local library to feed my reading habit.
I also enjoyed maths and chemistry at school and it was a conversation with my A-Level chemistry teacher that set me on the path to Chemical Engineering. I remember asking his advice on what I might wish to study at university and he suggested Chemical Engineering might be a good fit so I went and did some research into the course. That year, when I was visiting my older sister who was studying at The University of Birmingham, I walked onto the campus and found the School of Chemical Engineering. By chance I managed to have a chat with one of the lecturers who was able to tell me more about the course there and what it involved. I liked the sound of it and the rest is history.
Newnham: Can you tell us more about MM Creative Solutions and what prompted you to start the business?
Mwanje: At MM Creative Solutions the core focus is really simple, I want to help our clients grow their businesses in the nuclear sector. This is achieved via the application of specialist management consultancy services. One example is that I’ve helped clients that are looking to diversify their businesses into the nuclear sector by identifying contract opportunities and advising them on how to successfully bid for work.
Prior to starting my business, I was working in a growing SME (small or medium-sized enterprise). My role there had started out as a purely technical one and evolved into working in business management / business strategy growth. Working in that growing business environment, seeing first-hand the impact of the application of technical and business skills brought into focus my own entrepreneurial ambitions. I was enjoying the growth journey and I was also seeing how effective collaboration between specialist organisations can be. I realised that I wanted to work with other businesses and help them realise their goals too so I left a senior position in that growing SME and I set up MM Creative Solutions. As twee as it may sound, I want to help people.
Newnham: What have been some of the highs and lows of starting and running your own business in its first year?
Mwanje: Wow, what a question!
For me some of the lows have been sometimes feeling a bit overwhelmed and getting caught up in thinking that I needed to know certain business terminology to be a ‘proper’ business owner. As things have progressed I have realised this simply isn’t true. It’s OK to admit what you don’t know, just make sure you know who to go to (who does know) so you don’t get caught out. Other lows have been when people have said no and I’ve had to learn to distinguish between if they mean no or not now and then move forward and learn from the experience.
Some of the highs have been engaging new clients and being able to see my work and support making a positive impact for their businesses. Another high has been the support and help I’ve received from others since I started my business. I’m really grateful for it.
Newnham: What advice do you have for other women looking to start a business in the STEM field?
Mwanje: Know your market and know how to communicate with your market. Ultimately people buy from people, regardless of the sector, so invest in those relationships.
Know your worth and don’t be afraid to put yourself forward and ask for something or the opportunity. It never fails to amaze me how far you can get by simply asking for help or asking to be pointed in the right direction.
Before you start your business, be clear about what it is you are offering and make sure that there’s a need for it, or that a need for it can be created. Also spend some time observing what others do and take the opportunity to learn how to approach (or not approach) things.
The STEM field is fairly male-dominated and the sector I work in is predominantly male. In my own personal experience, I’ve had to learn to speak up for myself and make sure my voice is heard. This isn’t always easy and can be frustrating at times but persistence can, and does, pay off.
Newnham: Who/what inspires you?
Mwanje: I draw inspiration from so many different sources. I still love to read, I dip into your Tease and Totes blog and love the Wednesday Woman feature, and hearing stories of how people have achieved what they’ve achieved. It drives me forward. I also love reading about people who maybe were considered to have the odds stacked against them but who found a way and succeeded anyway.
I also love listening to podcasts on a variety of topics. I recently listened to Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness podcast and his interview with Sara Blakely (the lady who invented SPANX) and that has given me so many new ideas.
Music also inspires me. I like Stormzy particularly that he was unsigned but found a way to achieve his goals.
I’m also inspired by family members and friends, who do amazing things on a daily basis. Seeing them not take no for answer and finding a way forward towards their goals, inspires me to keep moving towards mine.
Newnham: If you could go back in time, what advice if any, would you offer a younger Monica?
Mwanje: It’s OK to do things your way and to trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Forge ahead, give it 100% and learn from it good or bad.
Ultimately progress comes from doing and you won’t achieve much standing still. So go and get on with it!