International Women’s Day 2022 series #BreaktheBias

Interview with Dr Beenish Siddique

CEO of Innovative AEH Hydrogel

Dr Siddique was awarded her PhD in materials from The University of Manchester in 2019. She is currently working full time as a CEO and Scientist of AEH Innovative Hydrogel. She has won a number of prestigious awards for her work including over a grant of £1Million from Innovate UK.

Most recently she secured a funding agreement worth £3.5 million with Canada-based biotech investor Terra Sana Holdings, with a view to scaling up AEH's manufacturing capability in Greater Manchester.

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YOUR WORK AT AEH INNOVATIVE HYDROGEL HELPS TO DEVELOP THE FUTURE OF SUSTAINABLE LOW CARBON PRODUCTS IN AGRICULTURE.

WHY DO YOU THINK ITS IMPORTANT TO INCREASE DIVERSITY IN MANUFACTURING?

It is so important to increase diversity in manufacturing, especially in agriculture due to the extent of inequality within the industry.

Research from Oxfam shows that about 80% of the world’s food is produced by small-scale farming. Women make up on average 43% of this agricultural labour in developing countries. They are the majority in some countries. In South Asia, more than two thirds of employed women work in agriculture. In eastern Africa, over half of farmers are women.

However, they produce 20-30% less than farmers that are men, due to less financial support, other domestic responsibilities such as childcare and lack of access to quality tools.

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WHAT BARRIERS HAVE YOU FACED IN YOUR MALE DOMINATED INDUSTRY?

I have faced many barriers particularly as a young woman from Pakistan – investors find this surprising, and it took a lot to prove myself at times.

It’s a well-known fact that women-led start-ups receive less funding in comparison to men. Did you know less than 5% of start-ups are funded by venture capitalists? This article by the Harvard Business Review gives more insight into this.

I secured a £1m Innovate UK grant despite many challenges, yet when I went to raise private investment, this proved even more difficult no matter my achievements, awards and evidence. I’m looking forward to seeing change in the industry for women.

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THE THEME FOR THIS YEAR’S IWD IS #BREAKTHEBIAS, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER YOUNG WOMEN WANTING TO FOLLOW IN YOUR PATH?

Be confident and don’t allow other people's negative opinions to sway your self-belief. If there are 100 people, 90 may reject you but place your focus on the 10 that didn’t.

Present yourself in an authentic way and follow your passions, you will get there eventually.

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WHO IS YOUR INSPIRATION?

My first inspiration is my mother – she was born in a time and place when she didn’t have the opportunity to go to school – she was married young, but this didn’t stop her from being hardworking and ambitious.

She told me that if I want to change the world, I need to pursue my education!

She passed away when I was in my late teens, before I left for university, yet the lessons of she instilled in me motivated me to do my PHD, which has got me where I am today.

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DOES YOUR WORK CONTRIBUTE TO A HEALTHIER WORLD FOR WOMEN IN PARTICULAR?

Absolutely – The discrimination some women face is why I create manufacturing products they can benefit from, that are designed to reduce food production costs, improve quality, and lower the environmental impact. I will give them the resources they need to boost their production power that are affordable, accessible, and easy to use.

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WHAT HAS BEEN A CAREER HIGHLIGHT FOR YOU?

When I started my undergraduate degree, I was the first woman to go to university out of my family and entire community, this started my career path and was a huge milestone for me. My brothers helped support me emotionally and financially although in my community, a woman travelling alone to go to university can face criticism. Luckily there has been a positive cultural shift in recent times.

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FINALLY, HOW DO YOU THINK GREATER MANCHESTER HAS HELPED YOU SUCCEED?

I did my PHD at The University of Manchester, the exciting environment and world-leading facilities really motivated me and helped with my studies!

Once I started my company, the university continued to support me massively in all things and to raise funding, which is crucial to carry out the work.

The institutions in the city continue to support my journey and now that I am based at the GEIC, the possibilities are endless.


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