Insights

My Learnings as an Entrepreneur

By Nupur Prothi Khanna, Founding Principal, Beyond Built

I am an urbanist with an education in Planning, Landscape Architecture and Heritage Conservation. Beyond Built Pvt. Ltd. (BBPL) was set up in 2003 in Bangalore (subsequently moving to Delhi) to deliver best practice spatial design based on in house research undertaken by Landscape architects, Planners, architects, and interns.

This experience has given me several valuable life lessons, which I’ve detailed below:

Be different

When most firms were picking up work with developers, we incubated an approach where we were doing ‘more on less.’ This meant taking up fewer works but spending enough research time to understand what made one endeavour distinct from the other and thereby more likely to succeed with the users.

My philosophy is to ‘deliver the difference.’ So, I believe in not restricting our work to designing, but to handholding the client and contractor teams right through to on-site completion.

Shatter stereotypes

Being a woman is not so unusual in the design realm, but I am usually the lone female on larger brainstorming sessions in the core construction sector. Being brought up as well as married into a defence services family, I usually do not give mind space to issues of gender identity concentrating instead on competence.

That said, while recruiting, I am empathetic towards the domestic responsibilities of women candidates and often find myself coaching them on the significance of persevering in their professions, irrespective of any other reality they may be faced with on a personal level.

Nurture the community

I am more a teacher at heart than a business woman. I consciously spend a fair amount of my energy coaching and nurturing those around me. Since 1998, I have been intermittently associated as visiting faulty at SPA Delhi and RVCE Bangalore. Since last year, I have been working with preteen students under the banner of a foundation we set up, called the Beyond Built Trust. Last summer, we held a series of workshops titled Cultu’re’connect for preteens to sow the seeds of our heritage, culture and relevance of design in our environment early on in their lives.

Trust your team

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of ‘trust,’ a guru mantra learnt on this journey. I have found there is nothing more empowering than this principle. We strongly encourage our team members to pursue their individual aspirations on our projects, while tying into the idea of the whole.

Embrace opportunities to learn

Our project profile has changed over the last 20 years. Each project has played a significant role in our professional and personal development. The small garden in Bangalore (2004) for an eminent ecologist where we went hunting for indigenous plants, sowed the seeds for the INTACH scholarship we won a decade later (2014), on the subject of indigenous planting.

The most challenging project (where my learning was trebled) was the 3.5 kms-long landscape for Terminal 3 at the Delhi International Airport (2008-10), executed from the client’s office with an international consultant. Another project, which we brought from concept to completion, is Elante Multi Use Development for Larsen & Toubro in Chandigarh. We won the CDOS commendation for innovative use of stone for this project.

The last few years, we have centered our energies on primarily public projects from parks to a series of riverfront projects in North and Central India. It’s a long journey ahead where we hope to showcase the contribution of design in the life of the common Indian.

As I complete two decades of professional practice, I realize the power of entrepreneurship to ‘make a difference.’ As an entrepreneur, the power of possibilities, freedom of pursuing one’s desires, overseeing this dream turn into reality have made this journey most fulfilling. 

Along the way, I have come to realise that the responsibility of bringing about a change for the majority in India lies with us, the minority who are privileged to lead a life of choice.

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