Taking on the fight of waste plastic and affordable housing on a global level with ‘Conscious Designs’.
In October 2018 Rushabh Chheda started “Conscious Designs.” The idea for the company surfaced during his Masters where he worked on a project for Indonesia. During this project Rushabh was working on how to use plastic waste, which was abundant in Indonesia, and how to solve the issue of unsafe constructions. That is where he decided to design a brick that can be manufactured anywhere and people can use it, making it a solution for both problems. He saw a great potential for the project to be applied, strengthened by the positive feedback he received from his peers and professors. “If there is a possibility of this happening, I want to take it up right now.” Rushabh recalls his mentality being at the time. Seeing as he had just graduated his Masters, he had more time, less responsibilities, and he was very passionate about this project. “I see a big necessity for such a project.” Rushabh grew up in Mumbai, India. He studied to become an architect, and was deeply afflicted by how a majority of the city’s population lived in squatter settlements, and why architects or the architectural profession were not able to cater to these people. “Besides it having been a successful project during my Masters, it is also the emotional side of knowing the context of where I grew up that motivates me.” He came to The Netherlands in 2016, where he did his Masters at TU Delft. “I hadn’t planned much in advance, but I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, so things just happened the way they happened.”
It’s not just ment as a product, but something that enables people to unlock their capability of building their own house, and being able to afford their own house, while also being a hope for reducing pollution, and in that way also creating jobs.
In July 2019, Rushabh came into contact with WorldStartup. This happened coincidentally as his business partner Frans Taminiau knew Hub Jongen, the Startup Support Director at WorldStartup. WorldStartup saw the potential in “Conscious Designs”, and their views on impact were aligned. Rushabh mentions that the things that WorldStartup helped him the most with were making them feel comfortable as entrepreneurs, being patient with them, while also giving them really good training and mentorship. “They followed up on us, and made sure that we were focused on the impact that we wanted to create.” They gave them the tools to make their approach sharper. “WorldStartup was more about lifting us rather than protecting us.”
“Something that can emancipate people.” is how Rushabh describes his company’s value. Not just as a product, but something that enables people to unlock their capability of building their own house, and being able to afford their own house, while also being a hope for reducing pollution, and in that way also creating jobs. “Something that can serve people by helping people help themselves.” The brick prototypes that Rushabh’s company currently produces in Rotterdam are made from waste plastics that they get from partnerships. One of their biggest partnerships is with a textile manufacturing company that has around 300 kilos of plastic waste every month. Currently they are doing a project in Ghana. Despite wanting to implement this project in Mumbai, Rushabh has done some analyses and came to the conclusion that it requires a lot more planning, as land is expensive and there are more challenges to overcome. That is why he thinks that before implementation in Mumbai, they will most likely develop their project in some smaller cities in India. Besides their project in Ghana, they have also explored ideas of bringing the project to Kenya, Malawi and Mexico, but they have decided to focus on one community first. The way they get plastic waste in African countries is different from in Europe, In Ghana, they are going to be working with informal waste recycling organisations in Accra to source their plastic waste, while supporting the local informal economy.
Rushabh is inspired by people who are less fortunate. A lot of people have the skills to help the people in need, but they either lack the motivation to use their skills in those sectors or circumstances hold them back. “If I really want something to change, and I become the first domino to fall, I just need to do that once successfully and then the rest can follow.” When asked about his greatest achievement thus far, Rushabh said that it has been about inspiring people, and being able to speak about these issues of waste plastic and affordable housing on global platforms. “A lot of people have said that it is nice that younger people are taking up the fight against these problems.” But Rushabh also mentioned that in terms of the company, achievements are not yet there, they have not made that impact yet. But someday they will.
Currently, Unibrick is a collaboration between “Conscious Designs” and “Community Plastics”, founded by Frans Taminiau, who is the founder of “Masters That Matter.” These companies together are going to create a new company which is going to be launched the coming months. The milestones for this year are therefore also setting up this company, andalso setting up a pilot project in Ghana in the next year and half. For the future, Rushabh’s goal is to have built over a million constructions with Unibricks in the next 10–15 years.
When asked what his main challenges were, he mentioned that as an architect, he was not trained to be an entrepreneur. “There is no entrepreneurial course that is given to you at Architecture school in which you start thinking of your own ideas, from a concept level to an implementation level, while also thinking of all the other puzzle pieces of how a startup works.” Rushabh mentions his architectural studies. “I knew I had the passion, but I had to learn the skills, and I am still learning.” For future entrepreneurs, and people looking to start a startup, Rushabh’s advice is to hang in there “It is a long run, not a sprint”, and also “It will always take more time and more money than you expect it to, but the journey is worth it.”