Aditi Mammen Gupta
Aditi Mammen Gupta is a food formulator, recipe blogger, entrepreneur, fitness enthusiast, and doting mother. This multi-hyphenate powerhouse first entered the industry with Posh Nosh, a gourmet sauces and spreads company that is pure vegetarian with zero preservatives. As she grew even more passionate about making tasty, healthy food for her family, she started a blog called Kitchen Chronicles by Aditi that has come to be a treasure trove of recipes for people who, like her, want food that is both satisfying and wholesome. In the same vein, she also co-founded Origin Nutrition with her husband Chirag to satisfy their quest for a locally available, top quality vegan protein powder.
I recall that you used to work in branding and marketing for one of your family businesses, a line of children’s toys. Tell me about the journey that had you pivot from this to creating food products.
After finishing my Masters, I returned to Chennai and began to work at Funskool. It was a huge learning experience and a great way to get introduced to all the aspects of running a business, from sales and marketing to new product development. This formed a very good base for me in my journey to building my own company.
From a very early age, I knew that I wanted to start my own business but I wasn’t clear about what I wanted to do. After getting married, my husband suggested getting into food because I am obsessed with food and all things related to food. This obsession soon evolved into a love for healthy eating and good nutrition. This is how Origin Nutrition was born.
You’re from a family where traditionally it is the men who go into the business. When did you decide that you wanted to have your own career as well? Were there any women in your life who inspired you? Was there any trepidation in doing things differently?
I have to say that in my family, though it may have been my grandfather who was the face and founder of the business, my grandmother played an extremely supportive role in everything that they did. So I have always been surrounded by very strong female role models. Both my grandmothers were extremely strong, independent and also fabulous cooks. Essentially they are the reason why I have such a deep love for food.
Starting my own business was something that I had always envisioned from a very early age. My grandfather was a real visionary and he always encouraged all his grandchildren to dream big.
I know you are an especially hands-on mom. When you had children, did you ever consider giving up work? What motivated you to keep building your business even through the challenging early years of motherhood?
I love my children more than anything and my entire world revolves around them. I also love my work and am totally passionate about it. They both define who I am as a person and are extremely important to me. My work rejuvenates me and gives me the energy and resources to be the best mother that I can be.
When my kids were younger, I did find it extremely challenging. There were definitely days when I just wanted to sit down and have a good cry. I soon realised that having a schedule and planning out my day really helped with managing both. It is also important to know that you can’t do everything all of the time. There were many times when I had to ask my mother or mother in law for help and I’m very lucky to be surrounded by a loving support system.
Another thing that really keeps me going is the knowledge that I’m not just working for me now but also for my babies. It’s important that they watch and understand what I do and I am hoping that it teaches them that sometimes things can be difficult but if you work hard, you can do anything!
Many mothers and wives say that they love to work because it is the one thing that is entirely their own. While Posh Nosh was your baby, you and your husband have partnered together to create Origin Nutrition. What are the pros and cons of working with your husband? Is there any advice you can give for couples who also work together? For example, I know some couples keep a strict policy to not talk shop after a certain time of the day.
This is definitely something that many of my friends ask me about. Posh Nosh taught me the complexities that come with running a business on a smaller scale and if it weren’t for Posh Nosh, there wouldn’t be an Origin Nutrition. Our vision is to consciously create an entire ecosystem of health and wellness under this brand. So my mindset from the beginning was very different from earlier on since we really wanted to build it into a large scale business and I knew that I needed help. I think what works for us is the fact that we both know that we cannot do this without the other. I have my strengths and so does Chirag. Luckily both are very different and so we make sure that we handle our own areas without much interference from the other.
Right now, Origin is our baby and so we are always thinking about it. We talk shop at all times of the day and actually love it. I guess it works because we are both so passionate about what we are doing. I am sure that we will get to a point where we will need to establish some ground rules but at the moment, it works.
There aren’t any universal set of rules but here are a few things which help us work well together:
> Set your priorities – Chirag understands that as a mother, there are times where I have to prioritise the kids over work. This is where he steps in for me and seamlessly picks up where I have left off.
> Give yourselves a break – prioritise yourselves. Exercise together, spend time with the kids or even set aside some time just for the both of you. It really helps to sometimes give your brains a rest.
> Communicate respectfully – You may have different points of view but communicating respectfully is key.
What was the most challenging part about starting a food product business from scratch? And what has been the most satisfying part of making your passion for good, healthy food into a business?
I think the most challenging part about starting a food product is that I needed to educate myself from scratch about the science of food and food manufacturing. I never studied food technology and everything that I have learnt has been from pure and simple experience.
At Origin Nutrition, we are on a mission to create superfoods that help everyone lead healthier and happier lives. The best part is when we get calls from nutritionists and customers who have tried and loved our products. It makes all the hard work and everything that we do worthwhile.
Is there any particular milestone you reached that made you feel most proud?
When building Origin, we wanted to do everything right. Most people mistrust health food supplement companies and trust was a very important factor for us. So we decided to aim high and get certified by Informed Choice which is a globally recognised quality assurance testing program. Every month our products get tested in the UK. The entire process from the start until you get certified is definitely quite grueling. We had to actually shift our factory premises and incorporate a huge number of additional steps to our manufacturing operations. So after many months of work we finally received our certification, and it was a moment that really validated everything that we were doing.
Dr. Sonali Santhanam
Dr. Sonali Santhanam is an American Board Certified Physical Therapist and a Women’s Health Specialist. She is a certified Lactation Consultant, Childbirth Educator, HypnoBirthing Practitioner, and Baby Bonding Practitioner, who founded Birth Basix to pursue her passion of providing holistic care backed by evidence-based research to expecting mothers and postpartum women. Her services have been a boon to the parenting community of Chennai, especially as more and more women seek an empowered approach to giving birth. Through Birth Basix prenatal yoga classes, HypnoBirthing classes, and lactation consulting, she has helped countless women feel strong and supported during their pregnancy and birthing journeys.
Tell me about your journey to becoming a one-stop consultant for pregnant and postpartum women. How did you decide that you wanted to help women in particular, and how did it progress from physiotherapy to birth preparation and lactation consulting?
I started out with specializations in Orthopaedic Physical Therapy and my research interests at the University of Pittsburgh were focused on finding solutions for the management of low back pain. I specifically looked at improving the outcomes for low back pain by ensuring physical therapists use evidence-informed guidelines instead of a trial and error approach. When I moved back to India and had my baby in 2010, I realized there was such a big gap in the quality of care delivered to women during pregnancy and postpartum. There was and still is fear around exercise in pregnancy, inconsistent advice on what kind of exercises one could do to stay fit and improve birth outcomes, insufficient guidance on topics like prolapse and pelvic floor function in childbirth, and safe return to exercise in the postpartum. In an informal survey that I conducted, I found that 60% of women reported bladder leaks in pregnancy when coughing and sneezing, 85% reported some kind of back or pelvic pain at some point in their pregnancy and most of these women thought this was normal. These symptoms are however a compounded effect of lack of exercise, strength, and flexibility in pregnancy, and the inability of the body to adjust to the increased load on the pelvic floor. Without an actual return to exercise plan in the postpartum, many of these women then start out with intense workouts that contribute to the worsening of pelvic floor symptoms, knee, and low back pain.
Now, my own personal journey through parenthood has taught me that a strong mom is a happy mom. When you can bend and tie your child’s shoes without pain, you are in a good mood. When you can run down the beach with your child not thinking of leaking you could just have more fun. When you can stand your ground as your kid jumps on you, you feel powerful. I always say being a mom is a contact sport and we need to ensure women and mothers have the strength to stay in the game looking and feeling good.
So my profession chose me. I decided to go back to school and educate myself on everything I needed to fill in these gaps. My goal was to bring research-based information to women on how to exercise and stay pain-free in pregnancy, make choices on the kind of birth they had, medicated or non-medicated, Vaginal or C-section by being fully informed of the benefits and risks involved, and to feel supported in their choices as they prepared to breastfeed their newborn. This is how I got certified as an evidence-based birth instructor and went on to get certified as an internationally board-certified lactation consultant. I also had to complete certifications in physical therapy for pelvic health issues as these were topics that were never covered in physical therapy school.
When you got married, did you make it clear to your husband and in-laws that you had professional goals to achieve? Do you have any advice for career-oriented women who marry into traditional families?
When I got married I felt a sudden loss of identity. I loved being a wife and a mother but I also wanted myself back. Being a working mom has been challenging. There have been many times I have wondered if it was worth it. My husband has been very supportive and he made it very clear to me. He said to me “Work and stay busy, because you need it. But you have to be there for the kids, they need you too.” So that’s the truth of it. Being a woman who wants to pursue her dreams also means taking on 2 full-time jobs, working overtime, and scheduling me-time to preserve your sanity. So I won’t lie, It has taken me 10 years to find a balance. I have always reflected on this – How can I teach my daughter to be independent financially if I choose otherwise. I had to set the right example for my children by contributing to society.
I know how hard you worked to continue your education, certifications, and businesses while raising 2 children. In hindsight, do you feel that you took on too much at any point, or are you happy that you pushed through and did it all?
I have taken on too much and still continue to do so. I love helping and supporting a woman feeling powerful in her role as a mother. I feel proud when my daughter tells me to get to work on her holiday because she can see I am making a difference to these families. Most importantly I feel I am modeling behavior for my daughter that I would like to see her carry.
What made you decide to establish your own business, Birth Basix, rather than continue working under/in tandem with other doctors or clinics?
Working under my own brand has given me the flexibility to work on my own terms at hours that suited me. I have had the flexibility to use my creativity at work and really present my work ethic and culture as I recognize it. It also allows me to take my kids to work if I choose to.
Is there any particular milestone you hit that made you really feel accomplished?
Yes, when I completed my International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Certification, I felt more proud than I did when I got my doctorate degree. It also feels amazing that my educational backgrounds have finally merged. As a physical therapist who is also a lactation consultant, I am able to identify and treat issues that come up using a combined approach. For example, a baby who is having sucking difficulties at the breast will need suck training but also exercises to overcome any myofascial tightness and hypotonia when necessary.
Could you give me one example of a time where you thought it may be impossible to “do it all”, meaning balancing family life and work, and an example of the opposite–an instance that renewed your motivation and reminded you that this is the right path for you.
There are times that I feel I haven’t done justice to either, my role as a parent or my role as a care provider. In my profession, there are no holidays, no breaks. You are always on call and many family outings have been interrupted by a call. Taking the call is a hard choice. Someone is going to get upset. But then my daughter reminds me that my work matters, and that I make a difference to babies and the way a woman experiences her transition to motherhood. That brings a smile to my face. I know I am on the right track as a parent and as a care provider.
Dr. Vijailakshmi Acharya
Dr. Vijailakshmi Acharya is one of the highest regarded dentists in Asia, with patients coming from all over the globe to receive treatment at her world class clinic, Acharya Dental. She is a member of the Indian Dental Association, American Dental Association, International Dental Federation, Indian Society of Oral Implantology, and an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Implant Dentistry. She has a passion for lifelong learning, as well as sharing what she has learned. This combined with a talent for writing and public speaking has made her an invaluable member of the dental community, with many associations and dental colleges inviting her to speak and submit articles.
You did not come from a family where women worked, yet you were always clear that you wanted to. What motivated you to take the path less trodden?
My mother was a simple dedicated housewife, going about her daily mundane chores, uncomplaining and cheerful. She had 2 daughters. She was all of 16 when she got married, a fact she never failed to put forth every time there was a conversation. She wanted her children to have a different life where they could be financially independent and make a mark. “Don’t become like me” was her constant refrain . I guess for the two of us this was ingrained in our subconscious and we went ahead with pursuing a career as a natural choice.
You had mentioned that it is common to see women graduate from dental school, who then do not go on to practice. You have even given talks to these audiences with the goal of inspiring them to pursue their career without feeling restricted by marriage or motherhood. What is the main advice you give to these women who struggle with that age old question: is it really possible to “have it all”, with “all” meaning both a career to be proud of and a happy family life?
In these cases it is the individual who lacks the drive to continue after qualifying from professional college and the family cannot be blamed. It is so easy to drift into the excitement of matrimony and its aftermath. Undeniably these are the best years of a woman’s life and one can lose focus. If the husband’s family is affluent or traditional, that could be a deterring influence. This is really the crossroad that every woman encounters and it is when one has to defend the years of education and hard work that went into a career.
What is needed is a “stick to your guns” attitude so that the message is loud and clear: I will practice my profession. Once this is established the family may find they have an asset in this strong, self sufficient and independent woman!
As for happiness, each one of us knows the secret – if we get what we want, we can make everyone around us happy!
You have won many awards and certifications. Is there one that means the most to you? Likewise, was there any particular milestone you reached that made you feel like you had truly made it?
I was awarded the ‘Sushruta’ award by the Indian Dental Association. It was important because the fraternity recognised my contribution to dentistry and that is a great feeling. Not to mention that Sushruta was the ancient Indian Physician who brought in great changes in the practice of medicine.
Milestones in my life take place every day. Every time I complete a case, every time I see a happy smile following treatment, I feel I have taken a step further. It is these seemingly small things that go to make the larger picture, what you call the “milestone”.
Being a trained dentist is one thing, but being a business owner is an entirely different animal. So much so that you and your son, prosthodontist Dr. Varun Acharya, are now offering sold-out courses on the latter. How did you learn the ins and outs of business ownership to have achieved such incredible growth, from a one-room clinic to the world-class facility you run today? Was there ever a time that you thought it might be better to work for a larger operation rather than having the buck stop with you?
From the start, I had no thought of working with anybody. Even as an inexperienced dentist I had only the idea of starting my own.The key is not to get comfortable in whatever point of the career we are at. “What next?” – should be the restless question in order to grow. A sense of urgency and disquiet is good for growth. The needs of the growing practice teach you common sense and practical wisdom as you go along. It is a given that the brickbats come along with the bouquets. That is why success wrested from the jaws of adversity is so sweet.
Today along with my son we run Continuing Education courses just for the joy of sharing our experience and knowledge to make our world a better place!
Suraksha B. Acharya
Suraksha B. Acharya is a renowned architect and founder of Midori Architects. She studied at the esteemed School of Architecture and Planning in Anna University, where in her final year she turned her focus to the increasingly popular field of sustainable architecture. After working at a top firm in Kuala Lumpur, she returned back to school to pursue her Masters in Sustainable Environmental Design at the Architectural Association in London. She is a Leed accredited professional with a specialty in building design and construction, a certified Griha evaluator and trainer, and one of the few design professionals from Chennai to achieve a Green Mark Manager designation from the BCA Academy in Singapore.
Her sleek, modern, and sustainable designs have earned her numerous awards in global competitions, including but not limited to first place in the Skyhive Skyscraper Challenge, silver in the Building & Structure category in the A’Design Awards and Competition, second place in the eVolo Skyscraper Competition, and most recently, first runner up in the Notions of India International Competition.
You were a class topper, you’ve attended the most prestigious architecture schools, and you win every competition you enter! How have you stayed motivated your entire life to give your absolute best to everything? What drives you?
Bringing people together and improving the quality of life through design motivates me. I love creating unique spaces that are unrecognizable for their openness and fluidity that surprisingly reflects the ever changing client’s lifestyle surpassing the outdated one size fits all approach of the past. My mission is to use architecture as a bridge to push the boundaries of sustainable performative design, fending off fossil fuel hungry, energy intensive buildings while setting up a physical framework for a net zero future. My dream is to find the balance between the practical and the ideal, unfolding human life to the fullest through my designs. Chasing the dream is more important than winning the competition!
You worked for top firms before starting your own. What are the pros and cons of working for someone else vs. yourself? What has been the biggest challenge of starting a business from scratch?
As an entrepreneur it is exhilarating to control your destiny which makes the journey fulfilling! On the other hand, being a business owner means one must wear a lot of hats from mother to boss to designer to janitor! There is a lot to juggle, and I notice I am always at work! I constantly struggle to turn off boss mode when I get back home after a long day and switch to Mom and Wife mode. Since I established Midori Architects in 2015, as a first-generation business owner, it’s been my consistency and unwavering pursuit to never give up on my dreams that has brought me this far. The most challenging aspect especially with architecture is that projects take time to evolve and involve a team of experts, which requires a lot of conviction and determination that can be mentally exhausting.
You have won many awards. Is there one in particular that means the most to you?
The beauty of design competitions is the leveling of the playing field between big companies, small design firms, and students alike. Competitions help spur our creativity and encourage lateral thinking. Also I find ideas valuable in the sense that they help us as a community discuss and debate over various issues.
As a start up firm I don’t get the opportunity to design a skyscraper every day, so open architecture competitions help us raise the standard of the team and push us to discover what might be possible in a utopian world. Usually, the “real world” can be quelling, due to client meetings, budget constraints, codes to follow and deadlines. I am most proud of our international winning project “Aero Hive”, an office tower that was developed as a part of Skyhive Skyscraper Challenge that examines the relationship between the skyscraper and the natural world, the skyscraper and the community, and the skyscraper and the city.
The topic of balancing career with motherhood has been discussed plenty. As someone who is dealing with the hardest version of that challenge right now, caring for a newborn and a preschooler while running your company, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in making it work?
I am lucky to have my family and husband who have supported me throughout my career and motherhood. I am a big believer that a happy parent can generate a happy generation who are free from stress. As a working mom I noticed it teaches my 5 year old how to be independent which is a valuable early life skill, making her accountable and learning the value of flexibility. I am so proud of my little 5 year old Liya who wishes to be an architect like her Mama! She inspires me to keep working and I hope that Yuva, my 7 week old little boy, will turn out to be just as independent as her!
Your passion for sustainable living is the underlying factor of all your work. So much so that your home will be the first zero carbon footprint home in India! Tell me more about why this is important to you, and what particular aspects you would love to see more architects prioritize.
Buildings are a living part of our world, they expand our senses of who, where, and why, giving us occasions to make human contact. Architects do have a social responsibility that extends beyond practice i.e. sustainable design. Aeon House, a unique and modern home, is a perfect example of modern meets sustainability and functionality. Designed as a response to environmental parameters, this home is all set to earn the first of its kind Zero Carbon & LEED Platinum Certification and provide luxurious comfort with energy efficiency. Good design approach lies in the aim to create profitable projects that are energy efficient and thermally comfortable for occupants but also serve their communities while reducing the negative impacts on the environment caused by the use of finite natural resources. We must conceive a future that builds smarter, better and greener – connecting communities to the natural.
– By Priyanka Acharya