When Noura Bishay left her life in Egypt behind, she embarked on a journey “toward meaningful change.” Nothing was going to slow her down.
Q. Tell us about your path leading up to today.
Eight years ago, I came from Egypt to pursue my master’s degree in architecture. After completing the program, I worked for an Urban Design and Landscape design firm. After 9 months I got laid off, so I went back to school to study for another master’s degree in social innovation. As I developed a much deeper understanding of the world of entrepreneurship, I was inspired to create my own mission-driven company, “NPB Design Studio.”
What sets NPB Design Studio apart is its holistic vision and the integration of social and environmental considerations into their designs. We tackle issues such as housing, food insecurity, female empowerment, and community gardens, embedding solutions directly into housing design and urban design concepts. This approach goes beyond aesthetics and incorporates a deep understanding of the community's needs, aspirations, and challenges.
Q. What were some of the unexpected hurdles in your journey?
Just three months after our grand opening, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Project losses accumulated, and financial challenges arose. Nevertheless, we adapted to the shifting landscape by embracing remote work, undergoing a digital transformation, and availing ourselves of government support, embarking on an initiative known as the “Table of Hope.”
The Table of Hope originated as a grassroots endeavor, and through the commitment and resourcefulness of our dedicated team of volunteers, it has become a symbol of optimism for those impacted by food insecurity during trying times. Our efforts have successfully fed over 1,000 families.
Additionally, we approached our neighbors to contribute their backyards for the creation of a community garden, and the Gardens of Hope were born! NPB Design Studio has designed two Gardens of Hope, and our collaboration with Rotary Irvine will help us create a third. Our story speaks to the resilience and collaborative spirit of our community, and how we responded to the challenges of the pandemic by remembering, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."
Q. What were some of the unexpected benefits?
I dedicated myself to the development the Park-to-Bay Project—a visionary endeavor that establishes a sustainable, green, and inclusive multi-destination corridor connecting four parks with a linear park system in San Diego. While working on this project, and recognizing its significance, I enlisted the expertise of a skilled grant writer to assist in submitting it for consideration for the JMK Innovation prize.
During our collaboration, my grant writer introduced me to UCR University Extension’s Social Entrepreneurship, Engagement, and Development (SEED) Lab. SEED Lab—an invaluable entrepreneurship program designed to support mission-driven companies in their pursuit of growth, connectivity, and funding. Eager to acquire the knowledge and guidance necessary to navigate the business landscape effectively, I readily embraced the opportunity presented by the SEED Lab, and it opened doors that I never thought existed! The unexpected benefits of participating in the SEED Lab program, receiving awards, and collaborating with the "We Make Change" organization have been numerous and impactful.
First, the SEED Lab provided us with valuable support, mentorship, and resources to help us grow our social enterprise. Through the program, we were able to sharpen our skills, receive guidance, and learn about funding opportunities, which contributed to our personal and business growth.
Second, receiving awards such as the PA Consulting Change Day Award, Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition, and California Legislature Assembly Certificates of Recognition has been a significant source of validation and motivation for our organization. These awards recognized our outstanding and invaluable service to the community, and boosted our confidence and morale, highlighting our achievements, efforts, and contributions.
Third, the opportunity to collaborate with other social enterprises and like-minded individuals through the SEED Lab has been invaluable. As new immigrant women business owners, we initially felt alone in our mission to change the world. However, through the program, we were able to connect with other social enterprises and build a supportive community. Collaboration with different enterprises has led to progress and business maturity, as we have been able to learn from each other, share resources, and work together towards common goals.
Finally, the collaboration with the "We Make Change" organization is empowering us. We learned about their global online platform that connects individuals with nonprofits and social impact projects, allowing them to contribute their skills, resources, and funds to support various causes. Working with their consultants on marketing and sales has provided us with valuable insights and strategies to enhance our impact. Creating projects on their platform and recruiting volunteers has also allowed us to expand our reach and make a greater difference.
Overall, the unexpected benefits of participating in the SEED Lab, receiving awards, and collaborating with the "We Make Change" organization have been instrumental in our personal and business growth, validating our efforts, providing support and resources, and empowering us to make a positive impact in the world. We are grateful for these opportunities and excited to continue our journey towards creating meaningful change.
Q. What difference did your experience at UCR University Extension make to your life path and career goals?
The impact of my time at UCR University Extension was truly life changing. It shifted my career goals from small aspirations to bigger, more ambitious ones that I now believe are achievable by NPB Design Studio. Through the SEED Lab program, I learned the importance of setting realistic goals, understanding the landscape of business, and pitching my company using the skills I learned.
The SEED Lab at UCR was a transformative experience that equipped us with essential skills to navigate the corporate world with more confidence. One of the key components of the course was learning how to understand and engage in constructive debates with investors, enabling us to effectively pitch ideas, analyze financial projections, and negotiate deals.
Additionally, we explored modern marketing tools, digital platforms, data analytics, and branding strategies to effectively reach target audiences and build brand equity. The course also imparted invaluable knowledge on creating comprehensive budgets, honing our abilities to allocate resources wisely, forecast financial needs, and achieve operational efficiency. Through real-world case studies and hands-on projects, the course fostered a well-rounded skill set, empowering us to excel in today’s competitive business landscape.
The SEED Lab was an extraordinary journey that not only provided us with invaluable knowledge but also instilled the confidence to pitch our business ideas. The highlight of this transformative experience was the opportunity to showcase our entrepreneurial endeavors in front of a large audience of 100 people at a prestigious art museum in Palm Springs. This experience allowed us to put our newfound understanding of engaging with investors, crafting compelling pitches, and presenting our marketing strategies into practice. As we stood in the spotlight, we felt empowered to articulate our visions, captivate the audience, and showcase the potential of our businesses. Now, we were prepared to embrace the challenges and opportunities in the world of entrepreneurship.
The SEED Lab has not only equipped me with knowledge but also empowered me with the confidence to embark on an exciting journey, driven by the belief that NPB Design Studio can make a significant impact in the world of entrepreneurship.
Q. Was there a particular instructor memorable to your experience in the SEED Lab?
When I reflect on the individuals who have made a significant impact on my life, it's impossible for me to choose between Mihai Patru and Carolina Angelica Rosas Saavedra. Both have been instrumental in empowering me, believing in me, and providing unwavering encouragement. Personally, Mihai has shown tremendous care and dedication towards my success. I feel fortunate to have crossed paths with him and to have bonded over our shared connection to Egypt, where he has spent time and where I was born and raised. His support has truly made a difference in my life.
Mihai holds the position of Entrepreneur in Residence, specializing in Social Entrepreneurship, at UCR. He was appointed by the Governor of California to serve on the prestigious 2022 Entrepreneurship and Economic Mobility Task Force, which is led by the California Office of Small Business Advocate. In addition, he has been recognized as a finalist for the esteemed 2022 Inland Empire Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award.
Carolina's ability to recognize my talent from miles away was truly inspiring, and she encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and unleash my creativity. In fact, I was thrilled to nominate her for the “She Makes History Award,” which she recently received. I couldn't be prouder of the incredible work that women like Carolina are doing in entrepreneurship, extending their support to fellow women in need. It's a testament to the power of women helping women and making a positive difference in the world.
Q. What have been some of the most exciting or rewarding moments of your career so far?
The SEED Lab Graduation and pitch event at the Museum of Art in Palms Springs was undoubtedly one of the most exciting and rewarding moments of my life. Standing on that stage and sharing my story in front of hundreds of people was a significant leap in my confidence and career. It was a moment that reaffirmed my determination to pursue my goals without letting anything hold me back. The experience was a powerful boost to my self-assurance, and I felt empowered and motivated to continue my path, knowing that I could face any challenge that came my way. The surprise of receiving a congressional recognition and four other assembly members’ recognitions in one day brought tears to my eyes.
The SEED Lab Graduation and pitch event will always hold a special place in my heart as a defining moment in my journey of personal and professional growth. It was a time when I faced my fears, embraced the excitement of the moment, and emerged stronger and more confident than ever. It serves as a reminder that I can achieve important things and make a positive impact in the world.
As much as the SEED Lab graduation was a huge step, I will have a second rewarding moment with the first She Makes History Award Ceremony. In honor of Women’s History Month, we created the “She Makes History Award.” We are honoring 33 successful women that made history in their own way. The concept of women empowering women is crucial for achieving gender equality and breaking down the barriers that hold women back.
Q. What professional and personal achievements are you most proud of, and why?
NPB Design Studio takes pride in its innovative design solutions, positive impact on communities, client satisfaction and success, and commitment to sustainability. Our pride is divided into three aspects: our firm’s success story, our client satisfaction, and our community impact.
Our firm’s success story with its innovative and Creative Design Solutions that is meaningful, authentic, and healthy design that meets the needs and aspirations of our clients. We have a strong commitment to sustainability. From energy-efficient design to the use of renewable materials, we strive to minimize our environmental impact and contribute to a more sustainable future. We are also proud to receive five awards last year including a letter of recognition from the congress for our outstanding contribution to the community.
We are also proud to offer Concierge Customer Service Culture to all our clients. Our commitment to client satisfaction is reflected in the long-term relationships we build with our clients, as well as their referrals and testimonials. We have an 85% return client for more design projects.
Finally, we are proud that we were able contribute to our community by giving and sharing through the Tables and Gardens of Hope during the pandemic. Our “She Makes History Award is breaking down the barriers that hold women back. By working together and supporting each other, we can challenge societal norms and promote greater inclusion and diversity.
Q. What has been the greatest challenge you have faced during your career?
At NPB Design Studio, our primary challenge lies in acquiring the ideal customers who align with our services and mission. To tackle this challenge head-on, we are committed to investing considerable time and resources into a range of strategies. Our approach involves fostering meaningful networking opportunities, cultivating strong B2B relationships, and staying up to date with industry trends and demands. By actively engaging in these initiatives, we aim to attract customers who resonate with our sustainable values and expertise.
We recognize the importance of establishing a compelling online presence so to address this, we have prioritized updating our website to ensure it effectively displays our portfolio, communicates our unique value proposition, and provides a seamless user experience. Simultaneously, we are enhancing our social media presence, utilizing platforms where our target audience is most active. By crafting engaging content, sharing industry insights, and fostering meaningful interactions, we strive to create a digital presence that attracts and engages potential customers.
We understand the significance of search engine optimization (SEO) in reaching our target market. We are dedicating resources to optimize our website's visibility and search rankings, ensuring that when potential customers are seeking services in our industry, they can easily discover and connect with us. By employing effective keyword research, on-page optimization techniques, and relevant content creation, we aim to improve our organic search performance and increase our chances of being discovered by the right audience.
Q. What career (or other) advice would you give to students or graduates looking to move into your industry?
When offering advice to students or graduates, there are several key principles I would emphasize. First, it's important to incorporate business studies into your academic pursuits, as this knowledge will be valuable in navigating the complexities of entrepreneurship and the corporate world. Second, learning how to calmly manage problems is crucial. By breaking down challenges into smaller, manageable tasks, you can approach them with a clear and focused mindset. Additionally, taking risks and embracing continuous learning are essential for personal and professional growth. Never stop expanding your knowledge and skills, and always strive for excellence.
The meaning of success has evolved for me over time. It's no longer solely about money and recognition. Success, to me, is about showing up, giving my best effort, and believing that my best will come back to me in some form. It encompasses personal growth, fulfillment, and making a positive impact on others and the world. Embracing a mindset of continuous learning and persistent effort can lead to a more holistic and fulfilling definition of success. It's about constantly improving and making a difference in your own life and the lives of others.
True greatness is not achieved by stepping on others but by helping, inspiring, and empowering them. It's about creating a positive impact and changing the culture to reflect your vision. Embrace being different, even if it means losing some friends, as you will gain better ones who appreciate and support you for who you truly are. Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, explore, and travel, as these experiences can shape your unique perspective on life. Spending time alone and prioritizing your own well-being is essential. Surround yourself with people who uplift and support you, and don't hesitate to prioritize your happiness.
Dreaming big is a powerful motivator that can lead to incredible achievements. Dreams inspire us to set ambitious goals, push beyond our comfort zones, and work tirelessly to make them a reality. While not all dreams may come true, having a vision and taking steps towards fulfilling it can open doors and create opportunities. It's important to remember that realizing our dreams often requires hard work, resilience, and learning from setbacks. Set achievable goals, have a plan, and be willing to adapt and evolve along the way. With determination, perseverance, and a willingness to learn and grow, dreams can indeed come true.
Finally, make a promise to yourself to do something good for yourself every day. It can be as simple as engaging in self-care activities, spending time with loved ones, or indulging in small pleasures. Express gratitude for your body and take the time to appreciate the present moment. Smiling more can bring happiness and positivity into your life. You deserve to prioritize your well-being and find joy in everyday experiences.
Q. What are you doing now?
As the CEO of NPB Design Studio, my responsibilities encompass a wide range of areas, including management, design, presentations, client acquisition, networking, marketing, and advertising, all with a focus on social impact urban design. As a leader, I oversee the operations of the studio, guiding and managing the team towards our shared vision and goals. I am involved in the design process, ensuring that our projects are innovative, sustainable, and aligned with our mission of creating positive social change through urban design.
I also engage in presentations, highlighting our designs to clients, stakeholders, and the public, effectively communicating our ideas and vision. In addition to design, I am actively involved in acquiring clients, building meaningful relationships, and expanding our network. I leverage my expertise and reputation to market and advertise our services, creating awareness and generating interest in our studio's social impact approach to urban design. I am committed to continuously improving and growing the business, while maintaining our focus on creating meaningful and positive social impact through our design projects.
One of NPB Design Studio community initiatives is the “She Makes History Award.” It empowers women to shape the future and make their mark in history. Founded by visionary women, She Makes History is dedicated to promoting gender equality and women's empowerment through education, leadership development, and community engagement. Through innovative programs and initiatives, She Makes History breaks down barriers, challenges societal norms, and creates opportunities for women to excel in their chosen fields. This initiative is fostering a supportive community where women thrive and are celebrated for their exceptional accomplishments despite facing challenges. Together, we are shaping a brighter future and empowering women to create history.
Q. What are your hopes and aims for your future?
This is a challenging question, and although my usual response would be to promote social impact, this year I have a clearer vision thanks to my newly created vision board. My aspirations and goals are divided into three principal areas: business, community, and personal.
In terms of business, my aim is to expand my office and design a beautiful office space for my team. I plan to grow my client base to 120 clients within the next three years, providing top-notch customer service. Additionally, I aspire to go to Congress and advocate for more equitable housing, specifically by securing Additional Dwelling Units (ADU) grants for low-to-medium income homeowners. I believe that rebranding low-income housing and providing ADU grants, with a focus on single mothers, can have a threefold impact. It can help homeowners achieve steady income and escape poverty and welfare, provide safe and family-oriented neighborhoods for single mothers and their children, and ensure the safety and food security of these families.
On a community level, I have initiated the "She Makes History Award," a groundbreaking program that empowers women. The award recognizes and highlights the achievements of successful women, promoting gender equality and women's empowerment. Through inclusivity, diversity, and intersectionality, the She Makes History Award aims to create a more equitable and inclusive world where women are recognized for their contributions. My hope is to make this award an annual event that spans local, regional, and international levels, honoring women during Women's History Month.
In addition, I have also introduced the concept of the "Table of Hope" in our community, a self-serve food sharing table that operates 24/7. People are encouraged to donate, exchange, or take food as needed. I plan to collaborate with cities to adopt the Table of Hope model in parks and schools, with the aim of reducing food waste and insecurity in our communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the fragility of our food chain, and we need to take action to change it. To this end, I am advocating for the establishment of more "Gardens of Hope" in our communities. These community gardens, utilizing available backyards, can provide fresh produce, promote organic farming, reduce waste, and lower transportation pollution. By having ten backyard community gardens in every neighborhood, we can transform our cities into more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable places for all.
On a personal level, my aspirations are diverse and exciting. I am eager to engage in design and social impact competitions, as well as attend and speak at conferences to share my knowledge and insights. Additionally, I have a strong desire to travel to all the states, immersing myself in their unique history, culture, and culinary offerings.
Taking care of my physical well-being is also a priority for me. I am committed to making healthier choices in my diet and incorporating regular exercise into my routine, including swimming, playing golf, sailing, and fishing.
In line with my love for sailing, I will take a sailing course to further hone my skills. My dream is to one day own a house with a spacious backyard adorned with vibrant trees and a serene meditation area overlooking my very own yacht. As an enthusiastic angler, I also aspire to catch a large tuna and swordfish, adding to my sailing adventures and creating lasting memories.
Q. In your life today, what makes you really happy?
What brings me genuine happiness is the fulfillment I experience through helping other people. Whether it's offering a lending hand to those in need, supporting friends and family, or engaging in volunteer work, the act of making a positive difference in someone's life fills my heart with joy. Knowing that my actions, no matter how small, can brighten someone's day or alleviate their burdens, reinforces my sense of purpose, and connects me to a deeper sense of compassion and empathy.
What truly makes me happy is the sense of accomplishment I derive from creating sustainable and healthy designs for NPB Design Studio. As the CEO of the studio, my passion lies in crafting innovative and impactful design solutions that not only enhance aesthetics but also prioritize environmental sustainability and the well-being of users. Seeing our projects come to life, where our designs seamlessly integrate with nature, promoting a positive impact on both people and the environment, fills me with immense joy and fulfillment.
The ability to create a positive impact on people's lives is a source of immense happiness. Seeing the positive changes my efforts bring to individuals or communities is incredibly rewarding and fuels my passion for contributing to the betterment of society. Whether it's mentoring someone to reach their full potential, supporting a social cause, or advocating for positive change, the sense of fulfillment derived from knowing I've played a part in someone's growth and well-being is unparalleled.
Finally, being involved in tree planting initiatives adds an additional layer of happiness to my life. Witnessing the transformation of barren landscapes into green, thriving environments brings a profound sense of connection with nature and the Earth. Contributing to environmental sustainability through tree planting gives me a strong sense of responsibility for the planet and inspires me to continue taking actions that nurture and protect our natural world for future generations.
Overall, the happiness I find in helping others, creating positive impacts, and planting trees stems from a deep-rooted desire to make a meaningful and lasting difference in the world, one that resonates with my values and leaves a positive mark on the lives of others and the planet we call home.
It has been a pleasure getting to know Noura and telling her story. In addition to all the wins she has had since arriving in the United States, Noura shared with me some of her accomplishments while still in Egypt. Dedicated to the underserved, she volunteered in developing and improving slum areas for the garbage collectors in Egypt, as well as volunteering with AIA-HN1M (Housing the Next One Million). She is also one of the founders of the first eco-village in Sinai, Egypt, where she, along with her family, transformed several deserts by planting almost 30,000 olive trees and 5,000 palm trees into an oasis.
What’s not to admire about Noura? If you are looking for energetic, sustainable, and inspirational design that will change your world, reach out to Noura.
AIA Associate & Social Impact Urban Designer and CEO of NPB Design Studio, San Diego, California
B.S., Architecture, Arab Academy for Science, Technology, and Maritime Transport, Egypt
M.S., Architecture, NewSchool of Architecture and Design, San Diego
Master’s Candidate for Art in Social Innovation, University of San Diego, San Diego
Graduate, Social Entrepreneurship, Engagement & Development (SEED) Lab, UCR University Extension