L.A. stories of inspiration and success

L.A. stories of inspiration and success

Bijal Desai-Ramirez, founder of Masalawali, a chai shop and collective liberation space that reclaims and decolonizes South Asian traditions
This past summer, Grid110 wrapped up their 6-week ‘Idea to Launch’ Bootcamp, the nonprofit startup incubator’s latest initiative to support underrepresented startups and small business founders in Los Angeles. The bootcamp consisted of 6 weeks of intensive self-directed work and weekly live sessions, including mentorship, accountability, and coaching. The founders were led by Grid110’s Program Associate, Margot Johnson, who was assisted by Grid110’s Entrepreneurs in Residence and supported by Grid110’s team members.

As a result of the 6-week Bootcamp, Grid110 helped support and accelerate their largest cohort to date of 37 companies and 51 founders. All of the companies are early-stage, LA-based businesses that had the goal of launching their business within 3-6 months at the start of the bootcamp. Now, they have progressed in their launching journey, gained valuable insights and advice, and became connected to a diverse and collaborative ecosystem of founders through Grid110.

Founder of Masalawali Recognized as Standout Participant

One participant who stood out is Bijal Desai-Ramirez, founder of Masalawali, a chai shop and collective liberation space that reclaims and decolonizes South Asian traditions co-opted and capitalized by others. They celebrate the rich complexities of modern South Asian American art, culture, and community while creating a home for liberatory/radical events and programming, book clubs, cultural activities, and conversations within and between marginalized communities. While some people may just come for the chai, Bijal hopes that others will stay for the moksha (“liberation”).

Bijal saw a gap in the Los Angeles community with no chai shops in LA and has made it her mission to open the first shop. “Before the bootcamp, my business was just in the idea stage. While I haven’t fully launched yet, I’ve made strides toward launching by connecting with several like-minded people and organizations, having discovery conversations with customers, and identifying vendors who will be key to launching,” Bijal reflects.

“Above all, I gained the confidence to just get started and put my idea out there! Beginning with the first practice pitch session, I felt more comfortable than usual just raising my hand and jumping in without feeling reservations about how I would do or how I would sound. I think this is a testament to Grid110 creating a space and curating a community where it felt safe to just show up. This has been challenging for me in the past,” Bijal says, reflecting on her progress made over the course of the bootcamp. “The pitch sessions were particularly helpful for me, but each weekly session struck a great balance between content, self-led activities, peer learning spaces, and the opportunity to ask the program mentors and EIRs questions.”
LA area Incubator Grid110's Idea to Launch Bootcamp and company dot-grid style logo in pale yellow and light grey
Bijal has gone from just the idea to setting up the business website and social media, refining the business pitch, reaching out to potential partners, and setting up upcoming LA pop-ups. While Bijal is in the process of finding a brick-and-mortar location in Los Angeles, she is actively doing pop-ups and events with partners. In fact, they participated in and won a “chai-off” as part of Tanzila Ahmed’s Aunties with Deadly Stare show closing at LA Artcore. The competition was a great way for Bijal to test out the recipe, validate the concept of the types of programs they would have, and do some customer development. Moreover, it was the perfect opportunity to connect with artists and activists and to be a part of the very type of programming that Masalawali will host.

Bijal has been accepted into Grid110’s ‘Launchpad Extension’ Program, a subset of the bootcamp where founders have been selected for 6 more weeks to continue to build the progress made in the bootcamp.

EWDD administers and provides financial support to several incubator and accelerator programs in the City of Los Angeles. These programs contribute to the City's innovation landscape by supporting the creation and growth of start-ups. Learn more about the various programs on our Incubators and Accelerators page.

This story is part of the EWDD UPDATES from November 2023. Read this issue and more.