In Bengaluru, India’s startup hub, LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs are making their mark, with a growing number of queer-owned businesses across various sectors. But building a business from the ground up is challenging, even more so with the prevalent biases. This Pride Month, Times Special caught up with some of these entrepreneurs, who tell us about the kind of roadblocks they face, and what keeps them going
Anyone that has ever started a business will tell you their tale of how hard it was to secure that initial funding.For queer folks, it’s all the more challenging — and the challenges are manifold. Many of them have to navigate the complex landscape of securing investors and capital, laden with prejudice and misconceptions of all kinds. And it often continues even after the business is set up.

Few to bank on

Beunic, an apparel store in the city co-founded by Ashish Chopra, witnessed a personal journey fraught with financial struggles. “One of our biggest challenges has been securing financial support. We had none initially; I invested my own money. We also struggled with a lack of staff as we couldn’t afford to hire anyone. My mom took on most of the work while I maintained my full-time job for financial stability,” he says. It’s very challenging to start a business, especially as a solo queer individual, he says. “Often, investors would find indirect reasons to decline funding, likely influenced by my queer identity,” he adds. They are often hesitant to support queer-owned establishments, Ankur Bhatnagar, founder of Seth Ji’s kitchen chimes in. “As a queer entrepreneur, I have faced a lot of bias from various stakeholders, from suppliers and potential investors to customers. Securing funding has been particularly difficult,” he says.
Prasenjit Chaudhari, founder of Out and About, India’s first inclusive travel community, highlights the difficulties in fostering discreet partnerships: “A major challenge was finding facilitators and hosts that were queer but discreet. Many didn’t want to associate with us openly due to valid reasons like personal safety and financial stability. Without financial backing or sponsorship, it was hard to scale up and make our trips more accessible and affordable. Inclusivity and affordability are different challenges, and to scale up, you need a replicable model, which requires a structured approach with salaried people or co-owners. This structure was hard to achieve, often leaving us a one-man army.”
V, Project lead of Pride Cafe, a food truck in the city, faced similar challenges. “We’ve never had direct investors; instead, we’ve relied on CSR funding due to our strong organisational backing. However, there’s still stigma around investing in queer-owned businesses, as they are often viewed as liabilities. This lack of trust makes it difficult to secure investments. Also, securing loans is nearly impossible as banks are reluctant to support us, fearing the money won’t be repaid. This financial barrier hinders our efforts to train community members and help them become entrepreneurs,” they say.

Battling stereotypes

“Being a queer individual, I have decided to not get entangled in the binaries of societal gender norms,” says Supratim Bhattacharya, founder of SCOBY Labs, a fermentation kitchen lab in Bengaluru. “A queer individual is much more than just their sexuality; they bring various flavours, skill sets, and perspectives to the table, yet people seem to focus on just that one aspect,” he says.
Oftentimes, that one aspect negatively influences people’s perception, and the business ends up taking its toll. Abhiram Sridhar, founder of Podi nan maga, a homegrown enterprise selling condiments, says for a queer person, it can be difficult to set up a stall at a flea market. “Some people don’t like the sight of rainbow flags. They look at us differently. We dress differently, wear makeup, sometimes wear jewelry, and our mannerisms may be slightly more flamboyant, which makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Many of them have never encountered an openly queer individual before, and we’re often asked weird, uncomfortable questions,” he says.
There’s a constant, inherent bias against queer folks, especially those living with HIV, says V. They say many organizations subtly ask for an HIV test during health checks, which is illegal. “Even day-to-day activities like traveling to work are challenging for us. Public transport is often unwelcoming, with people unwilling to share seat with us. This everyday discrimination extends to the workplace, where visible queerness can lead to subtle judgements and exclusion,” they say.

Flourishing in June, Forgotten by July

Seasonal recognition and performative activism, usually during Prime Month, pose an important question about sustained support and inclusivity for queer individuals throughout the year. While June serves as a powerful reminder of unity and progress and is the most lucrative time of the year for these establishments, it also underscores the many challenges they face, as they often find themselves thriving during Pride Month yet struggling to maintain visibility and support in the months that follow.
“Customer behavior poses additional challenges,” says Chopra. “For instance, some customers would order t-shirts at the end of June for Pride Month, but cancel the order if they don’t receive them on time,” he says.
Says V: “Our business sees a peak in sales only during Pride Month. For the rest of the year, queer-owned businesses like ours struggle to be seen as market competitors. Despite complying with safety and quality standards, we are often sidelined in favor of regular vendors once June is over.”

Debunking myths & misconceptions

The queer community remains subject to many misconceptions and stereotypes that often overshadow their lived experiences. These misunderstandings, rooted in societal biases, can overshadow the community’s diverse experiences, challenges, and contributions. “One major misconception is that queer-owned businesses are niche and only cater to the LGBTQIA+ community. We address this by showcasing the universal appeal of our offerings and emphasizing that inclusivity benefits everyone. Another misconception is that queer-owned businesses lack professionalism. We strive to demonstrate that queer individuals bring diverse skills, perspectives, and solid professionalism to the table,” says Bhatnagar.
Chopra says a significant bias his team faced was rooted in the fear among straight people that buying from queer folks would make them appear gay. We tried to explain that supporting queer rights doesn’t change their identity, just as supporting animal rights doesn’t make one an animal, says Chopra. “People care too much about what others think, which often hinders progress,” he says.