Karishma Bali is a Chicagoland native passionate about fitness – especially running – with a tri-city master’s in global entrepreneurial management as well as a master’s in biology. She launched Pulse Athletic Apparel through the spark of her love of running – a constant in the dynamism of life. Read on to learn more about her wins and challenges, how travel has played a role, and which destination has taught her the most!

Tell us about your background and how you got to where you are now.

My name is Karishma and I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University Chicago, completed a tri-city master’s of science in global entrepreneurial management from the University of San Francisco and have also graduated with a master’s of science in biology from Case Western Reserve University.

Prior to graduating, I consulted for startups, conducted and have published a few different research projects, volunteered, mentored, and held several organizational leadership roles. Since graduating, I have been contract-consulting and teaching while bootstrapping two ventures – one of which is Pulse Athletic Apparel!

Pulse Athletic Apparel founder Karishma Bali
Photo courtesy of Karishma Bali.

So, how did Pulse come about? Fitness, specifically running, have been pivotal in my personal and professional development. Since 2016, many life events have occurred- transitioning from undergraduate to graduate programs, maintaining familial responsibilities, moving several times, meeting new people, losing touch with old friends, creating new experiences and so forth. Life has been very dynamic, but running and fitness has been my only constant. I have been training for and running a full marathon every year since 2016. (And just completed the 2020 Virtual TCS NYC Marathon this past Friday, 10/30/2020!) Running has provided me with a way to be grounded and find clarity on orienting every aspect of my life. In other words, marathon running has been what has motivated me continue to find passion and excitement in everything I do.

Related: check out our guide on Chicago (and other things to do in Illinois) here!

I created Pulse Athletic Apparel for this exact reason, to create a community aligned with the same vision. My vision is to connect like-minded people and encourage a community of authenticity, creating very intentional and meaningful experiences. Pulse Athletic Apparel is not just an athletic apparel clothing line, but a movement, a vehicle encouraging, empowering, and exciting people to create life experiences that ‘get their pulse up’.

What made you want to pursue your profession/area of focus?

I strongly believe in intuition. I have always been identified as a natural leader and have longed to go into medicine since I was six years old. As the elder sister to a sibling with autism, ADHD, and developmental delay, I developed a very unique curiosity about the world through medicine. What is interesting, is how this curiosity was driven by a gut feeling. And later, how this gut feeling drove me into innovation and a desire for community impact.

I started creating, leading, executing at the small scale through leadership conferences in high school and organizations in my undergraduate career, to currently building companies and brands from scratch. For me, my actual entrepreneurial journey began academically. In 2018, I was finishing up my first year of graduate school and deciding how I wanted to orient the following year. Initially I was planning on doing a dual MS/MBA, but was starting to feel complacent and uninspired. I longed to learn about management, and also to travel and meet like-minded peers. One thing led to another, and before I knew it I had committed to getting my MS in l management, was on a plane flying to Barcelona, Spain and signed off on finishing up my other graduate courses, online.

This tri-city program, while introducing me to incredible cultures, people and experiences, allowed me to create an entirely new perception of what it means to launch a business. My courses pushed me, my professors challenged me, and my peers encouraged me to really hone in on my passions to turn them into a career – to create, innovate, and execute.

What has been a challenge you’ve overcome on your way to where you are now? What have you learned from it?

Oh my goodness, there have been many challenges! But I think it all boils down to accepting the fact that life does not quite go according to plan. I was that five year old kid with a 5 year, 10 year, and 20 year plan and I can confidently say almost nothing included in my plans have gone in order. In fact, life has had plans of its own. Some for better, some for worse, but regardless, I have learned that there is so much I can actually control. You just have to keep moving forward and trust that your own hard work will get you to where you want to be.

What gets you excited to wake up every day? Why?

Getting my pulse up! (jokes). In all seriousness, exercise and fitness is always on my immediate to-do list and knowing one of the first things I will do the next day is work on becoming a stronger and better version of myself gets me very excited!

Chicagoland native Karishma Bali
Photo courtesy of Karishma Bali.

What’s the best/most important thing you’ve learned or taught yourself? Why?

Resilience, self-belief and meditation – the trifecta. My journey, academically, financially, entrepreneurially and ultimately with adversity has been “zig zagged.” My early twenties felt like they were defined by failure after failure, but I knew that didn’t define me. What defined me was the desire to keep moving forward, keep working hard, and towards a vision. Meditation helped greatly. I have not perfected the practice by any means, but by continuously trying to incorporate it into daily practice, I have become more and more grounded.

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What’s the next thing you’re going to learn or teach yourself? Why?

To do a handstand! I have been a practicing yogi on and off for the past three years, but I would say this is one pose I want to teach myself before the new year in 2021!

My early twenties felt like they were defined by failure after failure, but I knew that didn’t define me. What defined me was the desire to keep moving forward, keep working hard, and towards a vision. Meditation helped greatly. I have not perfected the practice by any means, but by continuously trying to incorporate it into daily practice, I have become more and more grounded.

Favorite resources for ongoing learning? Why?

  • Diary of a CEO with Steven Bartlett: super straightforward and non-cookie cutter podcast that talks about all of the multifaceted aspects of entrepreneurship
  • On Purpose with Jay Shetty: self-development podcast; really strong, thought-provoking lessons on how to become more intentional and grounded in our day-to-day lives
  • The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch: I was given this book as a present to me by my aunt a few weeks prior to starting college. It is the last lecture a terminally ill professor gives for his students, but more importantly, leaves for his children.
  • Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza: a deep dive into the neural circuits of how our habits are formed and how we can create the best work-in-progress version of ourselves.
  • How Bad Do You Want it? by Matt Fitzgerald: This book takes you through the stories of several athletes in discussing how they build mental toughness. As a marathoner, this book really gets me in the zone before each race!

What’s your favorite spot where you currently live & why?

Anything Starbucks-related! I am obsessed with Starbucks, everyone from my master’s in management classes and their mom knows. Jokes aside, I am very brand-loyal to their iced Americanos with almond milk and the occasional iced matcha and love cranking out a great work day in one of their cafes. I would say it’s my go-to because of the sentiment they hold: Starbucks cafes have gotten me through everything from genetics class to writing out pitch decks and everything in between.

What’s your least favorite/worst travel memory? Did you learn anything from it?

To be honest, I do not have any ‘worst’ travel memories. I have had poor travel experiences that just turned out to be comical. The most notable, I would say is the 10-hour journey, the airport scam, and the god-awful flight experience on Air Asia my friend Stee and I endured during what was supposed to be a 3-hour (max) trip from Taipei, Taiwan to Manila, Philippines. I’ve never laughed so hard at travel delays, gate changes or baggage scams before. The main takeaway from this trip was that though countries in Asia are some of the most beautiful I have ever visited, many things in Asia are very confusing and that’s okay. Also laughter therapy is often more productive than being mad.

Karishma Bali - Chicagoland native, founder of Pulse Athletic Apparel
Photo courtesy of Karishma Bali.

Out of all the places you’ve been, which has been your favorite and why?

Barcelona, Spain! I did this awesome master’s program that took me all over the world, but I would say that Barcelona holds the fondest memories for so many reasons: it’s where I stopped feeling professionally complacent, met my MGEM family, was introduced to the sexiness of entrepreneurship, thought of the idea for my first venture, and gained the confidence to launch my own business. And of course, unlimited amounts of tapas, sangria, and the club scene.

Where have you traveled you feel you learned the most, why?

I lived in Taipei, Taiwan for four months during my master’s in management. I learned many things:

  • Language: being in Taiwan with no knowledge or understanding of Mandarin, I experienced significant language barriers. I was really thankful that I lived with 16 of my friends in the same apartment complex that semester, but I distinctly remember the first day trying to navigate the metro on the first day of class and trying to decipher the symbols. Looking back, I laugh because it seems like something you would see in a movie. I also worked with 4 undergraduate students who did not speak English while I wrote my thesis. Though challenging, my time in Taiwan showed me that you do not have to come from the same place or speak the same language to work or interact with each other.
  • Culture: Being a runner and in two master’s programs at the time, I still wanted to integrate running into my life. Taiwan is the only place I have visited where I felt safe enough to run at 11 PM No one judges or makes you feel uncomfortable. Taiwan is the safest place I have ever visited.
  • Kindness: I often studied at the corner Starbucks near my apartment, right off of the metra. One time, I started to walk out the door and within seconds, I had a man come up to me saying I had left my phone at the table. This may not seem like a lot, but had I been in Chicago or any other major city, chances of seeing my phone again would have been slim.

Learn More About Karishma and Pulse Athletic Apparel

Pulse Athletic Apparel fitness brand
Photo courtesy of Karishma Bali.