I’m excited to formally announce that we have a new partner: Kira Noodleman.
Garrett, Tim and I have long been impressed with Kira’s intellect, curiosity and energy
Kira’s approach has been that of a partner since she first walked through our doors as a summer intern while an MBA candidate at Berkeley Haas. Officially coming on board in 2017 as an associate, she quickly distinguished her talent in securing dealflow, working alongside Garrett to investigate and vet the thousands of companies we consider for investment. She also used her keen academic skills to educate herself and our community on the relevance of blockchain. Using her well-established product chops, Kira worked closely with Tim on building the Bee Partners Portal, a one-stop platform for the Bee community to find resources and share needs.
Following her promotion to principal in late 2019, Kira developed our insights on the robotics market, in conjunction with one of our portfolio companies, and played a strong second with Garrett on our recent healthcare IT whitepaper. She also proved herself invaluable to the early-stage founders in our portfolio.
Kira’s passion for the health of our planet and sustainable living has been both an inspiration and a call to action for our investment focus. She aptly identified synthetic biology as an investment vector several years ago, wrote a whitepaper on the topic and was instrumental in building a thriving synBio portfolio that includes InnerPlant, New Culture, Future Fields, erthos, Pow.bio, and Circe.
Ever the pioneer, Kira opened our new office in Denver in 2021. In this burgeoning venture and tech environment, she is building the critical network paths that will help Colorado become a world leader in innovation, and helping us partner with the brightest founders between the coasts.
While we all work to diversify our business and our network to include those often marginalized from the venture capital and technology worlds, our work in DEI would be nowhere near as deep and strong were it not for Kira’s significant contributions. In addition to building a formidable network of both women investors and female founders, she has become a core member of various groups leading the way for women and minorities in VC and startups. Kira has nurtured the careers of multiple women and minority entrepreneurs, many of whom have secured a spot in the Bee portfolio.
Beyond her impressive accomplishments, working with Kira is just a blast - she makes me want to be a better investor, and that’s all you can ask for from a business partner. I look forward to seeing what her future holds, and I hope that you have the opportunity to work with her as well.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with Kira about how inception-stage companies should be thinking about DEI, find out where she sees VC is headed, and what she thinks investors should know about two of the sectors she is focused on right now, Machine-to-Machine Learning, and Synthetic Biology.
Michael: How would you describe the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at the early stage portfolio companies you’ve been working with?
Kira: Two indicators of a healthy company environment are equal career opportunities for all employees and freedom from harassment or exclusion based on gender, race, or ethnicity. While I’m starting to see more and more of our portfolio companies make a commitment to DEI because it’s the right thing to do, many are also realizing that they’re made better by being more inclusive. McKinsey reported that companies that are in the top quartile for racial and gender diversity achieve financial returns that are 33% and 21% higher, respectively, than companies in the bottom quartile.
It’s particularly exciting for me to work with our companies on DEI because it’s more effective when it’s ingrained into the culture from day one. As early stage companies they have the opportunity to do it right, from the very beginning. And it’s much harder to undo culture after the first 10 employees are hired.
It’s important to have well-articulated and enforced diversity and inclusion policies and there are four areas in particular that I recommend early-stage companies pay attention to:
- Make DEI part of the mission
It’s important to walk the walk, and we make DEI best practices part of onboarding each team into our portfolio so that they in turn can do the same with their new hires.
- Create a safe space for conversation around DEI
We recently hosted an inclusion culture workshop for all of our companies in conjunction with two other VC partners. Our goal was to demonstrate how to have these conversations, and that they don’t have to be confrontational or scary.
- Build your hiring practices around DEI
As a small company, your earliest hires are going to have an outsized impact on your culture, so DEI needs to be front and center. Mooch, [portfolio company], which is an automated budgeting app, has a policy of interviewing at least three DEI candidates before making an offer.
- Seek diverse partners and investors, even if they aren’t the biggest check writers
Diverse partners can bring so much more to your organization when they’re sitting at the table. We syndicated our portfolio company Synthesis AI’s Series A to our female angel investor colleagues to hit our goal of getting up to 50% of women to our cap tables. We offered this syndicate to them without fees or carry because we have such conviction in that goal.
Michael: Talking about two of the sectors you follow, what should investors know about machine-to-machine learning (M2ML) and Syn-Bio?
Kira: M2ML is technology that allows networked devices to share information and perform tasks without the assistance of humans. There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit on the industrial side of automation, and we’re seeing a lot of start-up activity there right now.
Take for example [portfolio company] Rapid Robotics. They make robots that are deployed to small manufacturers. These manufacturers rely on simple, repetitive tasks, but it’s hard to hire for those roles. Typically, manufacturing companies need pretty deep pockets to use robotics, but Rapid Robotics has created an affordable solution that is really geared towards smaller operations. This strategy has been so successful for them that they will have 100 robots in the wild by the end of the year and have recently raised their Series B. It’s significant that they’ve been able to get that kind of scale so quickly.
Synthetic biology, or synbio, brings together innovations in chemistry, biology, advanced analytics and engineering so companies can quickly go from concept to product with less cost and greater precision.
For instance, [portfolio company] Future Fields set out to address the world’s reliance on animal protein as a food source, and intended to produce lab-grown chicken. The biggest barrier to creating economical lab-grown meat at that time was the lack of an affordable growth medium–the serum applied to cells to help them grow. They learned how to produce this medium in a cost-effective way, to help other lab-based meat makers. The result was a pivot to a new business model of creating and selling growth factor to the very companies they previously competed with.
Michael: You’ve been in Denver for the last 18 months, building our presence there. Looking out onto the VC landscape, tell us about the Denver market and beyond and why other investors need to be looking there.
Kira: While the Bay Area will still be the center of gravity for tech, we’re starting to see different regional players pop up too as founders and VCs move to these places. It was happening before the pandemic, but Covid-19 accelerated that trend.
Denver is the right place to be for us. It ranks sixth in the U.S. for VC deals, while only being the 20th largest metro area by population. Fifty-eight of the Bay Area’s biggest companies have offices in Colorado, which speaks to the fact that the talent is also here. The early-stage market in Denver is growing 300 percent every year. We invested in Nubix.io, a Denver-based maker of tiny containers designed for embedded systems with industrial applications.
My being in Denver has implications beyond investing in Denver itself. It gives us better access to markets outside the Bay Area, which has played a key role in accelerating our investment in other markets. Two examples of this would be our investments in Boston-based Circe, a company that aims to decarbonize food production, and Chicago-based Cyber Pop-Up, which provides on-demand cyber security services.
Denver is also a livable city, so it’s very attractive for people, myself included, to make it their home. I’m thrilled both professionally and personally to be here and leading the charge for Bee Partners.
Michael: Thank you Kira. Lots of exciting things on the horizon. How should people get in touch with you to learn more and/or discuss partnership opportunities?
Kira: Thank you Michael, I’m very excited also. The fastest way is to find me on LinkedIn.
About Bee Partners
Founded in 2009, by operator-turned-investor Michael Berolzheimer, Bee Partners is a pre-Seed venture capital firm that partners with revolutionary Founders working at the forefront of human-machine convergence across technologies that include robotics, AI, voice, i4.0, and synthetic biology. The firm leverages a singular approach to detecting new and emerging patterns of business as well as inside access to fertile but often overlooked entrepreneurial ecosystems to identify early opportunity in large, untapped markets. Bee’s portfolio companies consistently realize growth at levels that outstrip industry averages and have secured more than $1.5 billion of follow-on capital from the world's top VCs.
Read the press release about Kira’s promotion
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