Diva Tech Talk enjoyed interviewing Noramay Cadena, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at MiLA (Make in LA) Capital, an exciting early stage venture fund, in Los Angeles, California. Launched in 2015, her endeavor is a “high touch” venture capital firm, founded on two major beliefs: hardware technology can be brought to market more frugally now than in the past; and Los Angeles is an ideal ecosystem with expertise and resources to support founders who “play in the physical world.” One hundred percent of the companies launched and supported by MiLA are hardware ventures.
Born in Colima, Mexico, Noramay and family emigrated to California’s San Fernando Valley, where she grew up. “My parents worked in factories, primarily,” she said. “I didn’t quite know where I wanted to be, or what I could be.” A good student with a propensity for math and science, she noted in high school, “the world around me showed me a succinct list of possibilities.” But she was lucky. “I was tapped on the shoulder by a returning high school alumnus.” He shared his inspiring story of “growing up around the corner,” the son of a janitor, but now studying at MIT. Motivated, Noramay matriculated to MIT to become an engineer, with her BS in Mechanical Engineering. Later, as she worked as an engineer at The Boeing Company, she obtained her MIT MS in Systems Engineering, and an MBA in Business. “It not only changed my life but changed the course for my parents and my siblings.” Noramay was also a teenage mother. “And my daughter added that ‘fire in the belly’ that made me bold enough to move and do something different.”
“When I got to college, I met lots of other women, like me, who had been tapped on the shoulder,” Noramay shared. Spread across the country, many of these women were trying to pay it forward in their communities. They banded together, first in a Facebook group. Further inspired, she co-created a foundation (The Latinas in STEM Foundation). “The organization started in 2013, and I led it for a couple of years,” Noramay said. “It is still active, inspiring and empowering young (Latina) women,” supplying programs, bilingual content and role models for them, their parents and communities.
At the end of her professional tenure at Boeing, Noramay “realized there were forces I couldn’t control, and I was not going to grow any further” there. Simultaneously, many in her MIT cohort had founded their own companies or moved into the venture world. “The experience of Latinas in STEM, and scaling something, and building community,” instigated her next move, to found MiLA. “My partner and I were suckers for the ‘underdog story,’ “she laughed. So MiLA finds “smart people around the world; invests in them; and builds community around them to make them successful.”
Since it launched in 2015, MiLA has invested in 19 companies; sponsored five accelerator cohorts; and is in the process of raising its second capital investment fund. Looking forward, MiLA is exploring its ability to help supply chains networks become more efficient. “We are also looking for new opportunities for our founders,” Noramay said, globally. “It’s about options. We want all our founders to be equipped with all the options and opportunities.” Noramay noted that MiLA is very “hands-on” working daily with prospective founders to overcome any challenges they might encounter, and coaching, planning and more with them. Noramay is proud that over 33% of MiLA’s companies have female CEOs. MiLA will be focused on high opportunity verticals in the future including mobility, health, food tech, and “manufacturing 4.0.” Noramay noted that funding, particularly post-startup, is a challenge. A key value of MiLA is it helps with “de-risking the solution and building a capital-efficient company to enable the team to attract investment.” Noramay has high expectations. “I want our fund to be seen as the primary source of deal flow for Series A investors,” over the next 3 years.
Along the way, Noramay said “I have been on the receiving end of incredible mentorship.” When she was offered her MIT scholarship, a woman at Boeing read about it, and extended an internship at the company. “She became my mentor throughout my full 10-year tenure at Boeing.” Her mentor acquainted her with “the corporate game,” focusing Noramay’s attention on “how to play, and how to win.” Another mentor of hers (“a geek”) advised her to examine her career inflection point “as a system” noting that at some point “the inputs no longer affect the outputs.” This encouraged her to continuously look at her own journey, and career strategically --- a lesson she freely passes on to her MiLA-supported company founders.
Noramay shared that her personal strength emanates from circles, friends, and family. As the new mother of two-year old now “I really rely on groups like ‘Moms In Tech’ for support, and my ‘WhatsApp’ chat strings with my girlfriends.” Noramay’s first daughter is a rising senior in college, and her mother said “it’s about resilience, character and grit. I see it in her. She has an incredible compassion and sense of service for others.”
Noramay has key advice for other women: “Clear your closets.” In other words, divest yourself of “the baggage” that does not contribute to positive momentum (“the experiences of parents, or past relationships”). “It’s important that we power through and clear through some of what we are carrying so that we’re not unconsciously perpetuating” unproductive behavior. “Recognize there might be something in your past that makes you more vulnerable” to being manipulated; face it, and get rid of it.
Noramay Cadena can be reached on Twitter at @noramayc, and via the web at https://www.makeinla.com/.
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