San Francisco-based venture capital firm Bee Partners now boasts two Vanderbilt graduates among its leadership: Founder Michael Berolzheimer and Kira Noodleman, who recently was promoted to partner.
The two met in 2008 when Noodleman applied for a summer internship while she was an MBA student at the University of California, Berkeley, where Berolzheimer also received his MBA. They found that they share an essential optimism and a desire to nurture “boldly audacious” entrepreneurs from the ground up.
“We were aligned in a lot of ways already, and it was a fun perk that we shared Vanderbilt in common,” Noodleman says.
At Vanderbilt, Berolzheimer double-majored in economics and computer science, and he took an analyst job with a private equity fund immediately after graduation. His very first angel investment supported Vanderbilt classmate Brendon Synott, BA’00, and Kelly Flatley, founders of Bear Naked Granola. Berolzheimer says he and Thomas Spier, BA’00, who formerly served as Bear Naked’s chief operating officer, continue to swap ideas and strategies.
Bear Naked was purchased in 2007 by a subsidiary of Kellogg Corp. for more than $60 million. The success of the Bear Naked investment helped encourage Berolzheimer to found Bee Partners in 2009.
Bee Partners has since provided venture capital and hands-on support to 75 early-stage ventures, boasts $150 million in assets under management and has generated one initial public offering and more than a dozen exits or sales to other companies. While the firm relies heavily on technology and holds to a core belief that “machines will win,” Berolzheimer still puts much stock in the human element of their business.
“Machines are evolving faster than humans,” he explains, “but humans have to get us there. That’s why our investments are very much human-centric.”
CAPTIVATED BY INNOVATION
Bee Partners tapped Noodleman to lead the company’s Denver office in an expansive effort to better identify startups in the nation’s midsection. Advancing quickly from summer associate in 2016, principal in 2019 and partner this year, she has helped advance the company’s interests in a number of areas, including blockchain, the robotics market and synthetic biology. Noodleman also spearheads the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion program.
“Bee is investing in and catalyzing the kind of change I want to see in the world,” she says.
Noodleman delved into international business in South America for about three years after graduation before returning to the West Coast where she was involved in software startup and software product management.
The daughter of doctors who started their own skin care line, Noodleman studied corporate strategy and Spanish at Vanderbilt. “I grew up in Silicon Valley and was always captivated by innovation,” she says.
Similarly, Berolzheimer grew up watching family members experience the growing pains of small business launches. He learned at a young age that successes and failures are all important teachers.
“Failure is an opportunity for learning, and it’s an opportunity for growth,” he says. “If we can provide our communities the opportunity to experiment and fail, they are going to learn a lot more than when they’re constantly the winner.”
Key to the success of early ventures, Berolzheimer says, is the ability “to embrace the experience of the awkward” and to seek out alliances with people of different backgrounds and interests. That’s advice he would give to his younger self.
“If young folks can become comfortable with discomfort, it builds resiliency and grit, and it leads to possibility. It leads to a life of unbounded potential.”
—Jennifer Plant Johnston, MLAS’21