Inside Track: Noordeloos applies multinational experience

Venture capital leader follows ‘natural leaning’ toward business to contribute in her sphere of influence.
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Camila Noordeloos helps entrepreneurs through Start Garden and the Michigan Venture Capital Association, lending advice on business strategy and fundraising. Courtesy Camila Noordeloos

Camila Noordeloos is a firm believer not only in the power of entrepreneurship to make the world better, but in the importance of fresh perspectives to make businesses stronger.

Born in Brazil as Camila Baldacci, and trilingual in French, English and Portuguese, Noordeloos has lived in four countries, three U.S. states and traveled across the world in her 33 years, and she is now harnessing her diverse experience as a principal at the investment firm Grand Ventures in downtown Grand Rapids.

She first lived in West Michigan as an exchange student at Rockford High School from 2002-03, which is where she met her now husband, Justin Noordeloos. She earned her undergraduate degree in business administration through The Federal University of Bahia in her hometown of Salvador, Brazil. While in college, she did a one-year study abroad program at Jean Moulin University Lyon III in France while also working to support herself. Her father, though born in Brazil, has French parents, and she holds French, Brazilian and U.S. citizenship.

Noordeloos said her parents, as entrepreneurs who owned a business together, set an example of hard work and were open about the highs and lows of business ownership in family conversations at the dinner table.

“That definitely shaped how I see things,” she said.

Although they encouraged her to be whatever she wanted to be, she said she has always had a “natural leaning” toward business and finance.

A decade ago, after college, she moved to the U.S. as her relationship became more serious and ultimately led to marriage. She got a job with GE about nine years ago and worked at the company’s corporate headquarters — at the time located in Fairfield, Connecticut — where she stayed for two years.

CAMILA NOORDELOOS
Organization:
Grand Ventures
Position: Principal
Age: 33
Birthplace: Salvador, Brazil
Residence: Grand Rapids
Family: Husband, Justin Noordeloos
Business/Community Involvement: Wish granter for the local Make-A-Wish Foundation, member of the Latina Network of West Michigan, board observer for Sportsman Tracker in Grand Rapids, holds office hours for entrepreneurs through Start Garden and the Michigan Venture Capital Association
Biggest Career Break: Having the opportunity to work for GE Ventures, the company’s corporate venture capital arm, when it was just getting off the ground. “That experience for me was extremely important, not only because I was learning venture capital and learning this new area of business and investments that I now have a career in, but I was also learning the other side of the spectrum, which is this startup mode that we invest in as venture capitalists.”

Not long after they married, Noordeloos’s husband was offered a job as a senior account executive managing West Coast sales for Wolverine Worldwide in San Francisco. Noordeloos agreed it was an amazing opportunity, so the couple began preparing to relocate. She told GE she was moving, and instead of saying, “So long,” the company offered her a job as a senior portfolio analyst at its new venture capital arm, GE Ventures, which was just being formed.

This kicked off her career in the venture capital sphere, which Noordeloos said she knew nothing about at the time. Her grounding in finance and business administration stood her in good stead, though. As part of a fledgling team, she had the opportunity to learn from senior management, including GE Ventures’ then CEO, Sue Siegel, who later went on to become chief innovation officer at GE and is now a lecturer at MIT.

“She taught me that the best way to lead is by example and that a true leader focuses on one’s strengths and provides the right environment for those to shine,” Noordeloos said.

Over a half-decade period, Noordeloos played a crucial role in helping to establish the VC firm, which she said is now “one of the most active” in the country. She started there when it had only 20 people and around 30 investments, and when she left five years later, she was managing a portfolio of over 150 companies.

Noordeloos said it was exciting to be part of a young venture, investing in other young ventures, something she is still passionate about.

“It was learning that, ‘Hey, we have limited resources here. We have just a few people, but everyone is doing a little bit of everything, and we need to learn how to move fast; we need to get things done quickly.’ It was an incredible experience,” she said. 

She learned not only about how venture capital works, but how startups operate, and how to best learn from the mentors and leaders she was being given incredible access to.

While working full time, Noordeloos earned an executive MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where her capstone project was co-founding with some classmates a media company called Imaginare Studios, geared toward helping parents raise confident girls using emotional development milestones as a guide. Although they eventually tabled the company, Noordeloos said it gave her firsthand experience in starting a business.

In 2018, Noordeloos and her husband began to feel that something was missing despite their stable income and professional success. They began to feel like they could be doing more with their lives, and so they took a nine-month sabbatical from work and traveled not only throughout the U.S., but to Canada, Australia, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, Zanzibar and Tanzania. In the latter country, they lived with a local family and worked as volunteer teachers for a month.

She said the trip didn’t necessarily lead to a particular “aha moment,” but it did create “headspace” so she could think about what truly inspires her and what really matters, versus merely checking the boxes that society presents.

“When you have that type of personal experience, you just see work with a different perspective forever, and I think that’s a little bit what happened to me,” she said.

During the sabbatical, the couple came to the decision that it was time to return to the Midwest to be closer to the Noordeloos side of the family. After considering Chicago as an option, they instead decided on West Michigan, where they felt they could leverage their diverse experiences seeing the world to make a more “meaningful and direct” impact.

Noordeloos accepted her current position at Grand Ventures in April 2019 and has put down some roots in the community, although she said the COVID-19 pandemic derailed some of her intentions to do more. Still, she is doing what she can. She is a wish granter for the local Make-A-Wish Foundation, an active member of the Latina Network of West Michigan and a board observer for Sportsman Tracker in Grand Rapids, which she helped advise through the COVID-19 crisis as one of Grand Ventures’ portfolio investment companies.

She also holds office hours for entrepreneurs through Start Garden and the Michigan Venture Capital Association, lending advice on business strategy and fundraising, and she attends virtual panels, roundtables and webinars to bring diversity of thought to conversations in the region.

Noordeloos said the cross-cultural experiences she has had since high school help her keep an open mind, welcome people from different cultures and work to check her biases, which everyone has. Her experience also has convinced her that organizations are stronger if their teams come from diverse backgrounds, including race, ethnicity, gender and even in smaller things, like having different hobbies.

Although she said she doesn’t believe multinational experience makes a person better than others who have lived in fewer places, she does think it can bring the ability to stay calm and open to possibilities when people come together in one space to solve problems.

“(My cultural experiences) allow me to think of business in the same way — what are the alternatives? Let’s not freak out about something; let’s think about different ways to do things, because it is possible to do things in different ways,” she said.

After six years in the venture capital space, Noordeloos said she remains a believer in the power of entrepreneurship to grow people and improve the world.

“What I love about venture capital and what has kept me in this industry all these years is that there’s this constant questioning and challenging of the status quo. There’s a can-do spirit of doing anything — like everything is possible. If it’s not working, let’s make it better,” she said.

“It’s been very refreshing to work with people in venture capital, one, because venture capital professionals are super smart a lot of times, and open-minded, and then two, they’re amazing, they’re courageous, they’re starting new companies, they’re dropping secure jobs somewhere to start from scratch and risk everything for something that they believe in — for the ability to do something better — and … you get motivated by their spirit.”

Noordeloos said in the year ahead, she will be focusing on helping to strengthen Grand Ventures’ existing portfolio companies and looking for new opportunities to invest in high-growth ventures. She and her husband also want to work on building relationships and getting more involved in West Michigan to move the region forward.

“We want to create impact,” she said. “We want to feel like what we do matters.”

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