Noramay Cadena is the Cofounder and Managing Director of Make in LA, LA’s only hardware-focused accelerator in the San Fernando Valley. At Make in LA, she’s focused on developing principled leaders with solid product and business foundations and on developing partnerships that support Los Angeles’ entrepreneurship ecosystem. Cadena is also an advisor to the Latinas in STEM Foundation, an organization she co-founded in 2013 to inspire and empower Latinas to pursue and thrive in STEM fields
Cadena holds an MBA, a Master’s in Engineering Systems and a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering – all from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Over the last several years, Cadena has been a featured speaker in many platforms across the country including TEDx and the World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship – her talks and recognitions cover technical achievement, leadership, and overcoming obstacles. She’s also received various awards and recognitions including being named one of the top 26 women engineers to watch in 2016 by Business Insider, one of the top 20 Latinos in Tech by CNET in 2014 and receiving national awards by the Society of Women Engineers and Great Minds in STEM.
Cadena is the eldest of three children raised by immigrant parents of Mexican descent in Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley. She currently resides in the Los Angeles area with her daughter and is actively involved in the community through startup mentorship, STEM outreach, professional development and volunteer work.
Krisztina “Z” Holly: So tell me, what has Make in LA been up to?
Noramay Cadena: Make in LA is an early stage accelerator and fund created to support technology enabled hardware companies (IoT, robotics, wearables, VR, etc). The accelerator helps startups avoid costly pitfalls associated with hardware production through a four-month comprehensive concept-to-market program that applies best practices from mentor-driven accelerators, lean startup methodologies, and design for manufacturing principles. Make in LA attracts global deal flow, and acceptance into the program is competitive. Perks include office space, prototype lab, production facilities, mentoring, and investments up to $150,000 in the first 4 months.
KH: What inspired you to start Make in LA?
NC: After a decade helping multinational clients scale their manufacturing, Shaun Arora had a desire to be more in tune with emerging technologies and methodologies coming out of the startup scene. He decided to invest time independently advising and investing in hardware startups. After doing so for 3 years, he and I met on AngelList. We shared a thing for a good underdog story as well as a vision of an ecosystem that would give great entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas the kind of accelerator program and fund to foster and grow hardware innovation. By June 2015, one month after meeting, we began accepting applications for our freshman class, which kicked off three months later in September and graduated in January. We’ve since graduated a second cohort.
KH: Who is Make in LA’s audience?
NC: Hardware entrepreneurs and investors bullish on hardware.
KH: Tell us about how you support the community. What is your business model and what kind of services do you provide?
NC: We’re the Los Angeles epicenter of hardware startups. We support the community in a number ways:
1) We run approx. 3 accelerator cohorts per year with 4-6 companies in each cohort. These companies receive funding, office space, 24×7 access to our prototyping lab, and access to our program and worldwide mentor network.
2) We are leading the new Hardware Massive chapter in LA to expand the community of practice around hardware.
3) We host Hexlab Makerspace and support their weekly programming to inspire and empower local makers.
4) We are introducing coworking into our model this fall.
KH: What is the hardest thing about what hardware startups are trying to do? What is the most common mistake that they make?
NC: There are many, but some of the most common are: Solving the wrong problem. Not beefing up the team strategically. Outsourcing too much. Not outsourcing enough. Not building a network. Thinking small.
KH: What are your top three tips for success?
NC: Our advice to early stage hardware companies is focus on four things –
1) Validating and articulating the pain they eliminate or problem they solve.
2) Being laser focused on tech product development.
3) Efficiently using their cash by leveraging experts and community hubs like makerspaces.
4) Practicing good karma by reflecting great leadership and a community mindset.
KH: What is one of the more memorable professional experiences or stories from your past that is relevant to what you are doing today?
NC: It’s been an interesting journey to this place. My first time in a factory was when I was 13 and joining my parents for a summer internship assembling bungee cords just a few blocks away from what is now Make in LA. The experience was memorable in more ways than one — I remember the working conditions, the product flow, the factory layout, and most importantly, the lesson to do and be more.
Now, we empower leaders to design a work culture that attracts world-class talent and inspires employees to be part of improving every day on the job.
KH: What trend are you the most excited about?
NC: I’m excited about 3 things:
1) underserved communities breaking into tech to solve underserved needs better than an outsider ever could,
2) the potential of AR and VR to be used for social good, and
3) the expanding role of women making capital investment decisions. These trends will bring about by-X-for-X innovation, problem solving, and diversity of thought.
KH: Who would be a candidate for Make in LA, and how can they learn more?
NC: We are looking for a diverse group of individuals from across the globe who are passionate about learning, growing and creating. We want people who are willing and able to put in the time and effort and who share in our mission of building ethical companies that celebrate integrity, respect and courage. Entrepreneurs should be building a business that wants to solve a real problem, leverage hardware as part of the solution, have a proof of concept or prototype, and posses the desire for this business to be successful over the next 10-20 years. And, we are always looking for entrepreneurs, investors, and mentors who share three key beliefs:
1) A long term outlook is good karma
2) Hardware is ripe for innovation and now is the time to create platforms for the next generation
3) Be restless; pleased but never satisfied
Learn more at makeinla.com and via our blog at medium.com/@makeinla
*Interview has been edited for clarity.