Startup Grind launches in our city with Bloombright’s Cara Debbaudt

Startup Grind launches in our city with Bloombright’s Cara Debbaudt

Last summer while interviewing entrepreneur Corey Hart, we discussed the many areas within our startup culture that we are doing well. And as is proper with any SWOT oriented analysis these days, I wanted to explore our risky areas, too, so that we could be honest and then migrate to the opportunities to add or enhance our culture.

And it all came down to a word Hart used in his reply that I know quite a bit about after nearly three decades in local media: we need to continue to hold space for the community to gather in public so that knowledge and experiences can be shared. 

Five months later, Hart invited me back to the table to share that he was opening a Startup Grind chapter here in West Michigan and would Rapid Growth want to be involved. Of course, we said, “Yes,” as Rapid Growth is all about building communities.

I asked Hart to share his thoughts in his own words what Startup Grind is and how it is a vital addition to our many other spaces and meetups happening in our region who are seeking to also build community.

Hart writes, "Startup Grind is the world’s largest network of entrepreneurs, numbering over 2 million globally, served by chapters in over 600 cities across 125-plus countries.

The mission of Startup Grind is to educate, inspire, and connect these entrepreneurs and we do so through monthly events that feature fireside chats that feature local CEOs, founders, leaders, and influencers.

Each Chapter Director is empowered to help benefit their local startup/entrepreneur ecosystem the way they see best. After talking to many of the stakeholders in our ecosystem here in West Michigan, I think to provide more opportunities for community and space for connections to develop is the best way to serve our local entrepreneurs and startups.

We have a lot of incredible education and support organizations available to entrepreneurs here in West Michigan. We have a great pool of talent. And we’ve got more and more resources and access to funding coming into the area.

At the same time, we’re also seeing a generation of entrepreneurs graduating from the Bay Area and other hubs and returning home. 

Startup Grind Grand Rapids can serve as a great way to help foster the local entrepreneur ecosystem while also offering connections to this global network of opportunity, whether that’s access to remote talent, capital, or mentoring/intelligence.”

So Rapid Growth attended Startup Grind’s launch in November 2019 at Grand Valley State University and decided to share the video of that event. We even asked their first featured guest, Cara Debbaudt, the founder and CEO of Bloombright, to answer a few follow-up questions from her talk. 

Bloombright is a recruiting consulting firm that partners with technology companies to help them identify and hire great talent while also helping to establish and/or optimize their recruiting organization, processes, and strategy. In the video that you can visit here, Debbaudt covers the importance of authenticity, resiliency, and integrity in the building of a personal brand and a thriving business.

Bloombright has worked with companies ranging from Nextdoor, Stripe, and Carta (global companies headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area and funded by venture capital firms, such as Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, and Greylock Partners) to Sportsman Tracker (a local startup funded by local Venture Capital firms, such as Start Garden). 


Tommy Allen: At the debut launch of Startup Grind Grand Rapids, you shared your personal history of coming from a family of entrepreneurs. Since I did not, I am curious how that environment may have enabled you to think the way you do today about how to navigate this world as a person committed to starting things? 

Cara DebbaudtCara Debbaudt: My father and both of my grandfathers were entrepreneurs. One of my grandfathers started his business by providing eggs to the city during rationing and the other sold life insurance, which allowed him to eventually build an insurance and financial investment agency (his son/my uncle now runs it). My father started a trucking company after having led the regional division for another transportation company (and my brother now runs the trucking company). 

I was raised with the message that I could do anything if I was willing to commit and work hard. In addition to my father’s business influence, I also had a creative influence from my mother who was an artist, teacher, and jeweler (as well as an entrepreneur — she sold her own artwork and fine jewelry). 

I think the creative influence is just as important because it allows you to look at things and imagine how they could be different or to create things from scratch that never existed before. 

Having grown up with an entrepreneur-in-residence also meant that I experienced the pros and cons of the entrepreneur lifestyle. While my father had the flexibility to leave work to attend a swim meet or take the week to travel to a horse show, he also had the responsibility to cover urgent situations during nights, weekends, and holidays.  

Growing up seeing that work wasn’t something that you thought about and did only between 8-5, but instead integrated with life, was an infinitely valuable lesson that I only recently realized the importance of experiencing. 

I’m not saying you can’t do great things between 8-5, but when you’re the one responsible for the life or death of something you care about, it’s nearly impossible to compartmentalize it into something you only think about or act upon during certain hours of the day.

Lily Chehrazi, Founder, Together California had a great quote published in a Forbes article about advice female CEOs would give to their younger selves: "Have the strength and courage to live a life true to yourself, not the life others expect of you."  

This is probably some of the greatest advice for entrepreneurs because while many people seek stable, reputable careers, the definition of an entrepreneur is someone who takes on greater-than-average risk in the operation of a business. 

Entrepreneurs must have the strength and courage to forge their own path, ideally, while learning from the experiences they or others have traveled previously. I can’t help but give a shameless plug for one of my favorite books, The Road Less Traveled.

TA: Do you mind sharing, for our audience members who may be parents, some of the things your family had you consider at a young age … and why it still resonates to this day within you. 

CD: Generally praising children for the things they create and for trying new things regardless of the outcome is essential to their healthy development as someone who can make things happen. 

Engaging in imaginative play and offering chances for them to get creative (and messy … haha) with art, food, music, etc. allows them the opportunity to own their experiences and uniquely express themselves. 

Just as important though is making sure they learn that success can just as easily be defined as trying something new that didn’t work as it can be getting 100% on their math homework. 

TA: This is a region that places a high value on retention, and yet, as I’ve grown older and moved about our world, I am not sure I can hold on to the “brain drain” view exclusively. How has your lived experience informed a more “brain circulation” conclusion and how it ultimately benefits our West Michigan area? 

CD: I think it’s fantastic when people from West Michigan go out to explore other areas, but ideally they would bring that experience back here in some form, whether that’s physically or in the form of business opportunities.

West Michigan people tend to be very approachable and passionate about Michigan regardless of where they currently reside. 

Somehow I always find Michigan people wherever I go! Whether they are here or elsewhere, they are a possible connection for those who reside here. 

And now that most of us have connectivity via the internet and mobile phone 24x7, almost anywhere is accessible anytime. That being said, I can’t wait for the day when there is lightning-fast fiber internet everywhere and I can hop on a direct flight to SFO! 

TA: We have been hearing more stories of folks who make their home here but their work is often far outside this market. Can you share how this works for you? 

CD: While phone and video conversations are wonderful, nothing can substitute for the richness of experience you get with an in-person conversation. 

That being said, I have created some amazing friendships and business relationships with people I’ve only interacted with via phone and/or video, and I always enjoy the moment I get to meet those people in person as it usually feels unbelievable that we haven’t met in person before.

I think phone/video works best if you can be yourself as much as you would if you met someone in person. Smile when you’re talking and nod along when you’re listening. Be animated and engaged in the conversation. Minimize distractions. 

I do supplement phone/video conversations with in-person meetings as much as possible. For example, I try to travel to the San Francisco Bay Area at least quarterly as a majority of our clients are headquartered there. My travel schedule has ranged from several trips in one month to not at all for over a year depending on personal and business obligations.

TA: In your talk, you mentioned that there are “no ethics in recruiting,” and this stuck out to me asking me to sit with this statement. Then recently in Wired magazine, an article by Nicolas Thompson, “Rebuild the Bridge — Again” suggests that software engineers could learn a lot in light of the more recent experiences we’ve seen with our social platforms. Do you mind sharing again the three values you have discovered that now guide you in your field of work? 

CD: Agreed — great article! The theme of decisions/actions and the consequences of those decisions/actions is similar to the book I recommended above: “What You Do is Who You Are.”

What I meant by “there are no ethics in recruiting” is that there is no standard of ethical behavior that is industry-wide. Having come from a background in law that has stringent, ongoing educational and ethical requirements (I’m licensed to practice law in Michigan), it’s always surprising to me that recruiting is the Wild West with no industry-wide educational or ethical requirements or standards, such as realtors with a real estate exam and a code of ethics with practice standards

This is a problem because it’s challenging to prove your value and trustworthiness to someone who has had negative experiences with recruiters who were, for example, more interested in making money and meeting a minimal guarantee of candidate employment than in helping make long-lasting and mutually beneficial matches between great people and companies. 

Through our work at Bloombright, we hope to continue up-leveling the recruiting industry as a whole and showing the value of recruiting as a strategic business partner vital to the success of a company.
  • Authenticity - Do something you enjoy that plays to your strengths. Let your inner light shine! :) I genuinely care about people and want what’s best for them, which is probably part of the reason I built a reputation as a successful recruiter. 
  • Integrity - Your business values are an extension of your personal values - ‘You Are what you Do’ book by Ben Horowitz (references above). At the end of the day, knowing that I did my best to act with integrity is what I can stand on despite what others may think about me or my business. 
  • Resiliency - There have been times when I’ve asked myself, “Can I do this?” Feelings of self-doubt can creep in anytime we experience failure or confront challenges. Resiliency is getting back up and trying again. Given there is no shortage of challenges to address and problems to solve when running a business, resiliency is essential. 

TA: I am concerned about showcasing ways that folks can help create more impact here via their work. So what do you think you bring to our region to create impact or what you need to be more impactful in your work?

CD: I bring experience in Silicon Valley, working at the forefront of the recruiting industry in the market that has the most advanced recruiting challenges and practices.

I bring experience in entrepreneurship and have a belief in the value of entrepreneurship for our community, country, and the world.

I’m very interested in sharing my knowledge and experience in recruiting and entrepreneurship with the West Michigan community. 

I’m interested in helping businesses think about recruiting as an essential and strategic business function: thinking about talent brand, candidate experience, diversity & inclusion, culture, employee retention, etc., while building an internal process that allows for the best recruiting and selection of target candidates. 

It is vitally important to the success of companies today and increasingly in the future. 

In early February, I’ll be speaking to the latest cohort of coding bootcamp students at Grand Circus, and on February 24, I’ll be one of over 1,700 mentors nationwide participating in Mentoring Monday, an annual event that provides women a unique opportunity for in-depth one-to-one coaching with community, education, and business leaders.

West Michigan is a vibrant community, and I’m excited for the future of our region.


If you would like to attend the first Startup Grind GR gathering of 2020, the next event is Tuesday, January 14 and will feature Chip LaFleur, Founder & President of LaFleur Marketing.

Tickets can be found at If you use the code RapidGrowthMedia you can attend this event for FREE!

Startup Grind also has an annual global conference on February 11 & 12 in San Francisco that draws 10,000 entrepreneurs internationally, and our local chapter is going! 

Our chapter has a few discounted tickets left available to anyone who wants to attend and get plugged into their global network. Reach out to Corey Hart at [email protected] if interested.

Photo Credits: StartupGrind images provided courtesy of Tyler Morris for Startup Grind Grand Rapids
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