The role of Entrepreneur in Residence, or EiR, has never been well-understood. That wasn't a big deal in the tech industry when EiRs were found mostly at venture capital firms, but the role has expanded to educational institutions, governmental agencies, and — increasingly — technology companies.
The transformation signals a new appreciation of the importance and opportunity presented by the startup economy.
Traditionally, EiRs worked with VCs to scout and vet investment. But according to startup expert Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of Growbiz Media, "the more exciting part is how EiR's have graduated from there and are now going into very big corporations." The EiRs generating buzz now are typically "hired to bring the entrepreneurial perspective to corporate execs who may not truly know about entrepreneurs," she says.
The Transformation of the 'Traditional' Entrepreneur in Residence
Entrepreneurs in Residence came about as temporary roles for startup veterans who could help VC firms with high-level strategy and introduce other entrepreneurs and potential new deals. In return, the EiRs drew a salary between startups and could score a possible investment in their next venture. VCs that employ these kinds of EiRs reportedly include Accel Partners, Foundation Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, Redpoint Ventures, Greylock Partners, Venrock, Norwest Venture Partners, Sutter Hill Ventures and Trinity Ventures.
But even at VCs, the EiR role is changing. Russ Wallace is an EiR at RAA Ventures, where he came on board "to run something, we just didn't know what." The goal was to bring his "strategy and tactics toolbox" to whatever project he was placed on.
Currently working on the fantasy sports site DoubleUp, Wallace was able to choose which idea he'd be attached to — and then hash out the arrangements on that particular project. Right now, he says, "I do everything the engineers don't want to do."
Beyond VCs, Entrepreneurs in Residence are also finding homes in academia. Universities like MIT, Cornell, and Harvard Business School all have EiRs in advisory roles, helping students and faculty make the most of their ideas and turn breakthroughs into businesses.
The Poster Child for Corporate EiRs
The real Entrepreneurs in Residence action, though, is in the corporate world, where Dell's Ingrid Vanderveldt may be the best-known example. (With the possible exception of Craig Walker, who became an EiR at Google Ventures in 2010.) When Vanderveldt became Dell's first EiR in 2011, there were only six or seven others in Fortune 500 companies, she recalls. "It's still not common," she allows, "but it's definitely a trend."
At Dell, Vanderveldt says, "we set up my work in a different way." The idea was to "intentionally leverage me and my role for outreach to into the [entrepreneurial] community." Her task was to bring the perspective of the entrepreneur to the corporate world. Vanderveldt says that Dell gave her the opportunity to leverage the power and insight of a Fortune 500 company to shape the future of business, "to help entrepreneurs early on, when they need it the most."
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