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What Is an entrepreneur in residence and why you need one

Fredric Paul | Oct. 10, 2013
Entrepreneurs in Residence were once found mostly at venture capital firms, but the role has expanded and you can now find them at a variety of companies -- including tech companies. But what exactly does one do?

Texas, for example, just passed Senate Bill 238, which authorizes the state to hire an EiR to "improve outreach to the private sector."

In fact, EiRs are popping up in many governmental organizations: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) created an EiR program last year and Elizabeth Gore is a Resident Entrepreneur at the United Nations Foundation, where she chairs the United Nations Global Entrepreneurs Council.

Does Your Company Need An Entrepreneur in Residence?
"If entrepreneurs are your market, or if you want them to become your market," Lesonsky says, "then hiring an EiR cannot do you any harm... as long as you are open to what they say."

For tech vendors, she adds, it can really help to talk about how entrepreneurs actually use your products. Small business and startups typically don't have IT experts on staff, and they are not CIOs. They don't care about speeds and feeds — to properly reach them, you need to speak the language of entrepreneurship, of the benefits, not the technology itself. "It takes an entrepreneur to do that."

Vanderveldt agrees on the importance of convincing companies to share their expertise. "If a large corporation is going to stay relevant, they have to be innovative," adds Vanderveldt. Those corporations that reach out to embrace entrepreneurs can be the innovators. They are leading the way."

What Makes A Good Entrepreneur in Residence?
Everyone agrees that an EiR's first qualification is experience as a real-world entrepreneur. "I've been a lifelong entrepreneur, I've built and sold a number of companies in a number of industries," notes Vanderveldt. That kind of experience is essential to understanding the startup market and the needs of entrepreneurs, but also to gain corporate credibility.

EiRs must also be great two-way communicators, able to listen and distill knowledge to their entrepreneurial customers and their corporate employers. Third, they need an unquenchable passion to make things happen. Bringing transformative change to entrenched corporate cultures can be frustrating, and EiRs have to believe in the importance of the mission — that it really does matter.

It's also important to have transparent goals, to understand that the EiR job is "in service to the corporation and also to the community. To act as that bridge and always be open to collaboration. [To ask] How can we do even better business together?

Wallace, at RAA Ventures, has a simpler list of EiR requirements:

  • A robust network of contacts to bring in new deals and expedite current projects.
  • Startup experience — knowing what it takes to make a startup successful.
  • Technical chops — being able to fix problems as they occur, sort of like a "super product manager."


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