You can read every newsletter and article there is about entrepreneurship. You can work for a big corporation or get an MBA. You can memorize The Lean Startup and regurgitate it in your sleep.
But the moment you go out and start a business for the first time, that’s when your entrepreneurial education really begins.
Successful entrepreneurs have unique experiences that make them invaluable resources. That’s why businesses big and small are trying to get their hands on one. One way to do so is through entrepreneur in residence (EIR) programs, which help bring entrepreneurial mindsets into your company.
What is an entrepreneur in residence?
“Entrepreneur in residence” is a position at an organization that’s usually filled by an experienced entrepreneur or someone with experience working at an early-stage company.
The appeal of bringing an entrepreneur on board is that they are proven problem solvers with a scrappy mentality. The idea originated with venture capital (VC) firms — but lots of different types of organizations now have EIRs, including:
There is no single description of what an EIR does. The role differs depending on the organization. Here are just some of the things that an EIR can do.
Create a new company.
This is the traditional job of an EIR at a VC fund. Rather than looking for a promising young company and then evaluating the leadership team of that startup, venture firms identify an individual with proven abilities and ask them to create their next business.
The entrepreneur and their venture remain independent, but they get the opportunity to develop their vision with support and investment from experienced VCs.
This is also the function of EIRs at Wilbur Labs, a San Francisco-based startup studio that specializes in building startups from scratch. To date, the studio has hired several EIRs to research, build, and launch new companies alongside their team. These EIRs:
Lead research through consultations with industry experts and potential customers
Help define the go-to-market strategy
Develop a financial model for the new business
At Wilbur, as with most VC firm programs, the residency ends when the startup has been launched. However, the EIR may stay on in another capacity.
In some cases, the term “EIR” is used interchangeably with “mentor.” Startup accelerators and educational organizations hire EIRs to support first-time founders.
At the University of Edinburgh’s Edinburgh Innovations, founder and academic Lysimachos Zografos uses his role as an EIR to help academics turn their research into startups. Projects he’s been involved in range from new drugs and digital therapy solutions, to AI that uses satellite images to assist with natural disaster responses.
Zografos is available to answer questions, assist with funding applications, and direct would-be entrepreneurs to useful tools and training resources.
Before the EIR role was created, the university already had a technology transfer office responsible for the commercialization of research, but what Zografos brings to the table is an entrepreneurial approach to the way that service is offered.
Big corporations are increasingly finding that their biggest competition is not other large companies but disruptive startups, says Trends member Mike Stemple, a successful serial entrepreneur and one of the first corporate EIRs.
Stemple, who’s started and engineered positive exits from six businesses, advises large companies on how to think and act more entrepreneurially through his firm Inspirer.
That could mean developing a new product, helping the business react to a supply chain challenge, assisting with the acquisition of a startup, or helping executives understand the mindset of their startup competitors.
One of the advantages of bringing in an EIR, says Stemple, is that entrepreneurs are generalists. “You know that saying, when you’re a hammer the world looks like nails? That’s the corporate mindset. Entrepreneurs are more like a multi-tool. The whole world looks like something we can fix.”
Offer operational support.
EIRs are typically experts on creating businesses rather than running them, but they can have a more operational function. VC firms may bring in an EIR to manage one of the companies they’ve invested in.
At Wilbur Labs, once the new startup has been launched, the EIR may stay on as a full-time employee, an adviser, or even CEO. They might take ownership of core functions of the startup, such as product, growth, and business development. Alternatively, having reached the goal of launching a new business, they may move on to other projects.
An EIR could also help solve a specific problem. If a business is losing clients to a competitor or struggling to find investors, they could bring in an EIR to tackle that issue.
Some EIR programs select promising candidates and help them become successful entrepreneurs by providing resources and mentorship. In this case, the EIR is the mentee rather than the mentor.
Schmidt Futures, founded by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy, offers an EIR program that acts as an incubator for promising social entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneur in residence in a startup
Oneday is a company that helps people launch startups. “We help them do it better, faster, and on a lower budget compared to if they did it by themselves,” says co-founder Taras Polischuk.
The firm gives entrepreneurs access to a community of peers and other useful resources, but the key to their strategy is pairing first-time founders with an EIR mentor.
“The two questions that founders ask most often are 1) ‘Is my idea good enough?’ and 2) ‘How do I turn that idea into an actual business?’” says Polischuk.
According to Polischuk, if you’re a rookie founder, an EIR can help you:
Validate the business idea. If you’re wondering, “Is this idea even worth trying? Is the market big enough? How strong are my unique value propositions?” — then you may want to explore those questions with a mentor before getting started.
Create an action plan. A mentor can help you prioritize the right things and figure out the best sequence of actions.
Avoid common mistakes. First-timers might, for example, spend too much money building out a prototype before testing the concept on customers. A mentor could warn against that.
OneDay offers mentorship as a service for founders, but startups are also bringing EIRs in house as employees or partnering with them on a contract basis. There are lots of ways that an EIR can add value at a startup, including:
Perspective. If you are completely immersed in a business you are passionate about, it could be useful to have an outside voice from an experienced entrepreneur.
Operational support. An EIR could oversee an aspect of the company, such as product development, that the business needs help with.
Industry knowledge. An EIR with industry expertise can provide invaluable insight, contacts, and practical advice about your market.
Finding the right EIR for your startup
You can look for an EIR the same way you recruit for any role — by posting an ad on job boards, LinkedIn, or on your company website. You can also use mentorship services like Oneday, reach out to your network for suggestions, or approach entrepreneurs directly if you feel they might be the right fit for you.
The ideal EIR for your startup will have proven, relevant success. Preferably, they will have founded (or been involved with the launch of) multiple successful businesses. Stemple says that true serial entrepreneurs should have a minimum of three positive exits. “One is a fluke. Two is chance. Three is a trend.”
When Wilbur Labs hires an EIR, they look for someone with “deep industry experience” in the market the firm wants to explore, because they want someone who will be passionate about the specific problem they’re trying to solve.
At Oneday, the firm is less concerned about industry knowledge. Instead, they try to match founders with mentors who have experience with a broadly similar business model, such as an app, an ecommerce business, or a SaaS company.
Of course, anyone you work with should also be a good personality fit for the role you want them to fill. Not all successful founders are natural mentors, for example.
Entrepreneur in residence salary
EIR salaries vary widely depending on the nature of the role. At a VC firm, EIR is not always a paid role. It might come with office space, administrative support, and a small stipend. In that case, the main benefit to the entrepreneur is the ability to build a new venture with investors already onboard.
On the other hand, a full-time corporate EIR could earn $300k/yr. In that case, the corporation may own all the IP created by the EIR.
At Wilbur Labs, EIRs are initially brought in as contractors for $100-$200/hr. If they are successful in launching a new startup, they may end up staying on as a full-time employee, in which case they would earn roughly $150-$250k/yr plus equity and benefits.
As an adviser to a startup or a mentor to a first-time founder, an EIR can earn $50-$200/hr — depending on their experience and what the role entails. If you’re an early-stage startup and that sounds out of your league, there is good news.
“There is so much goodwill in the market that it’s very easy to attract entrepreneurs in residence,” says Polischuk. “Most of them aren’t doing it for the money. They’re doing it to give back, to help the next generation of founders, and to feel [like they are] part of this community.”
The other option, if you can’t afford to pay an hourly rate, is to remunerate your EIR with equity (i.e., a share of your business). That way you won’t need to dole out any cash and the EIR will be incentivized to guide your startup to success.