A friend of mine once asked me how someone should know when it’s time to give up being an entrepreneur and get a real job. “When the government hires you to be an entrepreneur in residence,” he joked. Little did I know that state governments across the country, as well as numerous federal agencies would one day employ many of them.
With all the interest in EIRs has come a significant and growing confusion among institutions and entrepreneurs alike about what it means to be an entrepreneur in residence. So let’s take a look.
Entrepreneurs are familiar with the conventional product lifecycle – introduction, growth, maturity, decline – but entrepreneurs in residence have become so trendy, it seems more appropriate to view them through the lifecycle of a trend. And the best trend lifecycle nomenclature I’ve found begins at ironic, transitions to hipster, douchey, and dormant, then finally to funny again.
Circa 1969, EIR irony began when a business school first called upon an executive in residence to provide “real world” viewpoints to students. It took nearly 40 years before a handful of Fortune 500 firms turned hipster and began employing EIRs “to provide entrepreneurial viewpoints to the corporate world”. After that, it took no time at all for organizations like Target and the National Institutes of Health to push the limits of hipness by employing three EIRs … simultaneously! There is now even a company called, The Entrepreneur in Residence Company, which purports to inject E-suite expertise into non-entrepreneurial companies.
Ok, but what do all these hipsters do?
At Dell, EIR Elizabeth Gore believes her role is, in part, “to create a platform where entrepreneurs can communicate with lawmakers on a state, county and local level”. She further believes that EIRs can empower entrepreneurs “to change the world for the better [by] equipping them with the advice, network, technology and access to capital they need to succeed. “
Contrast that with last year’s EIR program for the city of San Francisco, which considered the startups themselves to be the EIRs. The program received almost 200 applications from startup companies in 25 cities and countries (yes, countries) to participate as the EIRs in a “voluntary, sixteen-week collaboration to bring together the private sector and City departments to explore innovation solutions to civic challenges that can lower costs, increase revenue, and enhance productivity” within the government.
Not to be outdone, LA-based Upfront Ventures announced in 2015 that rapper Chamillionaire had become one of its EIRs. Chamillionaire’s entrepreneurial successes include the FlyRydes car dealership, a modeling firm and a tour bus company. His strengths include providing advice on “marketing, customer engagement, product design, monetization – whatever,” while his goals include “learning to build products, studying different business models and committing himself to being a true tech entrepreneur.”
Rockin’ the trend, baby. What’s your favorite EIR experience, good or bad?