Wherever you look you see corporations trying to get closer to startups, variably in terms of reputation, release cycles, culture or reputation.
One of the more common ways is to start an incubator or accelerator program, which certainly isn’t the worst option out there.
It is hard, however, to let the learnings and culture flow back from these programs into the HQ.
After some conversations around this, I think one path to explore might be temporary entrepreneur-in-residence (EiR) programs. This isn’t new, of course, and particularly in the US you can find the occasional one – usually in VC firms.
I believe that the concept makes a lot of sense for non-VC firms as well.
This should especially true for entrepreneurs who didn’t just have a massive exit (as is usually the case for the VC-EiR model): Those entrepreneurs building the next generation of hardware, for example, who bootstrap their endeavors and haven’t made it yet financially because they are breaking new ground and exploring markets that have yet to be fully defined.
So what could that look like?
- Embed an entrepreneur in your company for 3 months. Like an Entrepreneur-in-residence, working side by side with your product and strategy team, both on their own product and at the edges of your company’s focus.
- The EiR can heavily use their outside network, with enough wriggle room to at least maintain their own things (think 2 half-days in a week – let’s say they’d be off Tuesdays and Thursdays after lunch).
- The EiR is paid a solid management-style salary, so there’s a financial incentive, too – after all, founders often bootstrap their own companies, so a cash injection might just be a good incentive.
And then let them roam and work with your teams, embedded, hopefully on some kind of joint project that connects your business with theirs.
Of course working conditions should be optimized to empower these entrepreneurs to play out their full potential. Small things like flexible work times and BYOD should be standard. (If you can’t handle someone bringing in their own laptop, then you’re not ready for the program.)
I’m pretty sure that this would be quite beneficial to both sides. The Entrepreneur gets to know a potential collaborator and partner, as well as a little cash injection. The corporation gets the external domain knowledge and opens up its own culture in the process, and unlocks a large new network of potential collaborators.
These are just some initial thoughts on what an EiR program could look like outside the VC context. Curious to hear if it’s been done before, or to help set one up.