What the Heck Is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence?

I have the best job in the world.

Every day I talk to entrepreneurs, who are working on the next Periscope, and help them figure out how to grow their businesses.

Every day I learn a little more about how one of the most reputed technology companies in the world operates from incredible people like Michael Dell.

Every day I give the movers and shakers a platform and infuse innovation into a legacy company.

And almost everyday, I get asked the question - what exactly is an EIR, Entrepreneur-In-Residence?

I couldn't be more excited about all of this. My overwhelmingly positive experience at Dell, and previously at the United Nations Foundation, is why I believe that every large organization should have an entrepreneur-in-residence.

You could say I was born to be an EIR. I've had a very unconventional path to where I am today, and I wouldn't be here without the mentors and experiences I had early on. I started out working for a few amazing non-profits, including Points of Light and Share our Strength. Those experiences inspired me to dream bigger, so I joined the Peace Corps and worked in Bolivia for over two years. It was a life-changing experience that bolstered my commitment to helping people, and more importantly, it taught me that when you give people opportunity, they have the ability to change the world.

When I left the Peace Corps, I cold-called Kathy Calvin at the United Nations Foundation and started telling her about my hope for the future. She graciously offered me a job, where we achieved extraordinary things under the leadership of Ted Turner, like raising $1.2 million to fight malaria in just six weeks. Today, that effort, Nothing But Nets, has raised more than $56 million and saved millions of lives!

I could never have accomplished that if it hadn't been for people like Kathy and Ted who believed in me. I wanted to give back to others who strived to change the world and help them achieve their dreams. When the United Nations Foundation challenged me to think about an entrepreneur-in-residence role, I jumped on it. And a few years later, when I had the same opportunity at Dell, I said yes again. And every day I feel like I'm helping change the world.

Why EIRs are a win-win

What I've always known is that entrepreneurs are an integral part of our world. They create 70 percent of jobs in the United States and 90 percent of jobs in emerging countries. They push innovation forward in every industry. They make our lives better, in ways as mundane as simplifying paying a roommate for an electric bill (thanks Venmo) or as momentous as eradicating meningitis (look to SynAm Vaccine.)

EIRs can empower these ambitious people who are trying to change the world for the better, equipping them with the advice, network, technology and access to capital they need to succeed. EIRs have a deep understanding of the difficult, winding road entrepreneurs face and can provide the tools they need to thrive.

Key elements are an EIR role in any organization:
• The role is short term, no more than two years, so there is a sense of urgency in innovation.
• They report to the C Suite, so decisions are made quickly.
• They do not have direct reports to manage, so they don't get bogged down in HR.
• Anything they build should be carried forward by existing long term leadership of that organization (not the EIR).
• They have a different skill set then what is currently within the organization.

In my role at Dell, my long-term vision is to create a platform where entrepreneurs can communicate with lawmakers on a state, county, and local level. Talking to entrepreneurs at events like Dell's Founders 50, I've learned the number one thing entrepreneurs have difficulty with is cutting through regulations and finding successful partnerships. Many are doing well from a funding standpoint, with series B and C funding under their belts, but can't grow the business without overcoming regulatory hurdles. It's my mission to influence these policymakers and give entrepreneurs a bigger platform to scale their companies long after my role as Dell's EIR.

On the other side of the coin, a budding startup can boost a corporation's reputation and revenue. Target, for instance, hired three EIRs this past winter, during a time when the company wasn't doing so hot; revenue had grown just 1.9 percent, to $72.6 billion in 2014. Hiring three EIRs to foster innovation in retail ended up being a coup for Target, though, as the retailer acquired a coupon service called CartWheel, which has generated more than $1 billion in sales since it launched two years ago.

The entrepreneurial spirit of any large company, whether it's Target or Dell, can wane if fresh ideas aren't brought in. And even when there are new ideas within a company, it's easy for bureaucracy to stymie them when there are 100,000-plus people at the company. An EIR solves that problem by having direct access to top management as well as access to the resources young companies lack. This prevents innovative approaches from being stopped halfway up the chain.

After a few years, companies should consider hiring a new EIR because everyone has something different to bring to the table. My strengths are different from Dell's last EIR, Ingrid Vanderveldt, (who was top-notch, by the way!), and my successor will have his or her own unique talents and connections to offer.

There's no question that founders need mentorship, just as I did when I started my career and I'm happy to be that advocate for them and there's no question that large corporations need smart people with big ideas. That collaboration will push their business forward, push our economy forward, and ultimately push our lives forward.

My hope is that through my role, I can help more small businesses succeed and show everyone the value of entrepreneurs.

To learn more about Dell's entrepreneurship efforts and become involved with #EntrepreneursUNite visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgwXR5QEV_U&feature=youtu.be