Career SkillsCareersEntrepreneurshipLessons on Leadership

What is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence?

By Jacquelyn Adams

Sam Rosenfeld

During this time of isolation, I have had people reach out to me to discuss what it looks like to come together and support each other right now. Things are definitely more complicated, but that just means we have to be more creative when it comes to serving our community. With that in mind, I contacted my network to get a pulse on what opportunities are still available, or others that are newly created because of COVID-19. Serial entrepreneur Sam Rosenfeld was one who responded right away. Sam has successfully launched businesses across a variety of sectors with a focus on bootstrapping and delivering early profitability. He is currently the founder and chair of Verdigris, a bank focused on using the combination of regulated banking, technology and industry acumen to help the underserved gain access to fair, affordable banking services. Here’s what he had to tell me about a unique program called Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EiR):

JA: So, how long have you been an Entrepreneur-in-Residence, and for those of us who are unfamiliar with the term <cough, like me>, what exactly is it?

SR: I’ve been an Entrepreneur-in-Residence and mentor for about five years, across the BMCE/Bank of Africa, African Entrepreneurship Awards, Wharton’s Haft Entrepreneur in Residence program, and within the companies I have founded.  Entrepreneurs-in-Residence come in many forms and roles.  It began as team members with Venture Capital funds, but the title has expanded to include some types of mentoring.

In all instances, an EiR is a source of experience and perspective.  We’re as useful in identifying when a company is on a path to a mistake as we are in providing positive advice and direction.  I may have a single engagement with someone or become more of an ongoing asset.  When embedded in VC funds and the like, we can be part of the assessment team for an investment, putting an experienced eye over a company when the investing firm has more finance than industry or entrepreneurial experience.

JA: Let’s get the logistics out of the way — what is the cost associated with being an EiR (money, time, resources) and what are the benefits (money, connections, knowledge or information, etc)?

SR: Cost completely depends on the EiR employment role or relationship with the organization.  I prefer very focused engagements, although during the peak season of the African Entrepreneurship Awards, I spend about 45 minutes per submission and get through about one hundred submissions as mentor and another hundred as judge, which is less time consuming.

The same is true for compensation.  An EiR within a company, like Private Equity or Venture Capital firm, will be remunerated similarly to other members of the team.  Also there are now websites where someone can book an hour or ongoing consulting services that are called ‘mentoring.’ However, a lot of mentoring / EiR work is done on a volunteer basis either within a formal structure or simply within the community on a one-to-one basis.

I’m always networking and would like to think that I’m always learning, so thinking of them as some sort incentive is a funny idea. That being said, teaching is an incredible form of self-examination, so there are always benefits to be gained of some type.

JA: Why are you an EiR?

SR: I find the work incredibly satisfying.  I love the business of thinking through and running a business. It’s also gratifying to pass on lessons and see others then avoid the costly mistakes that I’ve made. Then they get to go out and make new mistakes of their own because that is the nature of learning, regardless of how many mentors you have.

Entrepreneurship is a calling, no matter whether it’s tech or starting a new hair salon, and those willing to put themselves on the line must be lauded for the willingness to take risk and innovate. It is also important to support them appropriately, which is harder than it looks. There are a lot of non-entrepreneurs offering education and coaching for entrepreneurs.  Some of that is great, but a lot doesn’t often resonate. That’s because the person teaching it doesn’t understand the pressures and priorities of actually being an entrepreneur.  That is why I do this, because I can, in part, empathize with the struggles of any entrepreneur, and that understanding is vital.

JA: Okay Obi Wan, what are a few pieces of advice you most often pass on to your young padawans?

SR: I suppose I could be an EiR for your readers for a minute. Here are a few points:

  • Sales people are usually best at selling you on how good they are.  They should have no more than 90 days to close their first sale.
  • Hire smart, fire fast.  I’ve employed a number of top-level executives with great credentials, presence, etc.  However, sometimes the culture or the timing of the company simply doesn’t fit – if it’s not working, it can’t be forced to work.
  • When seeking mentorship in entrepreneurship just note: not all VCs come with entrepreneurial experience. Just because you’ve invested in dozens or hundreds of companies doesn’t make you an expert on the actual workings of being an entrepreneur.
  • Build for profit, then scale. Avoid the ‘freemium’ model approach of giving away money with no clear path to profitability.

JA: How could our readers get involved in EiR?

SR: Entrepreneur-in-Residence is a rarified field; for readers, the more accessible resource would involve looking for a mentor or mentoring service.  Places to start range from the local business council and other groups where business owners and entrepreneurs gather through to alumni associations, investment groups, competitions and simply by doing the research on the internet.  In every community there will be successful entrepreneurs who want to help the next generation.

For those who are entrepreneurs and looking to help the next generation, the advice works in reverse.  Speak to your local business council, alumni association and other communities to identify where there’s a need, and where you can help.

JA: Any final advice for people interested in pursuing being an EiR?

SR: If you’ve a mind to do it because you want to give back, absolutely do so.  The hardest thing for entrepreneurs to find is the voice of experience who are willing to share. I have found it worthwhile to be that voice.


Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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