As the first Entrepreneur in Residence for an Atlanta law firm, I get asked often — what does an EIR do? EIR’s are most commonly successful entrepreneurs whom, not ready to retire, become adjunct university professors — professors with expertise relevant to a syllabus, engaged on a non-tenure-track basis.
This unique position is energizing for me. It’s the confluence of my entrepreneurial experiences spanning 40+ years. I have the opportunity to return to the heart of Atlanta’s tech community and give back via a firm focused on the same goal — helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
I filled this role for several years at the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, teaching a class on startups. We helped students start real companies, many of whom continued successfully with those ventures beyond graduation.
I worked closely with student teams across a wide variety of ideas and fielded volunteer mentors to match them with student projects. Through this period I was also chair of the qualifying committee for the SXSW Accelerator program, where with 10 members we processed startup applications from around the world. Between these two positions, I must have reviewed more than 10,000 concepts and business plans.
So now, I’m bringing these skills into law firm life, providing them as a value-added service for clients. Startups and growing tech companies often need help with financing strategies and targeted investor introductions. They require strategic development partners as well as advice on operational matters, sales connections and navigation of the broad challenges of starting and scaling good companies.
My background lends itself to providing such value-adds, and I’m busy assembling a council of mentors to magnify what I do. I’m a key adjunct for the firm’s team, helping to accelerate the growth of tech clients based on my experience, background and connections.
Here are just a few of the things I did at UT, which I’ll repeat many times over in my current EIR role:
- Team: Many companies assemble their team by pulling from friends, co-workers, and/or fellow alums. After all, one reason to start a company is to ensure the right people can use their talents to pursue their goals. An objective observer that can assess these individuals’ skills — and make sure everyone’s in the right spot — can make the difference between success and failure. It’s also important to help develop and resolve cap table issues amongst founders.
- Funding guidance: EIRs make introductions, coach founders on how to pitch prospective investors, and guide them on how much money to raise and on what terms. I can also help them apply to present their business plans.
- Cheerleading: One of the biggest jobs is giving nonstop encouragement. Just because it’s not as easy as it looks doesn’t mean success isn’t around the corner.
- Making the tough calls: Finally, EIRs help founders with the tough decisions. The one thing they can never recover is their time, which is best spent on ideas with consequence. Should they quit their full-time job or stop pursing their degree and double down on their company? If it’s not just working, should they pivot — or fold?
My law firm, Morris, Manning & Martin, is also an engaged sponsor of the leading tech organizations in the greater Atlanta area, and I can serve as the outside person who can immerse himself in these important relationships. In this way, I can help deliver value to tech companies and entrepreneurs who are part of the organizations we support.
So overall, what does an EIR do? We immerse ourselves in companies and provide constant help. In other words, we’re extra hands helping pull the plow to raise a new crop of entrepreneurs and healthy, growing companies.
Serial entrepreneur Ben Dyer is the newly-appointed Entrepreneur in Residence at law firm Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP.