Tech Transfer eNews Blog
University-Industry Engagement Advisor

Many models can work for EIRs, but successful programs share common threads


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: July 3rd, 2019

Entrepreneurs-in-residence (EIRs) can bring a level of insight and professional experience to university start-ups that might otherwise be difficult to obtain, so they are becoming increasingly common at tech transfer programs. As more schools adopt them, however, it is becoming clear that there is no one correct model for setting up an EIR program.

But that does not mean there aren’t right and wrong ways to go about it, says Jessica M. Silvaggi, PhD, CLP, director of technology commercialization with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) Research Foundation. Universities with EIRs have found common threads in what makes their programs most effective in boosting their start-up companies to success, she says.

EIRs also are becoming increasingly necessary for the success of a tech transfer program, she asserts. “It seems the way of the day now is that it is very difficult to license anything to big companies because they want more and more data, they want you to be further and further along, and they don’t want anything early and risky. The alternative, which is much harder, is to go it alone as a start-up for a while and get it moving so that someone will truly take interest,” Silvaggi says. “EIRs are really important in that regard for the mentorship. The tech transfer office has so many duties and we try to guide start-ups, but we need experienced industry people because we in the tech transfer office haven’t necessarily started up companies before.”

UWM has had business leaders employed as EIRs with the Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business, plus other EIRs who were involved in teaching and other activities like an entrepreneurship internship program. The UWM Research Foundation also created an EIR position within the TTO several years ago and filled it first with a recent PhD graduate from the university, whom students found especially easy to work with because he was close to their ages.

“The first words of advice are usually to make sure the person is experienced, but the one we had first did a great job and really inspired our students even though he was only a couple of years ahead of them,” Silvaggi says “He was going through it all practically at the same but just a little bit ahead of them. There’s no doubt experience can be valuable, maybe the most valuable factor, but there can be exceptions to that too.”

Still, the tech transfer staff wondered if other universities were structuring their EIRs in different ways, and so Silvaggi became the lead author of a 2015 study that surveyed 38 universities regarding their EIRs.

“There were so many models, quite a variety in how people were doing EIRs. Some had one EIR and paid them a nice sum, while some had a herd of alumni and paid them nothing,” Silvaggi says. “There were so many different versions.”

She found that 68% of TTOs were using five or fewer EIRs. They generally fell into two EIR models, either a large stable of experts with “more of an advisory role, less time commitment, and non-monetary compensation” or a small number of experts with “deeper dedication, more time commitment, and higher compensation.”

The duration of the EIR appointment varied greatly between three months and more than a year, depending usually on the EIR’s availability and interests. Some universities used a trial period of several months before agreeing to a longer commitment.

Compensation also varied. EIRs making more than $6,000 per month were in offices with no more than three EIRs, whereas the schools with six or more EIRs paid less, sometimes $1,000 or less per month. “The trend is clearly towards lower pay or no pay when more EIRs are employed,” the report says.

A detailed article on achieving success with EIRs appears in the June issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. For subscription details, CLICK HERE.

Don’t miss another issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. CLICK HERE for details on this one-of-a-kind publication focused on improving the TTO performance and getting more innovations from the lab to the marketplace.

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