Why More Venture Capital Firms Have Entrepreneurs in Residence

Toronto-based Omers Ventures announced this week that it is bringing on an entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) in former CEO of Intel-acquired CognoVision, Haroon Mirza.

The newest EIR addition to a Canadian venture capital (VC) firm is one in a slew in the past few years. Investment firms are increasingly looking to bring on experienced, successful entrepreneurs to examine deal-flow. The EIR can use the position as a springboard to their next challenge, thus it’s a win-win for both sides.

Omers partner John Ruffalo called Mirza an accomplished innovator and leader with a passion to advance entrepreneurship: “With his background as a successful entrepreneur, operator, and mentor, Haroon will also help OMERS Ventures deepen our relationships within the venture capital and business communities.”

In a blog post earlier this year, iNovia Capital’s Shawn Abbott defined the position of EIR. While venture partners typically put in their own capital for a percentage in the fund, an EIR typically works in a more hands-on role with startups without finanicial responsiblity.

“An EIR is someone who we want a closer relationship with on a day to day basis for any one of several reasons…valuable marketing and business-building experience with our portfolio companies to accelerate their growth,” wrote Abbott.

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Over a year ago, iNovia’s David Nault was a serial entrepreneur looking for his next opportunity. He didn’t necessarily want to join a VC firm but knew he wanted to help a startup with some traction. His year with iNovia convinced him that he enjoyed working with entrepreneurs as much as he enjoyed working as one.

“I started having a lot of fun evaluating opportunities, working with the team here and it extended my contacts, my know-how and opportunities,” said Nault.

At iNovia Nault is actively involved in deal flow evaluation, due diligence, and assisting existing companies looking for their next opportunity. Although rare for an EIR, he has put in some of his own money in iNovia’s fund. The obvious benefit for Nault is that should he “fall in love” with a startup’s idea and choose to join on as CEO, he’s in the right place to evaluate and find such an opportunity.

“More and more VCs are doing it because there’s value add for everybody,” he said.

Meanwhile at Omers Ventures, Mirza is set to join as EIR after a short stint as director of business development in Intel Corp’s anonymous viewer analytics department. Intel acquired his former company CognoVision in September of 2010.

Mirza said for a long time he was “laser-focused” on video analytics, as CognoVision was an award-winning analytics provider. Now he can join a firm allowing him to look at startups from different industries and build a broad knowledge base. And as with other EIR’s, it can provide him the chance to find a future job with another startup.

“The role in itself just sounded very appealing,” said Mirza. “I think for Omers Ventures the value-add is bringing on board someone who has operational startup experience, who’s built a successful company and had an exit. The thinking is to take some of that knowledge and experience and assist some of the portfolio companies to help them succeed on their path as wel

Perhaps Mirza’s position with Omers may stimulate a long career in venture capital. He wouldn’t say anything definitive though. “I might fall in love with venture capital, but it’s a bit premature for me to comment because what I know is operating startups.”