By Ryoko Hirano, Director of Market and Business Acceleration, NEC X
As an Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) the most challenging part of any venture is starting. You’ve willed your idea into reality, and now what? Execution is a much more arduous task than most people realize. It doesn’t matter how much you mull an idea over. In practice, the execution of an idea never resembles what you imagined in your head. And you’ll never find out how it evolves until you go out and talk to potential customers. NEC X knows and recognizes how hard the execution phase can be. That is why we partner with our EIRs, helping them pave their own path by working together through the exciting challenges and opportunities guiding them through and beyond the customer discovery and validation period.
At NEC X, EIRs are the backbone of our Corporate Accelerator Program (CAP). A program where we match our cutting-edge technologies developed at NEC R&D with innovative business ideas brought by EIRs. They are the champions of NEC X, and our goal is to help them build successful startups.
What makes a great EIR? Well, there are four key identifiers that we look for.
First, we look for previous experience finding and working directly with customers. Customer experience is, in fact, the single ingredient that will determine a startup’s success, and it has been an enormous hurdle for EIRs in the past. The ability to cold call, email, or just do direct outreach is challenging for those with no previous experience. EIRs have to conduct customer interviews about their business to gain insight. It frequently becomes more of a sales session rather than a pure discovery session if you are new to cold calling. It’s vital for every EIR to understand the intricacies of how customer perception can impact a business and succeed in this program.
The second identifier is the understanding of lean startup principles. This principled approach to new product development teaches you how to drive a startup: how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere and grow with maximum acceleration. Every EIR needs to show that they know what it means to build a minimum viable product (MVP), understand a proof of concept (POC), and remember that their product hasn’t been built yet. This is important because we have noticed a trend with the rejected candidates in the past having one common trait: they wanted to create the perfect product before showing customers. This results in massive product failures with a significant loss in time and money because, by the time you are ready to show your product, you realize they don’t want it. Yes, we learn from failure, but we try to help our EIRs avoid this common pitfall. We really want to emphasize building the bare minimum viable product so that you can remain agile and listen to what your customers value during the process. Hence, you can create a better product in the end.
The third identifier to being a great EIR is having extensive domain knowledge or an existing network. Some of our most successful EIRs are innovating in the industry they have worked in for the past 5-10 years. If you are knowledgeable or have a vast existing network in a specific segment, that’s a big plus. EIRs who had existing networks or extensive domain knowledge could find customers more efficiently in the past. They could go deeper with their customer interviews because there wasn’t just a surface-level understanding of the industry. So, having that initial expertise and experience provides better odds of success.
Last but certainly not least, the fourth key identifier in what makes a great EIR is having a history of successful fundraising or experience with successful startup activities. Hands down, the largest recurring obstacle we hear about from EIRs is raising money. So, it should come as no surprise that we have noticed a pattern with our EIRs that often predicts success. Individuals who have a background in fundraising or experience with a high-growth, high-scale startup from Seed to Series A are usually more comfortable with the process and expectations and therefore have greater and faster success.
Being an NEC X EIR is challenging, fast-paced, requires confidence and a certain level of comfort with initial ambiguity. Our EIRs expect to go through the growing pains that all startups face from day one but realize they will not be going at it alone. They have the vast portfolio of NEC’s technology, incredible support from the team at NEC X, and a group of star-studded mentors backing them from the get-go.