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Entrepreneurs jumping into STL’s startup space bring with them skill, passion and determination to see their companies and ideas succeed. But while passion may keep them going, often the guidance and advice of someone who has been through it all before is the most important piece of the puzzle.
As an Entrepreneur In Residence (EIR) for ITEN, Chuck Vallurupalli is that voice of experience for about a dozen companies, offering hands-on, strategic advice.
ITEN’s Entrepreneur in Residence program, made possible by contributions from the Helix Fund, currently employs five EIRs, representing a broad range of industries and strong domain expertise in finance, sales, product development and more. Each EIR works 60-80 hours a week with 5-10 startups (at no cost to the startups) to help them find success along their entrepreneurial journey.
Vallurupalli brings valued experience to the startups he supports. He’s currently the Founder & CEO at Inferology and was previously a Co-Founder at Kivivi, President & COO at Qualtech Systems, Vice-Chair at VNA HealthCare and served in various product and marketing leadership roles at MSC Software.
“Having experienced the ups and downs of tech startups myself, I have a lot of empathy for our St. Louis entrepreneurs,” Vallurupalli says. “No matter how busy I am, I always try to find a way to support them. Even a fifteen minute interaction goes a long way to cheer up and excite an entrepreneur.”
But how are EIRs helping startups in STL? We reached out to two startups, PFITR and Tallyfy, both mentored by Vallurupalli, for their take on these unique mentor relationships and how to best utilize their guidance.
EIRs celebrate your success, but also give you tough love.
“Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart—it’s flat out tough, says Jim Koetting, founder and CEO of PFITR. “There is stress to your finances, relationships and it takes up all of your time. So you need to find a mentor who can give you tough love and also a lot of encouragement. Seek out a mentor you can celebrate your successes with and someone who can pick you up when you are feeling low. Chuck has been the best mentor I’ve had at both of these things.”
EIRs use their own experience and connections to your benefit.
“Chuck has been an incredibly valuable resource over many months,” says Pravina Pindoria, COO of Tallyfy. “He has experience in running startups and raising capital, so he’s helped us focus our messaging, budget and guided us through the local investor scene. His constructive feedback on our investor pitch has really helped us think through what we want and certainly helped us raise capital in St. Louis.”
EIRs help startups for the right reasons.
“I appreciate mentors who have accomplished something and have an entrepreneurial background,” says Koetting. “Startups have to be very circumspect of the naked man who offers you his shirt. There are people out there who want to be a mentor for a resume builder; they’re into mentoring more for themselves than for you or your business. So I like to ask what books they’re reading, about their successes in business, about their failures. Find out why they want to be your mentor and talk to others whom they have mentored.
Chuck is not just a mentor on paper. He tells me when I need to change direction, get rid of people and he offers advice on new hires. I feel like he is right beside me. When I have great news, I call Chuck; when we make huge headway in any area, he is there. And when I’m completely perplexed about a situation or problem, he is always there because he is invested in our success.”
The EIR/startup relationship works if the startups work.
“Know what you want. It’s important to know where your challenges are,” says Pindorai. “If it’s marketing, you’d reach out to someone that has experience with marketing. It’ll save you and the mentor a lot of time.
Then ask the right questions: “What would you do if you were in my shoes? If you were my customer, what would you like for my product to be?” You may not get all the answers. Mentors are there to guide you, not give you all the answers to make your business a success.
You should also ask for introductions. Try and find a subject matter expert for where your challenges are. If you can’t find one, ask a mentor if they happen to know one beyond the mentor network.
And then pay it forward. You’ll find you get value from a handful of mentors, show your appreciation and share your success.”
Interested in ITEN’s EIR program? Apply here!