via Flickr user nyoinTides CEO Melissa Bradley participated in a January advisory board meeting of Dell’s recently established Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) program. Led by clean energy entrepreneur Ingrid Vanderveldt, the EIR concept has created a corporate innovation shop inside Dell to foster creativity and new ideas. The concept is distinct from traditional R&D as it focuses on vetting new ideas with a panel of serial entrepreneurs. On top of the creative passion Ingrid brings to Dell, the EIR Advisory Board serves as an entrepreneurial sounding board for testing new product ideas. In other words, the EIR concept brings external creativity to “R” before moving to “D.”

Here are the 3 things that excite us most about the EIR program:

  • Entrepreneurial energy
    EIR’s effective use of Ingrid’s entrepreneurial energy and ability to inspire product innovation across Dell is a wake-up call for companies and non-profits alike grappling with economic uncertainty. In an era of heightened competition for fewer resources, hitting the “refresh” button by launching internal innovation, or idea labs, as a complement to traditional R&D is a step in the right direction.
  • Creative use of advisory  boards
    In addition, the creative use of advisory boards makes EIR special. While companies and non-profits are familiar with boards, advisory panels to inform and guide new initiatives from the beginning are unique. The idea of an advisory board taking shape before the moment an idea crystallizes is something we prize.
  • A dose of humility
    Finally, a dose of humility is an important tool for unlocking innovation. Comfort in bringing on advisors who are a LOT smarter than you is a big step in the direction of innovation; listening to the group and being open-minded about adapting preconceived notions is icing on the cake.

At Tides, we enthusiastically embrace the spirit of the EIR program. We recently launched the Tides Fellows program to support sector leaders in developing innovative work that supports a progressive agenda and increases capacity for the social change sector. Advancing our thinking are: Sonal Shah, entrepreneur and former director of the White House of Social Innovation and Civic Participation; Gara LaMarche, current Fellow at NYU’s Wagner School of Public service and former president and CEO of Atlantic Philanthropies; Anthony Jewett, principal of SoCap New Media Organizing, a crowd-funding and digital media strategy firm; Peter Murray, director of the Organizing Innovation Project and co-founder and former president of the Center for Progressive Leadership; and Vivien Labaton, Director of Strategic Programme Initiatives of The Atlantic Philanthropies and Founding Director of the Third Wave Foundation.

Similarly, by launching an Impact and Innovation (I&I) team in 2011, Tides is originating, testing, and prototyping new products and services with a group of innovators—including Tides Fellows—from both the nonprofit and private sectors. Inspired by our values-based mission to promote social justice, we are putting our entrepreneurial efforts into service innovation for existing clients, unlocking Next Generation philanthropy, and ensuring philanthropy serves America’s “new majority.” Stay tuned to the Tides blog and website for regular updates.

Chad Bolick is the Director of Impact & Innovation at Tides.

Image via Flickr user nyoin, used under Creative Commons license.