The Business of Mentoring

This successful B-school alumnus traded his corner office for a new, on-campus job: entrepreneur-in-residence

Entrepreneur-in-residence Bob Lentz, BA’ 73 (center) reviews business plans with Helene Servillon, BA ’12, who has been working on an electric bike venture since her senior year, and Lyle Stevens, BA ’09, the CEO of his own social influence marketing company, Apifia Inc.

In the 30-plus years he’s spent helping new technology companies go live, grow, and thrive, Bob Lentz, BA’73, has seen many soar—and a few fall flat. But there’s one organization he’s betting on with hefty investments of his own time, expertise, and philanthropic dollars: IDEA, Northeastern’s student-run venture accelerator.

In July, Lentz, formerly an executive officer and  interim CEO at several technology companies, put a flourishing career on hold to become the university’s first entrepreneur-in-residence. Now he’s advising students one-on-one, coordinating a network of alumni-mentors, building links to the investor community, and having, he says, “the time of my life.”

Lentz signed on as IDEA’s advisory board chair in 2009 at the urging of faculty adviser Dan Gregory. He was so persuaded of IDEA’s potential that he wrote the first check to its Gap Fund, which launches fledgling ventures with $10,000 competitive, no-strings-attached awards.

Lentz, who teaches the capstone entrepreneurship course, is employed by the Northeastern University Center for Entrepreneurship Education. But joy, not compensation, draws him to campus five days a week, where he shares all he’s learned about startups, turnarounds, and public offerings.

Lentz’s many success stories include the sale of five companies. These include eRoom Technology, an online-collaboration-software maker currently owned by the data-storage giant EMC Corp, and Xionics Document Technologies, a digital-page-processing software provider acquired by Oak Technology for several hundred million dollars.

What’s got Lentz so excited? For starters, he points to Northeastern undergraduates’ “phenomenal passion” and eagerness to learn. Then there are IDEA’s “amazing” alumni, including two trustees who named the D’Amore-McKim School of Business last year with a $60 million gift: NUCEE’s founding benefactor, Alan S. McKim, MBA’88, and Richard A. D’Amore, BA’76, whose company helped Lentz jumpstart ventures, and whose philanthropy launched Northeastern’s Center for Research Innovation, where Lentz is an adviser.

Yet another source of Lentz’s enthusiasm are the dedicated faculty members behind IDEA. They include Robert Shillman Professor of Entrepreneurship Marc Meyer, with whom Lentz is designing a weekend “boot camp” course to help more Northeastern graduates turn great ideas into businesses.

Finally, Lentz cites the “rewards of giving back” to his university. As a student, under the wings of co-op managers, Lentz discovered his gift for leadership. “Nothing,” he says, “beats learning by experience.”

Lentz describes Northeastern’s entrepreneurial ecosystem as “wildly successful, beyond anything I imagined three years ago.” The same might be said of Lentz’s latest career move.