It’s a story we’ve told a thousand times, and no wonder, we love to tell it!
As freshmen in college, Neil Shah and Arthur Woods, the founders of Compass, developed their first social ventures. Neil started a fair trade tea company aimed at creating hope and prosperity for tea farmers in El Salvador. Meanwhile, Arthur launched a farmers market delivery service that aspired to boost the local economy by supporting family farmers in the Mid-Atlantic.
Both Neil and Arthur were passionate about the idea of using business as an agent for social change. They brought together other like-minded students and built strong teams to further their missions. They both had a vision and a plan, yet they also faced tremendous difficulties attaining institutional support and identifying an established community beyond campus that might strengthen their efforts.
And so within a year, both businesses were through. Collapsed. Finito. These two passionate young innovators didn’t lack zeal or confidence (they probably had too much), but the university environment simply didn’t provide the support, knowledge or skills that they needed to succeed.
So Neil and Arthur, united by their shared experiences of failure, got together with a few of their brightest peers and formed a team interested in providing resources to other passionate young innovators–resources they wished they could’ve had as freshmen.
We are that team. We are the founding members of Compass, and in exploring this issue, we came to the conclusion that student entrepreneurs lacked a few critical things: a supportive community, access to professionals and resources, and a flexible and practical curriculum for entrepreneurship. We talked to lots of educators and business leaders, and we realized that as students ourselves, we might be in the best position to fill this gap through a program built on peer mentorship. That was the beginning of The Compass Fellowship….
We created The Compass Fellowship and piloted the program at Georgetown University in the fall of 2009. The response was so positive that, even though we were graduating, we knew we couldn’t stop. So we rented a house in DC and began working on our little project full time.
Since founding Compass, some of us have left to pursue other dreams, some of us have stayed, and some newcomers have joined us. Others (like Mikey D) have even returned after a brief absence! Although we’ve graduated from college, we’re all still as dedicated as ever to providing resources to aspiring student entrepreneurs.
In the fall of 2010, we brought The Compass Fellowship to 5 schools nationwide, and in the fall of 2011, our program more than doubled in size once again. Through our program, hundreds of students are committing unreasonably to social enterprise and peer mentorship, empowering others and their selves to start sustainable businesses and develop solutions to the world’s toughest challenges.
In the spring of 2011, designer and activist Kenneth Cole decided to throw his proverbial hat into the ring with us (or maybe it was a shoe?). Impressed by our story and inspired by our mission, he pledged substantial financial support from his foundation. Compass is thrilled to have this tremendous voice for change on our side. With his help, we have been to extend the reach of The Compass Fellowship nationwide and continue to write the Compass story.
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