Two Georgetown alumni are seeking to turn innovative new ideas into feasible small businesses through the Compass Partners Fellowship, a program that provides resources and training to aspiring undergraduate entrepreneurs. While the program has 75 new fellows this year, 15 at Georgetown, it still faces the same problem as other startup organizations.

“[Compass Partners has faced the problems] that any startup organization has faced. There’s a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of uncertainty. We’re really lucky to have the supporters and community we do. It’s always great to get advice from those much smarter than we are,” Neil Shah (MSB ’10), one of the founders of Compass Partners, said in an email.

Shah said that none of the sponsors that originally joined the group have left, and that the plan is for the partners to be self-sufficient by fall 2011. The success is especially significant because of the problems the founders had in starting their own companies and how they are now applying their experience to help others start social businesses.

During their freshman year on the Hilltop, Shah and Arthur Woods (MSB ’10) each tried their hand at starting small businesses. Shah pioneered a free-trade tea company while Woods aspired to create a delivery service that would make farmers market produce available to students.

Despite the altruistic aims underlying both endeavors, their businesses ultimately failed due to a lack of support, knowledge and resources. Armed with their mutual belief in business as a mechanism for social change and passion for entrepreneurship, the pair founded Compass Partners in 2009 to ensure other projects would not suffer the same fate.

The mentor teams work with groups of 15 fellows who spend two years developing their ideas, gathering capital and eventually launching their business. Although there are a variety of organizations committed to helping high schoolers and 20-somethings start small businesses, Shah said that by focusing on a niche market of college underclassmen, Compass Partners is able to relate and adapt to the specific needs and expectations of its fellows.

“We have an advantage by being students ourselves – we understand what we need,”

Shah said. “For example, if a fellow tells us they’re not covering sales in their business school classes, we can adjust our curriculum or change speakers to accommodate that.”

The fluidity of the curriculum is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Compass Partners and allows students to add practical experience to the theoretical knowledge they acquire in the classroom.

“[Compass Partners] was great because it was really just engaging and learning from doing and learning from people who had been there and seen everything and who had the experience, and it was more than just reading out of a textbook,” Tom Zorc (MSB ’13), a former fellow and current mentor, said.

Over the past several semesters, Compass Partners has led to numerous successful student-run businesses founded by Georgetown students. Today, Angela Morabito (SFS ’13) will be debuting her clothing line, Headlines: SmartWear, which she developed during her time as a fellow last year.

One of the main ideas the founders want to instill in their fellows is the idea of social business or, as Woods puts it, “using business for the greater good.” He and Shah said that rather than simply giving back through charitable donations, businesses should strive to implement a permanent social aspect into their framework. To be considered for a Compass Partners fellowship, applicants must present a business model that is operationally possible, financially sustainable and socially beneficial.

“What I love about Compass is that it completely changed my understanding of value. How a business can have a mission that’s not just `Let us get the [greatest profit] possible,’ but `Let us get as much profit as possible while still trying to significantly benefit the community in which we work,'” fellow Alex Honjiyo (SFS ’13) said.

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