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Student-Run Social Business Incubator Compass Partners Is a Quick Study

A fellowship to support student social entrepreneurs enters its second year — while one of last year’s fellows launches a new site.

Compass Partners

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Angela Morabito toyed with a few business ideas–a brand of spaghetti sauce, a dating
service–until she struck upon the right one. It’s called Headlines, a clothing line of “Smartwear for Smart Women” which launched this week. Whether or not the business succeeds, 19-year-old Morabito will have proven the success of a new student-run incubator for social entrepreneurs called Compass Partners.

Arthur Woods and Neil Shah, graduates of the Georgetown University
class of 2010, got the idea for Compass Partners while undergrads. In
2007, each of them tried to launch ventures as students (for Shah, a
fair trade tea company; for Woods, a farmers’ market delivery service).
Both failed. “We faced a lot of resistance,” Woods tells Fast Company. “There just weren’t enough resources for entrepreneurs.”

Not
ones to accept the failure of a good idea, Woods and Shah launched
Compass Partners two years ago, and created a pilot fellowship the
following year at Georgetown. The multifaceted two-year program
motivates and guides student entrepreneurs through a speaker series,
business skill modules, retreats with mentors, and internships.

Morabito was one of those first fellows. As an incoming freshman in 2009, she learned about the inaugural Compass Fellowship through Facebook and interviewed with Compass Partners the Labor Day Weekend before school started.

Her clothing comes with embroidered ribbons bearing empowering quotes: “Our bestseller is a line from Stendhal,” she says. “Only great minds can afford a simple style.” Her designs bear names like “Marcy” and “Elizabeth”–after other “bright, beautiful women” who she says inspired and mentored her through the Compass Fellowship. Ten percent of Headlines’s profits go to Room to Read, a charity that funds education in the developing world.

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Morabito’s companions from the first class of fellows have been just as busy: one had the idea to use technology to unite African villages, while another had the idea to launch a talent agency representing a capella groups. The goal is for every fellow to launch a social business venture.

The new crop of
Compass Fellows, 75 freshmen at five different universities across the
country, have just been announced. Meanwhile, Compass Partners has expanded to four additional schools–American, George Washington, Tufts, and Indiana. Woods says that in 2011 and beyond, he intends to extend the fellowship across the country, from New York to San Francisco.

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.

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