Compass Fellowship

In December 2015, I had the opportunity to speak to Rebecca Ballard, Executive Director at the Compass Fellowship. As both of us are travelling nomads, we connected via Skype to talk about the program and Rebecca’s experience in the social enterprise sector.

Compass Partners was founded by Neil Shah and Arthur Woods who both worked on their first social ventures during college. They experienced first hand that “the university environment simply didn’t provide the support, knowledge or skills that they needed to succeed.” (website). Launched at Georgetown University in 2009, Neil and Arthur expanded to five schools in fall 2009, and doubled their program’s reach once more in the fall of 2011.

Introductory Session on Campus

Introductory Session on Campus

So what’s the program all about? The Compass Fellowship is the first and largest program in the U.S. using a mentorship-oriented approach to teaching social entrepreneurship on campuses. Applicants are first-year college students that want to launch a social venture and need support in doing so. Each participating campus has a Mentor team – older students with key entrepreneurial skill sets – that choose up to 15 participants each year. Once accepted into the program, Fellows

  • Take part weekly in the Fellowship’s curriculum through guest lectures, off-campus trips or group activities,
  • Create a venture through learning modules in personal growth and business skills
  • Benefit from mentorship through the Mentor team and – when necessary – external adviser
  • Have the opportunity of joining a regional Boot Camp to fine tune their ventures
  • Attend Shift Series, the annual national conference which gives all fellows the opportunity to present in front of a larger audience.

“The Compass Fellowship is different in that it is student-created and student-led. Each level of the organization – from Mentor teams to our National Council – is made up of students and alumni who have proven to be exceptional social entrepreneurs and want to give back to the ones who come after them. We take Fellows through extensive social entrepreneurship training and many stay on as peer-mentors for the next cohort(s).” Rebecca explains. “In focusing on first-year college students we hope to ingrain a values-oriented entrepreneurial mindset that is based on living consciously, participating proactively, committing unreasonably, and thinking adventurously.” The Fellowship’s is run on the basis of four fundamental teaching approaches:

  1. The N+1 Model: Each participant is guided by a mentor that is one step ahead, as Fellows or mentors within the organization.
  2. Experiential Learning: In small groups, learning modules and one-on-one mentor sessions, Fellows learn, observe, reflect and test.
  3. Differentiated Instruction: Part of the curriculum revolves around personal development to help Fellows recognize their values, strengths and weaknesses, to develop a plan for their future that fits their personality. Instead of classroom instruction typical for the university environment, Fellows engage in long-term relationships and discussions with their peers and mentors to foster their personal development.
  4. Student-based community: The program is run by students for students to create common ground for learning and collaboration.

As of 2016, the Compass Fellowship is active at twelve schools all across the US. To expand their program, Compass looks for

  • Universities that prove a campus-wide commitment to social innovation and impact
  • Students at those universities who embrace social innovation and entrepreneurship to tackle social challenges
  • Support of the university’s faculty and administration
  • Financial Commitment from the university ($40,000) and Fellows.

One of the highlights of the fellowship year is Shift Series – a two-day summit discuss socially conscious leadership of the next generation with students and alumni from leading national universities, social and tech entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and corporate executives. Compass Fellows have the opportunity to pitch their ventures and receive feedback from their peers and experts.

Workshop time

Introducing the Compass Fellowships mantra

I think it is incredible that Compass has scaled to a dozen schools across the US in six years thanks entirely to passionate and engaged volunteer mentors. I can only imagine what a strong network of social makers and shakers they have built up over the years. What I appreciate most about Compass’ approach – beyond this impressive community – is that they work with individuals during their “formative years” at college. Compass opens students’ minds to what it can mean to be an entrepreneur. In graining a socially entrepreneurial mindset this early-on, Fellows not only become aware of their role as change makers, but can tailor their university education according to their experiences and aspirations. While passion is not in short supply among first-year college students, I can’t help but wonder how structured and organized a program runs when led by students. Maybe I’ll come across a Compass Fellow some day and find out what it really looks like behind the scenes.

twitter@compassfellows

compassfellows.org

Spotlight: Rebecca Ballard

Rebecca long

What drives you?

“My faith and a yearning to make this world look more like the world I believe it should be. I have a vision which stems from my desire to promote social justice of how things can be much better in this world.”

How do you define social entrepreneurship?

“Having a product or service which generates the bulk of an organization or company’s revenue and also promotes social good, may be a for-profit, nonprofit, or hybrid model.”

Biggest SocEnt trend you have seen in the last 5 years?

“It is part of our generation, it helps define what it means to be a Millennial.

Background

In her first career, Rebecca worked six years as a government attorney before deciding that “the train [she] was on was not headed in the direction she wanted to go on.” Together with her husband who works at McKinsey, she moved to Asia. “We told them we would go anywhere in the world as long as it wasn’t in a war zone. We were ready for a big adventure. Before I knew it, we were in Malaysia.” With a background in math, the arts, religion, and law Rebecca sees herself as a jack of all trades: “Having a law degree gave me the tools I need to make an impact in this world, it’s a good background to have. But these days, I am more passionate about ending homelessness and promoting responsible consumerism.” I ask her how she coped with leaving a secure career path and following her passions. Rebecca explains: “I made a lot of mistakes and the wrong choices along the way. But through trial and error I figured out where my passion lies. One of the things I got interested in while abroad was market-based advocacy and deploying market-based solutions to social problems, a nascent calling which had been in me for a long time. That’s how I learned I wanted to work in social entrepreneurship.”

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@eRebeccaBallard

Aspen Urban Innovation Lab

Located within the famous Aspen Institute at D.C. Dupont Circle is the Aspen Urban Innovation Lab, an accelerator for so-called second stage social enterprises, originating from the network of Aspen entrepreneurs. The program being less than one year old I got a chance to catch up with Eric Lavin, Founding Manager of the Lab, and learn more about its mission.

Founded in 1950 as the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies, it promotes leadership and dialogue around today’s most critical issues through workshops, seminars, conferences, policy and leadership programs. One distinct characteristic of the Urban Innovation Lab is that participants are selected from a pool of innovators that have already gone through one of the Institute’s programs. Their social enterprises are already up and running; they join the Lab to scale urban innovation solutions. The upside to the Lab’s close affiliation with the Institute is the extensive network of professionals and seasoned entrepreneurs that are connected to Aspen through its variety of programs. The Lab leverages this network to recruit experts and mentors for their scaling social entrepreneurs. The cornerstones of the Lab are wrapped around this very network:   

  • Peer-learning (Aspen specific methods of facilitated discussion, workshops, team building, knowledge exchange)
  • Mentoring (from the Aspen network)
  • Connectivity (alignment with existing Aspen policy programs; facilitation of local communities of practice)
  • Elevation of the cause and work (highlight participants’ solutions using the Aspen platform, connections to policy makers)

Another distinct characteristic is that the agenda of the Lab is largely driven by its participants. “90% of what we do and work on is driven by what the entrepreneurs need and want at that point in time. We will not hold a two-hour accounting session for the whole cohort, simply because it is not relevant to all of them. The other 10% is made up by Aspen methods of value-based leadership.” says Eric.

Urban Innovation Lab Launch (August 27th, 2015)

Urban Innovation Lab Launch (August 27th, 2015)

All in all, the Innovation Lab runs for one year. As mentioned earlier, the Lab has been in operation for less than a year so it’s too early to start speculating about its impact or success quote. But that’s exactly why I’m excited about it – it’s new, it takes a different approach to founder-friendliness with their participant-driven content, and being located within the Aspen Institute it has great potential of plugging into the policy arena around its participants’ central challenge: urban innovation.

twitter@aspenurbanlab

aspeninstitute.org

Spotlight: Eric Lavin

Eric long

What drives you?

“Doing the most I can with what I have.”

How do you define social entrepreneurship?

“In essence, social entrepreneurship is any project that – at the core – has the mission to have a positive impact on society. To me, social entrepreneurship has a certain set of integrated metrics that cover its social impact and financial sustainability. These metrics should be at the forefront of your strategic plan. Every social entrepreneur should have a baseline metric that benchmarks his/her impact.”

Biggest SocEnt trend you have seen in the last 5 years?

“The number of social entrepreneurs and support organizations have gone up. The topic is more and more out there in the ether.

Background

“I was a teacher, then a merchant banker and startup CEO. At Aspen Ventures, I bring all these skills and experiences to the table.

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@ericscottsays

Spotlight: Ryan Ross

Ryan long

What drives you?

“When I go to bed each night, I want to know the world is a better place because I got up that morning.”

How do you define social entrepreneurship?

“A sustainable venture that is prioritizing intentional social impact, and is measuring and transparently reporting outcomes toward this goal.”

Biggest SocEnt trend you have seen in the last 5 years?

The actual growth in capital coming into the space: Obviously, a lot more needs to happen in that space. I feel as though even our government takes it seriously, they provide more funding for innovation than ever before. At the same time, foundations are more willing to do program-related investments and more and more people are concerned about doing work with purpose.”

Background

“I hold a Master in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government and I am currently the Program Manager for the Halcyon Incubator. Over the past year and a half, I’ve helped 32 social enterprises develop in our program, creating over 110 jobs and impacting over 70,000 people. I was a State Champion in… Debate back in Florida in High School. Which made me one of the coolest kids at school.”

twitter

@HalcyonIncubate

Spotlight: Amanda Jacobson

Amanda long

What drives you?

“Curiosity. Beyond wanting to do good, I am thrilled that just by being in this world I meet so many people, I travel, I see different ways of life and innovations. I think what drives me is the constant pursuit of innovation to meet the needs of those underserved by products and services out there so far.”

How do you define social entrepreneurship?

“To me, it is the sweet spot between creating social impact and generating revenue. I meet a lot of people with good intentions, but it comes down to what you can make work in the real world.”

Biggest SocEnt trend you have seen in the last 5 years?

“Seems like Latin American governments have really kickstarted the entrepreneurship scene. INADEM in Mexico, Innpulsa in Colombia, Startup Chile, and the government of Buenos Aires in Argentina have all provided funds to encourage entrepreneurs to go for it and start something; and I’m seeing great social entrepreneurs coming out of each of those countries.”

Background

Amanda obtained her undergraduate degree in business administration and psychology from the Goizueta Business School of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. “I felt my only options were accounting, consulting or finance on Wall Street. I knew early on that none of these would make me want to wake up in the morning. None of it seemed motivating.” Instead she joined the IDEX Fellowship in India: “I spent six months with the Sankalp Forum of Intellecap, sourcing social ventures from across the country and building relationships with incubators, network organizations and companies in Maharastra, Delhi, Gujarat and Kerala.”

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@AmandaJLA

Spotlight: Chris Cusack

Chris long

What drives you?

The opportunity to create novel solutions to address growing problems in our society.

How do you define social entrepreneurship?

“A social entrepreneur is a person who tackles a problem in society using, in the context of our work at Village Capital, a for-profit, scalable solution.”

Biggest SocEnt trend you have seen in the last 5 years?

“Over the last few years, we’ve begun to see an accelerated convergence between impact and traditional business, in large part driven by growing evidence that you can make an impact AND a market return. We’ve seen lots of recent evidence: Bain Capital just established their impact arm, led by former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, and Goldman Sachs bought Imprint Capital, a leader in impact investing.”

Background

Prior to Village Capital, Chris was a Venture for America Fellow with the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he worked on special projects for the executive team. Previously, he helped accelerate small community businesses in Northern Ireland with Lisburn People’s Support Project, where he also created an oral history database of individual experiences from The Troubles. As an undergraduate, he served as sports editor of The Chronicle, Duke University’s independent student newspaper. Chris holds degrees from Duke in public policy and economics

twitter

@ChrisCusack1

Spotlight: Ian Fisk

Ian long

What drives you?

Finding ideas that have both social and business value (e.g. the diversity of perspective) and bringing them to scale.”

How do you define social entrepreneurship?

“I very specifically don’t. Mentor Capital Network works with companies whose social, environmental, and/or cultural mission strengthens their financial margins.”

Biggest SocEnt trend you have seen in the last 5 years?

Support systems that help entrepreneurs solve problems in their own communities, rather getting advice from outsiders.”

Background

“My background can be described as building tools (serve-a-thons, computer networks, mentor networks) that help people strengthen their communities for 25 years. I served as the  first internet coordinator for a US presidential candidate and – in the 90s – was on the founding team of the largest all-volunteer serve-a-thon in the USA​. To date, I have engaged than 1,000 mentors to support and advise more than 300 operating social enterprises.”

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@IanTFisk

Village Capital

Day two in D.C. started with a glorious run around the Mall. I had heard that the city had been built on a swamp but unless you have tried to run five miles at 6 a.m. at 97% humidity, you haven’t had the full summer-in-the-city experience.

Between its founding in 2009 and 2013, Village Capital has delivered 40 programs across the US, Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America.  A fan of their peer- and problem-based approach (learn more below),  I was eager to talk to Chris Cusack, who is in charge of VilCap’s Special Projects, including its newest initiative: VilCap Communities. It struck me that you will only ever meet two or three team members in their D.C. headquarters, located within Impact Hub. The rest of the -people-strong team is dispersed around the world preparing the next program on the ground, recruiting experts, mentors, partners and entrepreneurs, or sharing their expertise at another conference.

First up, I owe Chris an apology: I peppered him with so many questions, I think he had to talk for an hour straight. Not even a chance to take a sip of that water. Sorry Chris! We had 60 minutes and I needed answers.

Monitor Deloitte, p. 27

Monitor Deloitte, p. 27

Village Capital has been running their most recent programs using a problem-based approach. Now, I know we like to throw that term around like a hot potato. After all, we are all in the business of solving problems, right? After my conversation with Chris, allow me to enlighten you: Village Capital first works with sector experts and investors to identify a social and/or environmental problem that entrepreneurs are well-suited to address. Once they’ve determined their problem statement, their local teams begin to seek out relevant stakeholders that are affected by or interested in solving the issue. That way, the program manager on the ground builds up an ecosystem around the issue and identifies entrepreneurs that address it from different angles. Village Capital facilitates connections and relationships with suitable partners and mentors, develops a curriculum aligned with the issue itself and entrepreneurs’ needs. A review “of its first 400 impact enterprises revealed that the most consistent reason enterprises failed is that they were ‘solutions looking for problems’” (Monitor Deloitte, p. 28). When I ask Chris for an example of how Village Capital builds communities to support entrepreneurs, he shares some insights from their agricultural program in Kentucky: “Once you look beyond Silicon Valley, New York, or Boston, entrepreneurs face limited resources to grow and scale their businesses. But Louisville, for example, has a series of unique resources that make it the best place in the country to start an agriculture or logistics business. Our goal is to help communities come together around their unique local strengths to support a group of entrepreneurs–and Louisville has more to offer to agriculture entrepreneurs than anywhere else in the US.”

Monitor Deloitte, p. 28

Monitor Deloitte, p. 28

Secondly, the decision which two entrepreneurs of any given cohort receive investment to move their ideas forward is taken by no-one else but the cohort itself. In the aforementioned report, VilCap states “Giving entrepreneurs investment decision rights encourages a more critical, honest, and candid assessment of business models.” Chris adds: “There is a different dynamic in the room when participants know that they as peers have a say in who receives investment to take their venture to the next level. Their feedback is critical yet fruitful and they work hard because they all know what’s at stake.” The selected two enterprises receive $50,000 as investment based on six criteria:

  1. entrepreneur and team
  2. product
  3. customers and competition
  4. financials
  5. outcomes (impact and scales), and
  6. investor liquidity

According to VilCap this democratized model of investment “gives a fair shot to all entrepreneurs, regardless of background, ZIP code, or prior access to opportunity. The best solutions, not the best pitches, resumes, or connections, tend to get funding.” (website).

Thirdly, Village Capital doesn’t speak of social entrepreneurs. Chris: “We work with problem-solvers, impact has to be at the core of the business. In some cases, the term ‘social entrepreneurs” sends a negative signal to traditional investors. For that reason, many of our entrepreneurs would never identify as “social,” even though their businesses are aimed at solving problems that are incredibly important to the future of society.” I have had a lot of controversies about the usage of and need for the differentiation of the term ‘social entrepreneur’; I wish that I could refer to “problem solvers” and be understood by anyone outside the space. I still think they work with social entrepreneurs, call it what you will.

Some other fun facts about Village Capital:

  • They work with for-profit ventures only. Prerequisite is that they have not raised more than US$ 1 million in outside capital.
  • Their enterprises have a survival rate of 93%, have served over 6 million customers, created some 6,000 jobs and raised about US$ 80 million in funding.
  • They are constantly growing.

Village Capital has been performing well and is engaged in some really interesting research. Pick up Bridging the Pioneer Gap, Accelerating Impact or this article on Management Innovation Exchange to learn more about their approach.

twitter@VillageCapital

vilcap.com

Mentor Capital Network

On the late afternoon of my first day in D.C. I found myself walking through Shaw, leaving the business-like city centre behind. Lots of people were on the street, school kids were roaming the sidewalk in their yellow uniforms – I was in the middle of the end-of-day buzz with one more interview to go. Arriving at WeWork Wonder Bread Co-Working space, I was welcomed by Ian Fisk – founder and long-time Executive Director of Mentor Capital Network, formerly William James Foundation. We sat on the terrace on the third floor overlooking the busy streets below. The sun was beginning to set while the WeWork staff were setting up for an event inside.

Mentor Capital Network supports for-profit social entrepreneurs in building their companies by matching them with mentors from their network of about one thousand seasoned entrepreneurs, investors and partners from other sectors. Their main program – the William James Sustainable Business Plan Collaboration – works with 100 to 150 entrepreneurs each year providing them with mentoring, feedback, and cash investment (for winners). Ian explains: “Out of approximately 500 applicants, we choose the best 100 to 150 for-profits that are driven by a social and/or environmental mission that makes their company stronger.”

Mission drives Margin: We focus on for-profit startups with a social/environmental mission. Click To Tweet

For each participating team, we assemble a mentor team of ten to fifteen experts from the entrepreneur’s field who we think can provide helpful feedback and experience. We choose professionals who understand the challenges the startup is facing and who are not competitors. The mentors have three options of getting involved once they have provided their feedback:

  1. Stay anonymous and not be contacted again (8%)
  2. Available to answer specific questions about their feedback (42%)
  3. Get more involved (over 50%)

Based on the feedback, the startups decide who they want to work with, then we connect them. During the last round, one of the mentors called me and said ‘I really don’t have time for this, but I will be their CFO until they find someone to fill this position.’ The mentors who decide to get more involved take this responsibility very seriously.”

Mentor Capital Network's Annual Gathering 2015

Mentor Capital Network’s Annual Gathering 2015

I ask Ian what he thinks a successful support program should have: “Most importantly, it shouldn’t get in the way of entrepreneurs running their business. It is important to stay connected and to help them think through the roles/positions that they will need to run their business. Beyond that, I believe support programs should focus on the company as a whole, not just the funding possibilities. It’s not all about getting that first funding.”

What about the social entrepreneurship landscape in D.C.? “There is a strong ecosystem for social enterprise in D.C. The Net Impact chapter, for example, has been active for 13 years and gives people in the industry a gathering point. A few of us supporters get together every two months or so at Impact Hub to talk about what’s going on, it’s informal.”

The advantage of Mentor Capital Network is that they have been around for a decade and have managed to build up a strong network of mentors around the world who like to support startups through their industry knowledge and entrepreneurial expertise. Ian gave a striking example: “If you are an entrepreneur who has built a solar plant in Uganda, we will bring you back as a mentor for an entrepreneur who wants to do the same in Pakistan. Entrepreneurs love sharing their knowledge. Plus, they have a good grip of what the challenges are.” The beauty of networks is that they grow stronger through personal connections and such positive mentoring experiences.

While mentoring is an immensely crucial support factor for evolving startups, I’m not sure that it is a stand-alone mechanism. It is less suitable for early-stage startups who haven’t learned their trade yet than for those who have been running for one to three years and are looking to refine their business model or scale up. In that sense, I think Mentor Capital Network provides a great service in enhancing social capital in the sector.

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@mentorcapnet

mentorcapitalnetwork.strikingly.com