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Friday Feature: Aidan Shepard, Candy Compass, and a Startup-Launching Sweet Tooth

By Nikki Kroushl on April 6, 2018

Aidan Shepard of Candy Compass with the Spring 2018 box

"I've always liked candy," Aidan Shepard says, uttering the understatement of the week. Almost three years ago, he founded Candy Compass, a subscription box for candy from different countries around the world. He's also seventeen.

His other hobby is travel: "I've always been interested in exploring the world and other foods outside America," he adds. "That opportunity came when my dad was in China on a work trip."

Shepard visited his dad for a couple of weeks and experienced the sweet tooth of another culture. He brought some of the candy back to show his friends. At the same time, he had subscribed to Loot Crate, a geek subscription box marketed to gamers and nerds. He loved the idea of getting a package once a month full of products he was interested in. Thus the idea for Candy Compass was born.

Shepard recalls one summer evening, spent drawing and playing games and toying with the idea of Candy Compass on a rooftop with his dad. The business plan wouldn't come to fruition until almost a year later, when he entered the 2015 Chancellor's High School Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition.

"It was a lot of fun," Shepard remembers. "I've learned you just have to get out there. You can't be nervous getting in front of people and presenting the idea. They might hate it, or they might love it."

Luckily, the judges at the competition loved it, and Shepard--along with his best friend and then business partner, Jackson Smades--won the $1,500 first prize.

Aidan Shepard and Jackson Smade win 2015 HS comp
Aidan Shepard and Jackson Smades win first prize at the 2015 Chancellor's High School Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition.

"At the time, I didn't have a product," Shepard says. "I had the concept. I had a couple prototypes I presented there, but it's changed a lot. The money [from the competition] went into the box."

The box is bright red, a little smaller than a shoebox, and features a cartoon piece of wrapped candy with a cute face. Shepard mentions how he's worked with a company to develop an entire brand book, as well as a promotional video coming soon for the third and most recent candy box: Mexico. The Mexico box will include candies, but also cultural information about the country and a letter from a "penpal" based in Mexico who will explain the significance of each candy and talk about her life. Candy Compass boxes aren't meant to be an excuse to gorge on sugar--they're a novel learning experience, beloved by both children and their parents.

From the beginning three years ago to now, Candy Compass's goals have changed. Originally, Shepard wanted to target American kids and develop a monthly box. But after realizing that he's clocking purchases from Mexico, Canada, and India as well, he's excited about the possibility of expanding outside the U.S. Right now Candy Compass focuses on quarterly boxes, with a plan to slowly phase into monthly boxes as the business grows. The Spring 2018 box, full of Mexican candy, comes after a box of Japanese candy and a box of British candy.

The Candy Compass box design.
The Candy Compass box has a bright, kid-friendly look.

Shepard has changed, too.

"I've practiced public speaking a lot," he says. "Being in [the Chancellor's competition], presenting to the Board of Directors for UNCW--I just have a lot more opportunities to get in front of people and speak."

Earlier this year, Shepard had the chance to meet with Chris Mathers of Leveragent, who previously taught seminars at the CIE about pitching and storytelling for startups.

"I got connected with Chris Mathers through the CIE," Shepard says. "He helped me create a pitch deck to pitch to potential investors. The CIE's been helpful all-around--there's a lot of contacts here, a lot of people to talk to."

He adds, "It's been cool to know that people want to support me because I'm young." But: "There's a lot of stuff I can't do on my own, because you have to be 18 or 21. With becoming an LLC, I had to have my parents cosign. A lot of wholesalers don't want to work with a kid, and they don't want to work with a small business." Shepard recalls participating in the 2015 Cucalorus CONNECT 10x10, a challenge that pairs filmmakers with small business to create a promotional video in three days. He was the youngest person there by far.

"It hasn't made it too difficult, I don't think, but what is difficult is being in high school," Aidan explains. "It would be awesome to be here in the CIE all the time… it's a great opportunity. But I do have to take care of [high school] first."

Despite the juggling act, Shepard feels he's achieved some balance. His plans for the future, while they include scaling Candy Compass up to a monthly subscription and establishing a concrete system for developing and shipping boxes, also include college.

"I'd like to go to UNCW," he says, citing the Cameron School of Business, the proximity to his home near Topsail, and, of course, the beach. He'd also like to be active with clubs and extracurriculars.

"I know I'm not going to have more time [in college]," he says, laughing. His mother, an accountant at Corning, has said she'd be interested in running Candy Compass full-time if it got to that point. But if Candy Compass grew enough to be a full-time, income-earning venture for Shepard himself?

"If it got to that point, I might have to think about it," he says. "I can't expect [Candy Compass] to be the rest of my life, but it would be a tough decision."

That said, the business bug has bitten Shepard good. Now a high school junior, he'll be competing once again in the UNCW Chancellor's High School Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition taking place at the CIE on April 21st. With Candy Compass, he competed in the for-profit track, but this time he'll pitch a nonprofit that donates honey sticks to Nourish NC and other nonprofits that help improve food choices for kids. Shepard is a beekeeper, like his grandfather, and has been making and eating honey sticks for years.

"I thought, why not donate them?" he explains. "It's an easy item to donate, I have easy to access honey, it's good to put in kids' backpacks because of the health benefits, and it's a good alternative to sugar…"

A little ironic, perhaps, considering Candy Compass's business plan. But at the heart of what Aidan Shepard does is providing new, educational experiences for children.

The Spring 2018 Mexico box is available now for only $18 on the Candy Compass website. You can follow Candy Compass on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

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