No business challenge is more daunting these days than identifying new growth markets and developing long-term relationships with the customers in them. Anyone facing that challenge would do well to pay attention to a company being launched this month in Philadelphia. Called Compass Rose, it is funded and owned by National Liberty Corp., a Philadelphia-based insurance company, which hopes the new business will help it establish long-term ties with woman entrepreneurs.

The project is the brainchild of National Liberty senior vice-president Rebecca Maddox, who set out to investigate the market in October 1990, holding a series of focus groups with women who either had their own companies or were thinking of going into business for themselves. As it turned out, none of them had much interest in insurance. What concerned them was the dearth of assistance and advice targeted specifically to women in business. "Women were telling us they wanted a resource to help them run their businesses and maximize the personal and professional fulfillment they received from those businesses," says Maddox.

Enter Compass Rose, whose mission is to become the nation's leading educational and informational resource for woman business owners. It will offer programs to help women make informed decisions about going into business, to provide them with intensive three-month training in business skills, and to encourage networking. Virtually every aspect of the program has been designed by woman business owners themselves, who will also make up the majority of the faculty and serve as mentors to the participants. In addition, Compass Rose will offer loans, technical and legal assistance, and -- oh, yes -- insurance products, thereby fulfilling its original mandate.

Whether Compass Rose will live up to its promise remains to be seen, but National Liberty has already set an example that other companies should emulate. It is placing the emphasis where it belongs: on long-term relationships and customers' needs. Selling insurance is the by-product. Equally striking is the process that created Compass Rose in the first place. No committees. No blue-ribbon panel of experts. No five-year feasibility study. Just Rebecca Maddox, who is not only a savvy marketer but also a person with a sense of mission about the company she is helping to launch.

For more information about Compass Rose, call 800-678-7930.