Local CEO program for high schoolers set for 2019 start

A Piatt County based program to encourage and train budding entrepreneurs is officially a go. The Sangamon Valley CEO Program will begin next fall for a group of about 15 high school seniors.

Enrollment will be open to students in the Monticello, DeLand-Weldon, Argenta-Oreana, Bement and Cerro Gordo school districts. The $25,000 payment to the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship in Effingham has been made, and work has begun to raise the $30,000 to $50,000 needed annually to cover operating costs.

Sangamon CEO board member Steve Tenhouse said hopes are the effort encourages youth to eventually own and/or operate businesses close to where they grew up.

“Brain drain is a real issue, to where we need to make sure our communities stay healthy, that people continue to live there, maybe grow their businesses there. And this is a great way to do that and to raise awareness,” said Tenhouse at a meeting held Oct. 4 at the Bement Lions Community Center, held to spread the word on the CEO program.

The group of 10 people heard from Douglas County CEO graduate Holly Olson, who started her business Specialty Stitchery last year, and continues to operate it as she attends Eastern Illinois University. She said a facilitator helps encourage and equip them, but that a majority of the decisions are made by students. Accountability practices are also put in place to help participants more quickly adapt to real world work environments.

“If you were ever running late, it was treated more like a job. It was our job to text and let (facilitator) Stef (McMahon) know that ‘hey, I’ve got a fever of 102,’ or if we were running late due to the weather. So it was definitely a lot of communication on our part,” commented Olson.

The class typically meets from about 7:30 to 9:30 a.m., with students required to arrive by 7:15 a.m. Locations of classes vary to take advantage of businesses and community locations throughout the CEO area. For Douglas County, its 13 students toured Syngenta Seeds in Tuscola, Yoder’s Kitchen in Arthur Sloan Implement in Atwood, a veterinary clinic, ADM and other locations, and did collaborative planning work in areas that included a church, bank and community center.

Participants were required to plan a group business/event aimed at funding the individual efforts they would undertake later in the school year. For Douglas County that was a steak dinner and reverse raffle.

Individual businesses formed by the students – which were highlighted at an end-of-the-school trade show – included T-shirt making, the sale of egg rolls, online businesses and even a special shampoo for goats that one student continues to sell at livestock shows.

McMahon said one of her most difficult tasks is allowing students to take the reigns, even if that means the occasional failure.

“Part of the program is letting them fail, and that is a real important part for the board and facilitator. It’s hard, but we all know you learn more from your failures,” said McMahon.

“They didn’t know I was at home filling my car with everything I thought they forgot,” she quipped. “You have to take duck tape!”

Monticello High School graduate Kevin Feeney, who returned to Piatt County after college to work at the Burgess & Cline insurance agency in Monticello, wondered if this program would have kept some of his classmates local.

“I’m curious if this were around when I was going through, if all my buds who have good jobs now but don’t work in the Monticello community, I’m curious if that would have made a difference in keeping them here,” he said.

The program aims to attract 30 to 50 investors at $1,000 apiece per year to support the program. Mentors are also being sought. Additional information is available at www.sangamonvalleyceo.com.

Categories (2):News, Education

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