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A new school year is about three weeks away, and high school students in six Southern Illinois counties will have an opportunity to participate in a different type of program for this area.

The Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, or CEO, program offers students hands-on business experience and a chance to build their own start-up over the course of a year. It will be available to students in Jackson, Williamson, Union, Perry, Randolph and Saline counties this school year.

The program, which started in 2008, is already in place in more than a dozen counties in Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana. It will be available to students in about 125 high schools in the fall, said Craig Lindvahl, executive director of the Midstate Institute of Entrepreneurship, which oversees and promotes the program.

The program is primarily funded by business investors from the communities in each county. The class is open to high school juniors and seniors, who are selected by a board in each county. Lindvahl said the application process is rigorous.

Classes never meet inside a classroom. Instead, they meet in a different business each school quarter. The class meets 90 minutes to two hours each day, and it provides two high school credits to the student.

In the second half of the class, students are given the opportunity to start their own businesses. The students draft a business plan, look for investors and generate a profit. At the end of the semester, the program hosts an annual trade show to showcase their businesses.

The program is not only new to the students taking the course, but also the facilitators teaching the course.

“It is going to be run very differently than the other classrooms,” Ken Stoner, Jackson County CEO facilitator said.

In Williamson County, Jenna Jamieson is the facilitator, and she will focus on communication the first week of the class.

She said she is going to cover handshakes, eye contact, introducing other people, and introducing themselves.

Jamieson said will have the students create a biography page they can post to the program’s website, along with creating a LinkedIn page.

“It’ll be something to work on throughout the semester,” she said. “I want them to be familiar with creating it, and what type of professional networking it can provide for them.”

She said students will meet at the Herrin Chamber of Commerce through the first quarter of the class, and then at the Williamson County Regional Airport in Marion for the second. Each program will meet in a different business for each of the four quarters in the school year.

Jamieson also has tours planned for The Hub Recreation Center and 17th Street Barbeque in Marion.

Larry West is the facilitator for the Perry County CEO program, and he is excited for the opportunity to lead this contemporary style of learning.

“There is going to be a learning curve for myself and the students,” he said. “I like this non-traditional style of learning for the kids. I expect all of the students to think in a different way.”

West said the students will be responsible for a class business and an individual business.

“I want the class business to be successful. That will provide seed money for the individual businesses,” he said.

With six counties launching programs this year, West said it is a good time for the entire region.

“It is really exciting that we have so many Southern Illinois CEO programs starting in the same year,” he said.

Evelyn Bailey, Union County CEO facilitator, said her team will visit as many business luncheons as their schedules will allow. She said the orientation recently showed large amounts of excitement from students.

“You could feel so much positive energy in the room,” she said.

Beth Lane will be the facilitator for Saline County CEO, and April Nail will lead the Randolph County CEO students through their first CEO experience.

Each individual CEO program has a website that lists its investors and ways to invest in the program itself.

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on twitter: @zd2000



Dustin Duncan is a reporter for The Southern Illinoisan covering Carbondale.

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