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CEO students gain valuable business experience — and seed money, too

CARBONDALE — Eight Jackson County high school students sat down with Jackson County bankers Wednesday to learn their fates for their plans and potential funding for their small businesses.

These students are all part of the Jackson County Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, or CEO, Program.

In the class, students are charged with creating their own small business, writing the business plan, securing funding and running the business. On Wednesday, four Southern Illinois banks — which are investors in the program — sent eight bankers to sit down with the students to see if the plan was prepared well enough for a small business loan.

Ken Stoner, class facilitator, said bankers were specifically asked to treat the students just as they would any business owner looking for a loan.

Bank of Carbondale, First Southern Bank, SIU Credit Union and First Bank and Trust Company of Murphysboro were all in attendance.

The eight students each met with two different bankers, spending a half hour with each person at the Dunn-Richmond Center in Carbondale.

According to Stoner, all the students were fully funded.

Although the bankers were not actually funding the students, they were making actual decisions on whether or not the students received capital to start their businesses, Stoner said.

The students have generated capital through a micro-business and class business during the first portion of the class, he said. That money was placed into an account and in order for the students to gain access to any seed money for their individual businesses, they had to write a full business plan and get it approved by a banker.

If the students were denied at this stage, they would’ve had one more opportunity, and if they were declined again, they would have been responsible for generating their own seed capital, Stoner said.

The seed money in the account generated in the first part of the class will be given to the students in the form of a check to cover initial business costs. It is a zero-interest loan and has to be paid back within a year. Stoner said that money coming back will serve as an investment to the next year’s class.

Bob Bleyer, president of Bank of Carbondale, said he was very surprised by how well-thought-out the business plans were and how well-versed the students were.

“I asked them the exact same questions as if a regular business person were to come into the bank,” he said. “They answered the questions just as good as, or even better, than some people.”

There was a sense of relief after the individual meetings were over and the students seemed determined to move forward with the businesses.

“It was a huge sigh of relief as soon as they marked the X on the line for approval,” said Zach Jones, senior at Murphysboro High School. “It felt like all the work you put in was all worth it.”

Joshua Loyd, a senior at Carbondale Community High School, said the experience was “eye-opening.”

“We were able to see and get suggestions on how we could improve … from a banker’s perspective as to what they absolutely want,” he said. “In the future, if we want to go to a bank for another business loan, we will be completely prepared.”

Stoner said the students will now begin making their products and expensing initial business costs. Also, they will be getting ready for the CEO Trade Show on April 28.

The show will allow students to showcase their business by explaining their product and being able to sell it.

The Jackson County show will take place at the Dunn-Richmond Center.

Source: Dustin Duncan, The Southern Illinoisan 

Email: dustin.duncan@thesouthern.com 

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