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Hancock County CEO

When Hancock County decided to partner with the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship to start their first CEO Program, they knew there were bound to be ups and downs.

Now, one year later, with 16 students who are owners of businesses, Facilitator Christine Murphy knows the CEO program is changing both individual lives and the community atmosphere.

Murphy, who was subbing in Hancock County Schools a year ago, found out about the CEO program when fellow teachers told her she would be a great facilitator. Not knowing much about the program, Murphy went home to research the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship, other CEO programs and Executive Director Craig Lindvahl.

“The one thing that I tell people over and over is that when I got on Midland’s website at the time, it had a little box with bubbles on the homepage that said, ‘Think Outside the Box,’” Murphy said.

Murphy, who also taught kindergarten through sixth grade students enrolled in a “College for Kids” program how to “Think Outside the Box,” was immediately intrigued by the CEO program, and applied for the facilitator position without knowing much about what she was getting into.

A month later, during facilitator training, Murphy called her husband to tell him, “I finally found a group of people I connect with. It’s not that I haven’t connected with people because I’m not anti-social, it was just people who think differently.”

“We went around the room and everyone had been involved in a variety of jobs,” she continued. “Your resume feels a little jumbled and you’ve done a lot of things. I realized that I fit into this group of thinkers who are different.”

Murphy, who enjoys teaching, said the CEO program offered a hands-on style of learning to students. Although she taught the students subject matter, the students did not learn in a homework to test format.

“I have found that the kids learn stuff because they want to and they need to,” she said. “They’re trying to plan their business, maybe they hate math or accounting, but they need to figure that out to understand what their profit and loss statement looks like. They learn it because it’s real life, and not because it’s somebody saying they need to learn it because there’s a test of Friday.”

Over the nine-month course, Murphy said students transform as they learned a new way to think and communicate with their peers and business owners.

The Hancock County CEO program pulls from four public high schools within Hancock County. Each program that uses the Midland Institute CEO model is required to help students learn about how to start a business by completing a team fundraising project, hosting an event, writing a business plan, being approved for a business loan, starting a business and hosting a Trade Show in the spring. Students also meet a variety of local business owners who talk to the class about business topics or visit local establishments to understand what happens behind the scenes.

Murphy said many students drove past businesses in their local community day after day, but didn’t understand the products or services the business offered. In a small, rural community, such as Hancock County, students didn’t realize that some of the local “mom and pop” shops they grew up around were actually doing business in the global economy.

“Our community was so wonderful and supportive and welcoming,” Murphy said. “Our students had so many opportunities this year. I know part of that is because it was the first year, but I was hardly ever turned down for anything. They were so willing to share their expertise with us.”

“Students now say, ‘I think I’d like to come back to Hancock County.’ ‘I can see why people would want to live here.’ ‘I want to live here.’ ‘Before this class, I thought I was going to get out of dodge, but now I think I want to come back.’ I know that’s part of the underlying goals or one of the by-products of the CEO Program, but it’s neat when it actually happens,” Murphy said.

Of the 16 students, only a handful knew what business they would like to start at the beginning of the year. Through local leaders coming into the classroom to talk to students, they learned that a business does not have to be the next million dollar idea, but businesses based off of an individual’s passion can also be profitable.

“A lot of our speakers kept telling the students to find your passion or something you love to do,” Murphy said. “They heard that over and over, probably until they were sick of hearing it. We emphasized that you don’t have to develop the next huge thing. We focused on doing the research, writing a business plan, developing the marketing and finding something you love and it’ll all work out.”

Hancock County CEO will send two students, Seniors Jessica Fink & Emily Conover to Midland Institute’s National CEO Trade Show in Effingham, IL on June 13.

Fink knew from the beginning she wanted to follow her passion of photography for her business, Almost Magic Photography. While Fink’s business taking senior, family and children’s pictures has also taken off, she took on a side business of photo booth photography that can be printed or shared through social media. Fink plans to continue this business throughout college as photo booths are popular at weddings, prom and birthday parties.

But Conover had a harder time deciding what business niche might work for her. Over time, she decided she loved crafts and sewing, and thus began her business, Bundle of Joy.Conover has seen success with her decision to sell custom receiving blankets, burp rags, pacifier clips, infant hair bows and nursing covers. She also began making diaper cakes, which are very popular. And surprisingly enough, she has had several orders for Depends cakes, which have been given as gag gifts over the last couple months.

Overall Murphy said the 2015-2016 Hancock CEO program would do it all again.

“It was hard, but it was well worth it,” she said. “They’ve learned so many life lessons. I don’t know if they will truly understand the gift Hancock County CEO investors and CEO has given them until they get away from it for a few years. Down the road, they will realize they had this unique opportunity when they were 17 and 18 years old.”

“By the end of the year, they are almost different people,” she said.

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