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CEO products make big debut

When Avery Elder was figuring out what her product would be for her Effingham County Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities class, her mentor Teresa McCloy posed a question.

“I asked, “What’s the problem you want to solve?’’ said McCloy. “‘What’s something in your own life you would be passionate about?’”

For Elder, that meant one thing: how to alleviate the smell of stinky feet.

“I actually have really smelly feet myself,” said Elder, who is also a dancer. “When I came up with my product for CEO, I wanted it to solve a problem and I wanted to do something no one had ever seen at the trade show.”

Fast forward to Tuesday when Elder, along with 39 fellow CEOs, displayed their products at the 10th annual CEO Trade Show at the Thelma Keller Convention Center. In addition to Elder’s deodorizing shoe hook, other products ranged from chocolate truffles to wireless chargers and custom-made coasters.

“There are a lot of unique offerings here tonight,” said Kristy Sayers, one of the facilitators for CEO. “I think it shows their creativity and their entrepreneurial mindset that they’ve picked up this year with CEO.”

Elder had to work through several prototypes before finally deciding on a plastic hook with small film canisters filled with charcoal and tree tea oil attached at each end.

“They work together to deodorize,” explained Elder, a senior at St. Anthony High School. “The tea tree oil lasts about two to three weeks and then you can always put more in it. And then the charcoal lasts for a couple months.”

With the help of her father, Elder was also able to come up with an alternate method for creating the hooks. Originally, she was using 3-D printing, but each hook took about five hours to make. On Tuesday, the hooks, along with a colorful gym bag, were available for purchase.

“Everybody should buy one,” said attendee Cathy Wenthe about the hook. “Everybody has stinky feet.”

Fellow CEO students Megan Hodge and Jake Brandt, also from St. Anthony High School, displayed their custom-designed signs and decor through their joint venture J&M String Art and Wood Burning.

The two seniors said they teamed up after learning each was interested in string art.

“We wanted to do a spin on it, so we decided to incorporate the wood burning,” said Hodge.

“It’s great to see the finished product,” added Jake. “We’ve been working on this since December.”

Tyler Higgs, a Dieterich High School senior, decided on Elevation Studios, which produces real estate drone videos.

“On average, Realtors, when they use any kind of drone video, they sell their houses 68 percent faster,” said Higgs, who will go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall. “But only 10 percent of Realtors are using this.”

Patrick Tkachuk, a senior at Altamont High School, was showing off his business tKups, which sells bamboo travel cups, the profits from which he shares with the Altamont band.

“I’ve been in the band in Altamont ever since fifth grade,” said Tkachuk. “I knew a good selling point for me was going to be giving something back to them. So we ran a fundraiser with the band and the students went out and sold the cups and they got to keep 30 percent of everything from the fundraiser…15 percent I sell from here on out will (still) go to the band.”

The CEO students agree the biggest benefit of the program is how it is preparing them for college.

“This class has prepared me immensely for that,” said Elder, who plans on attending Indiana University’s Kelly School of Business for a marketing major. “Doing something like this, I could never have even thought of doing it a year ago. CEO has guided me in many ways.”

“This has kind of opened my eyes,” said Higgs. “I feel like I can do a lot more things. In college next year if I come up with an idea, I feel a lot more able to implement it.”

“I think it sets them apart when they get to college,” added Lisa Teichmiller, another CEO facilitator. “They’re light years ahead of their peers in just being able to talk to people and have confidence. Just think about standing here as a 17- or 18-year-old student promoting a business you created in the last couple of months. It’s pretty amazing.”

When the CEO program first started, it consisted of one class with up to 20 students. Now, it has two classes with 20 students in each meeting five days a week from 7:30-9 a.m.

With the CEO trade show having grown immensely in 10 years, both Teichmiller and Sayers say for its continued success the community must remain committed to the program.

“We have such a giving community,” said Teichmiller. “Right now we have 93 investors and probably 40 percent of those have been investors the whole time. So when you look at it from that standpoint, it’s just a great program.”

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