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Trade Show caps off first year for CEO class

Several photos of picturesque country barns and a sunset awash in red and orange decorated the booth that Collin Fausnaugh had set up in the Highland Woods Community Center to display his budding business.

Portray the Province, explained the South Knox Middle/High School senior, is all about capturing the beauty of something that you see every day.

"We have a lot of people in our area that drive by very unique things and they want that in their homes," he said. "So wer took pictures of old barns, old buildings, some of the old gyms that people grew up playing in, and we printed them off.
 
"That way, they can have a little bit of fresh air in their own home."
 
Fausnaugh joined his fellow members of Knox County's inaugural Creating Entrepreneuerial Opportunities class for a Trade Show at the community center on Wednesday, an event that was designed to showcase the businesses that CEO students had created as part of their second semester projects.
 
Each student was on hand to talk about their businesses and feature their products or services, which were also available for purchase.
 
North Knox senior Brilee Albrecht, for example, showcased a business called Brilee's Bundles, which assemebles and ships a few different kinds of care packages.
 
The idea for her business was sparked when Albrecht delivered a "sunshine care package" to a friend struggling with a break-up. The friend thought the gesture was "amazing," Albrecht said, so when the CEO students were asked to create their own business, that memory got her gears turning.
 
"I wanted to do something that's creative, something that you can't just go out and buy, something that's more convenient for people that are busy," she said. "So I started out with the basic college dorm packages and kind of expanded to do kid packages, I have holiday packages, and then the sunshine package, too."
 
Lexi Wilson, on the other hand, turned to one of her longtime passions when she formulated her own business plan. The South Knox junior has always been a fan of soccer, so Wilson created Kick It!, which provides soccer lessons for children between the ages of 6 and 14.
 
"It's $10 per lesson, or you can pay for four lessons ahead of time and that would be $30 instead of $40," she said. "I love soccer and I've coached quite a few teams, so this is just something that came easily to me."
 
In the booth next to Wilson's, Rahul Bajaj showcased a venture called Bird's Eye Photography. The Rivet High School junior uses a drone to take photos and videos of real estate, he explained, giving his clients a unique "bird's eye" view of their homes.
 
"Big cities in places like California and New York use this for real estate," he said. "I thought we could really incorporate that here, even in a small town like Vincennes."
 
As the CEO students mingled with local business people and members of the community, Kristi Utt was beaming with pride.
 
"They have gone from being individuals from four different schools to a CEO family. They've learned how to work together, be teammates, be lifelong friends," said Utt, who is the facilitator of the program that's run by a nonprofit arm of the Knox County Development Corp. "They've just really rocked it."
 
Without any guidance or tips from Utt, the students came up with the businesses themselves, developed their business plans, designed their own logos, did their own marketing, and set up the booths themselves as well.
 
They're really taken the program and ran with it, Utt said.
 
"This isn't about me telling them what to do, it's about them finding their own way, and they really have," she said. "I'm just really proud of them. They've become great young adults. They have become what we anticipated this program should do for them."
 
The program was designed to connect high school students with local businesses. Along the way, the CEO class has learned about everything from the importance of communication to just how diverse Knox County's business landscape is.
 
"My biggest takeaway was the communication with people, that day-to-day interaction with business people in the business world, how to talk with them and how to express yourself in a professional way," said Fausnaugh, the class president. "That's not always easy, especially for high-school kids going out into the real world."
 
Fostering relationships not only with local business leaders, but with students from other schools has been one of the most enjoyable aspects for Albrecht.
 
The experience has also opened her eyes to just how many businesses call Knox County home.
 
"I've been able to get a lot of connections, too," she said. "I'm getting a jump start in front of every college freshman trying to get into business school, and I'm also getting the connections I need if I want to stay around Knox County."
 
Instilling an awareness of what opportunities are out there in the country, Utt noted, was another key goal of the program -- and based on students' rave reviews, this experience has checked off every box.
 
"They've worked so hard and they're really aware of the community now, they're aware of our investors, they're aware of the places we've been and they've made those contacts," she said. "I hear people now who say, 'I saw one of your CEO students and they literally got up from the table to come over and shake my hand and have a conversation.'
 
"It's just amazing how they've transformed."
 
Founded by the Effingham, Illinois-based Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship, members of the KCDC a year ago voted to move forward with implementing the county's first CEO Program.
 
There are already successful programs in Daviess County and Lawrence and Crawford counties in Illinois.
 
KCDC members agreed to pay the $25,000 startup fee, but later received financial support from 45 business owners willing to make a $3,000 financial commitment. 

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