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Mower CEO Program's first year raises future entrepreneurial leaders

About 16 students sat in the Hormel Historic Home, learning about the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur in the new Mower CEO Program. Having launched just this year, these high school students will be learning about investment, creating a business plan, and marketing strategies to help shape and build their own businesses.

Geovanna Sandoval, a post-secondary education student who attends Austin High School and Riverland Community College, plans to use her experiences with the Mower CEO Program to help further her family’s desire to build a business in Austin.

Sandoval cited her grandfather’s bakery in Mexico for fueling her desire to help her mother create a business in town that could become successful, and to learn what goes into expanding a business. She also hopes to become an event planner to help families from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

“It’s a great opportunity to help my mom,” she said. “I’m hoping to help my mom get our bakery.”

The Mower CEO Program is a year-long, two-credit high school course with pending college dual accreditation. A facilitator challenges each student and is in charge of the class. Funding for each student project comes from business partners, the Community Foundation and more.

Students meet in local businesses and change locations throughout the duration of the program. Doing so assists participants to establish an identity created by their CEO experience, and can further help establish an appreciation for the county’s professional work environment. In order to be selected, students must submit a written request for admission, letters of recommendation and complete an entrepreneurial profile, according to the program’s website.

Investors from around Mower County contribute a yearly investment of $1,000, which provides the necessary resources for a current-year facilitator salary and other expenses, which also sustains the program for future students. Those who invest in the program also provide site tours, act as guest speakers and develop mentor relationships.

CEO mentors also help students immerse themselves in real-life learning situations with the opportunity to take risks, manage results and learn from the outcomes of those situations. Some students may have already had a taste of what it may possibly take to operate and lead a young business.

Ryan Flanders, an Austin High School senior, started a T-shirt business with a friend last year, and felt the program helped him understand more about the business-creating   process, and solidified things he had experienced as an entrepreneur.

“My friend Thomas and I started selling T-shirts and felt that this program was a great opportunity to expand and to advance my business sense,” Flanders said. “When we first started, you learned more about professional manners and communicate in a business environment. We dove in deeper and learned more about how (CEOs) got into the positions they are in, and how they got there.”

Nick Dunlap, an Austin High School junior, said he had positive experiences thus far. He envisions owning his own business in the future.

“I was thinking about starting my own engineering firm, and seeing what kind of things would be available for me down the road,” Dunlap said. “The program has been really good for people and help form somewhat of an idea of the type of business they want to do.”

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