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Local high school seniors taught business skills

Starting your own business is difficult for anyone. But try doing it when you’re 17.

Before Southeast High School senior Nick Smith could vote, he opened Framework Photography last year — a photography, video and marketing company.

As can be expected, Smith said, he struggled early on with how to run his business. He knew he needed help.

So Smith enrolled in the Sangamon County CEO program last year, a recently launched course for seniors at schools in Sangamon County designed to develop entrepreneurship.

Smith said the class has taught him business skills he never would have learned in an ordinary classroom, including everything from shaking a client’s hand properly to filing taxes.

“I’m more comfortable now than I ever was talking to complete strangers,” Smith said.

First year in books

The Sangamon County CEO Class of 2014 will host its first business trade show from 4 to 6 p.m. today at Hope Church, 3000 Lenhart Road in Springfield.

The trade show is the culmination for the inaugural class of 18 area seniors to show what they learned about entrepreneurship, business development and management. Attendees can purchase items developed by the students and enter into a drawing to win an iPad.

The CEO program, which began in Effingham County, was brought to Sangamon County “by local business and community leaders unsatisfied with traditional educational and economic development approaches and outcomes,” according to information distributed about it.

The program has about 50 investors, each donating $3,000 to sustain the initiative for three years.

Stephanie Hinds, the lead instructor of the class, said there was a learning curve early on, but the concept has been a major success with students who thrive on real-life interaction rather than lessons from a textbook.

Hinds said the students have gotten the chance to network with local business leaders, learn how businesses operate in the real world and position themselves for internships after high school.

“It really is an eye-opening opportunity for them to be exposed to the business community and learn by doing, as opposed to a traditional textbook,” Hinds said.

How it works?

Students in the class are from all three Springfield public high schools, Sacred Heart-Griffin, Auburn, Rochester, Riverton and Tri-City high schools.

The students had to fill out an application, get recommendations and interview to be accepted into the program. A board of trustees oversees the class.

Over the past school year, the students spent each morning from 7:30 to 9 at different business locations, where they toured the facility and listened to executives speak about how to run a business, Hinds said.

The students also put together a class project (a 5K run/walk) and created their own individual businesses, Hinds said.

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