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Meet The First Montgomery CEO Class

John Dirigo is producing fitness clothing in which anyone on the street can challenge wearers to prove they have met their fitness goals. Joanna Marley is a budding graphic designer who already has work in print, and Lucaas Secrist will be selling year-round heating pads.

All three are high school seniors and part of the 15-member Montgomery CEO (creating entrepreneurial opportunities)class who shared their business ideas during a networking event Monday, Nov. 16, at the Holiday Inn Express in Litchfield.

The CEO program is designed to equip students in the county with the training they need to eventually run businesses here. Each student in the class must successfully start a business, and the class as a whole must run a successful enterprise before graduation.

According to facilitator Dr. Ryan Follis, the class meets every morning at First National Bank in Nokomis and has planned over 60 tours and speakers.

"We don't call it class," Follis said. "We call it staff meetings."

Heather Hampton+Knodle, who chairs the CEO board of directors, said there are 29 CEO franchises in four states, and the inaugural Montgomery CEO class had 23 applicants from the county. The application process for next school year's class begins in January.

Students currently in the program will run their ideas past business investors in a "shark tank" simulation on Friday, and will unveil their products and services for sale during a trade show set for April 26 at Lincoln Land Community College in Litchfield.

In addition to the three who presented their business ideas during the networking event, the CEO class also includes Autumn Boliard, Lucas Brookshire, Kacie Cachera, Kylie Carlyle, Karmyn Cox, Hannah Dudek, Alexis Emerson, Abby Meyer, Dominic Ruppert, Abigail Ruppert, Christopher Storm and Steven Weller.

At the networking event, each was professionally dressed with Montgomery CEO business cards, and more than enthusiastic to talk about his or her budding business.

Secrist said the class is not only giving him entrepreneurial training but is also making him a better person.

"You feel welcome and work together on things," he said.


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