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‘An entrepreneur with a fantastic beginning, or a great employee’

ALTON — A new entrepreneurial program for seniors at Alton and Marquette high schools starting this fall could make a big difference for participants.

“You’re either going to have an entrepreneur with a fantastic beginning, or a great employee,” said Marc Voegele, owner of Express Employment Services and vice chairman of the Riverbend CEO Program and an enthusiastic supporter of the program.

“It’s probably been the most refreshing and revolutionary change in the high school experience that I’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

Twenty-two seniors from Alton and Marquette high schools will meet for 90 minutes each weekday starting this fall. The students had to apply and have been chosen but not notified yet, according to Monica Bristow, president of the RiverBend Growth Association.

The group recently hired Katie McBee, an AHS graduate, as facilitator for the program. The program is funded by local businesses. There are currently about 24 sponsoring companies, including The Telegraph.

The classes will take place off-campus at an undetermined location. Bristow said the students will tour a wide variety of local businesses as part of the class, and when they are not visiting other sites there will be guest speakers.

During the first semester the students will develop a class business.

“That business is to make money so the funds that they have can finance their own business during the second semester,” Bristow said.

“There are no rules, it’s up to them,” she said of potential businesses. “They’re encouraged to do something they have a passion for.”

She said a student in Effingham developed a telephone app allowing the phone to be used as a hunting scope for a rifle.

The program was started about eight years ago by the Effingham-based Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship, and has spread to more than 40 schools in six states, Voegele said.

Granite City and Belleville have programs already running, and others are starting in Macoupin County and Waterloo this fall, he noted.

Voegele noted in most classes students attend, read books and get information, then answer questions on tests.

“Where this program is different, you’re going out and learning on your own,” he said. “You are actually learning what’s behind those doors and what they do. The CEO program teaches you how to ask those questions.”

He also said it could appeal to students who struggle with traditional classrooms, and knew of several instances in Granite City where struggling students were able to find success in the program.

Bristow said the program is important because it gives students an idea of what is actually going on in their community, and also helps them network with business people.

She said many students don’t realize the scope of small businesses.

“They may pass by a building every day and not know what that business is or what it does,” she said. “They’re finding out what’s right here.”

A big part of that is encouraging those students who do become small business owners to stay in the area.

Developing networking skills is also very important.

“It really helps them develop relationships with people in business that they can use for the rest of their lives,” she added.

Bristow said students will also learn first-hand all of the components that go in to running a business.

“It’s very important,” she said. “If they’re going to do their own business, what is it going to take? What do I have to learn, what do I have to know, what’s important about business so I can implement that and make my own business successful?”

She said a good example is the restaurant business.

“They think ‘I’d like to own a restaurant,’” she said, adding they don’t realize all the other “business” aspects that go into it in addition to being able to cook.

Bristow and Voegele both said there are a few other issues to work out, but think the program will be very successful.

“This is a wonderful program for all of the business community,” Voegele said. “They’ve already seen the value of this, and I can tell you their passion and zeal for the CEO program will only grow.”

Reach reporter Scott Cousins at 618-208-6447.

Source: The Telegraph
By Scott Cousins -

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