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LOOKING TO THE FUTURE Looking to the future: CEO Program students show off hard work at trade show

MARION – The next generation of business leaders were on display Thursday evening in Marion and Carbondale.

Students from the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, or CEO, program showcased their products and services at the first trade show in Southern Illinois.

The Williamson County CEO class had 11 businesses attempting to sell products and gain clients at The Pavilion in Marion, while students from the Jackson, Union, Perry and Randolph Counties presented at the Dunn-Richmond Center in Carbondale.

In Marion, the students were at individual booths showing off all their hard work from the beginning of the school year. Products and services ranged from customized furniture, to a cookbook, to specialized bags designed to hold diabetic supplies.

Michael James, senior at Marion High School and founder of LiveMic, designed a smartphone application designed for large conference rooms.

He said the purpose is for a person sitting in the back of a large conference room and can’t hear what a potential speaker is saying. With the app, a person can plug headphones into a smartphone and there is a direct audio and video feed into the headphones.

James said before the class he wasn’t thinking about making his own app, much less even know how to write one himself. Now, he has a viable application that he plans to put out on the marketplace soon.

“Before this class, I didn’t even know how to shake somebody’s hand,” he said. “It has taught me a lot about how be a business professional.”

James is headed to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in the fall to study entrepreneurship. He said he plans to stay in the technology industry.

Kiefer Bolen, senior at Herrin High School and Gabe Evrard, senior at Johnston City High School, decided to team up and start a car detailing business -- SI Details.

Evrard said they decided to team up because they are already interested in the same industry, so instead of trying to compete with each other, it made more sense to team up.

Bolen said he had interest in running a business before the class started, but now he has learned some of the basics for when he finishes school.

“I really wanted to gain the valuable business experience,” he said. “This really is an out-of-the-box business class.”

Evrard said he not only learned the basics of setting up a business, but all the other work that goes into running the actual business.

“It taught me how to talk with business owners, possible investors and it puts you in a pretty good position to make some money,” he said.

Williamson County CEO Facilitator Brandi Bradley said when the class started, she saw the students as 12 high school seniors, and now they are all entrepreneurs.

She said the students look at events like chamber of commerce dinners differently than nine months ago. Now, those students know how to talk to business owners, mentors and potential investors completely differently than when it started.

“Some will carry their existing businesses with them and some will come back after college and start businesses after college,” Bradley said.

Andrew Sisulak, marketing director for Baysinger Architects and investor in the CEO program, said the culmination for the first year in the program brings more confidence to fellow investors about the young business leaders moving into the future.

“This entrepreneurial flair that they have been introduced to, it has really been fascinating to see them take what they have learned and apply it to concepts they developed for their own business,” he said.

Bradley said the CEO program will continue next year and there is a crop of students ready to venture into the second year of the program.

Source: The Southern Illinoisan
By: Dustin Duncan

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