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Nick Smith, co-owner of Framework Photography in Springfield, IL, said his business would not be where it is today if he had not participated in the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship CEO program while in high school.

“I started taking pictures before the CEO program, but it was just a hobby,” he said. “But then through CEO I was exposed to business leaders, and my eyes were opened to what the business could be. With the help of everyone we (Andrew Gochenour), we turned it into a profitable business. We have our own studio now, and we’re both 20 years old.”

Smith also said that one of the biggest things he learned in CEO is that the opportunity to own a successful business is often just in your own backyard.

“A lot of people, especially my age, always see opportunity as being somewhere else, so they go through school and everything, then they immediately want to get out because they don’t think they can make it in their hometown.The program opened my eyes to multi-billion dollar companies that are right here in Springfield that I never even knew about. Being able to go through CEO, start my business and have my business in the city where I grew up and was a part of the CEO program is important to me, too. “

Through the CEO program, Smith, alongside his fellow students, were put in a learning environment that is different than a typical classroom. Right off the bat, students are required to raise seed money for the formation of their own business through the sales of name badges. Working together, the students had to design, present and find sponsors for the name badge project.

“We had to grow up because we were dealing with real money,” he said. “We had to go out on our own (teacher did not give us anything), talk to businesses about sponsoring, come up with the designs, we had to work as a team There’s group work in a classroom setting, but there’s not a lot of teamwork where you’re actually depending on each other to get something done with real results.”

Experiences such as these, gave Smith the opportunities he needed to grow from a shy, reserved teenager to a businessman who can work on a national level. Smith also said the hands-on learning environment also gave him a head start on other entrepreneurs because instead of listening to lectures about how to start a business, he was able to actually start a business, which continues on today.

“My business would not be where it is today had I not had the experience that I did with CEO. Not even a little bit. Like I said, we were pretty much hobbyists before I went into the program. And I could see everything through a different lens (no pun intended). It changed the way that I think about things or see things.”

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