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Randolph County CEO class kicks off third year

Randolph County's Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) class enters its third year this year with its largest class to date at 14 students.

Nine of the students - Gavin Conway, Owen Gross, Jackson Hamilton, J.T. Hoover, Brad Mevert, Mel Mulholland, Alexis Saurwein, Lindsey Stephens and A.J. Stearns - are from Steeleville.

The remaining five are from the Red Bud area.

"Definitely the transformation in the students," said facilitator Jamie Matthews, who also teaches Monroe County's CEO program. "Whenever Craig Lindvahl spoke about the program he said it's a little bit about business and a lot about life."

Lindvahl, a longtime teacher, award-winning filmmaker and creator of the CEO program, is executive director of Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship and was appointed to the Illinois State Board of Education by Gov. Bruce Rauner in February 2015.

"There's a lot of excitement among the students, so it's to meet their expectations of the program and help them network with people," Matthews said on her goals for the class. "Be able to provide them that environment where they learn independently and develop confidence."

Last year's CEO class made a splash with a "Amazing Race around Randolph County" fundraiser, inspired by the popular TV show.

Participants ate raw Spinach out of the can, bowled with a tire and completed other challenges. Matthews has already given the class its first project, which - with a $0 balance in its bank account - is to obtain 15 name badges and CEO-branded shirts by September 29.

"They came up with an advertising plan," Matthews said. "They want to sell advertising space on their lanyard badge and shirt to companies to pay for the items."

The students are scheduled to hear a presentation from Mary Jo Homan of Chester National Bank on Thursday and attend a business presentation and tour at Cedar Hill Farms in Red Bud on Friday.

"We consider this a capstone experience for our kids," said Steeleville High School Principal Jennifer Haertling, who is a member of the Randolph County CEO board. "Taking what they've learned in their business classes here and apply it in the community.

"We're always looking for financial assistance, but we also need mentors. We need businesses who are willing to have these kids visit and talk about their strengths."

While the class ends with a trade show that showcases the students' individual businesses, a key event is "Bankers' Day" in March, when students will sit down with potential investors in a "Shark Tank"-like atmosphere.

"Each student has their business plan and schedules five or six local bankers," Matthews said. "Students have one-on-one time with the bankers to set up their local businesses and receive feedback as if they would start their businesses."

Andy Gerlach, another member of the Randolph County CEO board, said the class helps students establish a network with business executives that may become an asset in the future.

"The CEOs they get to meet is huge upon itself," he said. "You could go to college for four or five years and come back and still have those contacts from owners and businessmen and everything else."

Haertling noted participation in the CEO class is dual credit at Southwestern Illinois College for the students and possibly SIU-Carbondale.

"That's an education bonus for them too," she said. "We're looking at what the different colleges can offer."

For more information on the Randolph County CEO program, email Matthews at or call 618-410-5511.

Source:Herald Tribune
By Pete Spitler

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