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Ahead of the curve: Students in the CEO Program show off their businesses

CARBONDALE — Creativity was alive and well Tuesday night at Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center.

Students from the Jackson, Williamson and Union Counties Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, or CEO, programs showcased their products and services at the third annual trade show in Southern Illinois.

The program offers students hands-on business experience and a chance to build their own start-up over the course of a year.

Classes never meet inside a classroom. Instead, they meet in a different business each school quarter. The class meets for about 90 minutes to two hours each day, and it provides two high school credits to the student.

In the second half of the class, students are given the opportunity to start their own business. The students draft a business plan, look for investors and generate a profit. At the end of the semester, the program hosts an annual trade show like the one Tuesday to showcase their businesses.

Ken Stoner, facilitator for the Jackson County CEO class, said there were 14 students enrolled this year, and there are already 26 students set for next year’s class. He said this was first year the class had a student from Trico High School, giving the program a representative from each high school in the county.

This is Stoner’s third and final year as the program’s facilitator. He said each year has gotten better and the relationship with the schools has been “tremendous.” Each year he gets to know the process and timeline a bit better, but each class is completely different.

However, this was the year the program sent alumni into the schools to advocate for the program and it resulted in the enrollment doubling, he said.

Stoner said he’s moving on to another opportunity on his own accord, but he’s enjoyed his time in the program.

“I love CEO,” Stoner said. “This was hardest decision of my life.”

At the trade show, CCHS Senior Jacob Sanders showed off his self-created business — Sanders Scroll Saw Art.

The business model is simple: send Sanders a photo or email an image you would like to have made out of wood, and he will construct it using a scroll saw and spiral blade.

He said the scroll saw was sitting in his father’s garage not being used, so he decided he could use the equipment to start the business.

Sanders will be headed to John A. Logan College next year to major in political science but he plans to keep the business alive. He said the CEO program helped more than he could believe.

“The program is extremely helpful and educational,” he said.

Sander’s classmate, Yaser Naser,  was a popular set up on Tuesday, as he had something people could actually taste.

He launched Sunshine Smoothies, a business he created using a home concoction he developed during a personal weight-loss pursuit.

Naser said each brand of smoothie has conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, which is a naturally occurring fatty acid found in meat and dairy products.

He’s also headed to John A. Logan with dreams of keeping the business alive. He said he’s not sure what he wants to major in just yet, but he does have a plan to market the smoothies in local grocery stores.

Another interesting business was the lone student from Williamson County CEO at the trade show, Hannah Sappington. a junior at Herrin High School. The rest of her classmates had a trade show this past week, but she wanted more time to show off her products as the invitation to all classes was laid out by Jackson County.

Sappington started Scentsibility, a homemade scented soy candle business.

She said the products are all-natural aromatherapy candles made with oils she purchases online. Another facet to the business is the unique “candleholders,” which are second-hand coffee mugs she purchases from thrift shops.

“I’m a big fan of aromatherapy, so I thought this was a fun way to get involved,” Sappington said.

As for the CEO program, Sappington said the experience from the class is unparalleled.

“This is a fun, hand-on experience that you can’t get anywhere else when in high school,” she said. “It is always a great way to know what is going on in your own community.”

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