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Student entrepreneurs to host Belleville, Granite City trade shows April 27


From Illinois Business Journal news services

Two-dozen high school entrepreneurs will exhibit their innovative products and services at two separate trade shows during the last week of April as part of the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) program.

Students from the Belleville and Granite City programs are hosting events on Wednesday, April 27. Belleville’s CEO trade show runs from 4 to 6 p.m. at Southwestern Illinois College’s Belleville Campus, 2500 Carlyle Avenue. The Granite City CEO expo runs from 5 to 7 p.m. in the History Room at SWIC’s Sam Wolf Campus in Granite City, 4950 Maryville Road.

Admission for both shows is free to the public.

Effingham, Ill.-based Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship created the CEO program more than 10 years ago to connect high school students with local business leaders and to guide them through the process of their own business startup. Granite City’s CEO chapter is completing its second year in the program while Belleville is winding up its first. The Southwestern Illinois region will add two new CEO programs – Alton’s River Bend area and Monroe County – beginning in August.

To be accepted as CEO participants, incoming seniors write an essay and furnish three references. The program requires high school students to attend a daily, off-campus 90-minute session and journal their insights each week. The CEO program is open to students from private and public high schools.

According to organizers at Midland Institute, students are only half of their successful program. The other half comes from the commitment of local business owners, service providers and entrepreneurial support organizations. Both Belleville and Granite City have experienced enthusiastic support from more than 100 businesses each investing $1,000 a year into the program. Beyond financial help, these investors donate a significant amount of time and expertise, according to Granite City CEO facilitator Karen Greenwald.

“Our students meet and speak one-on-one with a great number of successful entrepreneurs from the region, and that interaction is incredibly valuable,” said Greenwald, who also teaches business at Granite City High School. “For example, we met with Fat Chimp Studios founder Kevin DePew, brother of Granite City High School Principal Daren DePew. Kevin shared wonderful insights about his own experience in starting a business in St. Louis.”

Belleville Township High School business teacher Julie Siebers, who facilitates the Belleville CEO initiative, wholeheartedly agrees. “It is incredible to see how much our students have grown through their interaction with successful professionals and how impressed these business leaders have been with the caliber of the students,” Siebers said. “An level excitement and self-motivation are clearly evident in each of our students, who have to get up extra early every day and invest energy in this honors curriculum. Every time I think it can’t get any better, it does.”

A shining example of the program is Heather Gosebrink, a senior at Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville. Gosebrink, who plans to study marketing at Western Kentucky University this fall, is the founder of Goose Prints, a personalized monogram company. She used the knowledge and connections gained through the CEO program to develop her business concept and capture first place in the Belleville CEO business pitch competition. The competition, sponsored by PNC Foundation and organized by the Metro East Small Business Development Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, was held in late March.

“I began taking orders March 26 and have sold $400 worth of product at this point,” Gosebrink said. “The CEO class has taught us that failing is okay and that it’s necessary in order to learn and succeed,” she said. “That’s a different message than we’re accustomed to hearing, but one that makes a lot of sense. CEO Belleville is exposing us to a lot of successful entrepreneurs and business executives, and it’s encouraging us to work hard and go for it.” Gosebrink will share information on her award-winning business concept and exhibit her products at the April 27 trade show.

Belleville East High School senior David Rauckman, 17, was runner-up in the two-minute pitch competition. “I have always thought about opening my own business after seeing my dad’s success and having fun with his business,” said Rauckman, who plans to study finance at the University of Missouri next year. Rauckman’s startup company, Our Gnome, manufactures and customizes 12-inch-tall yard gnomes available in local high school colors. He and his gnomes will be on display at the April 27 event at SWIC.

Granite City CEO participant and high school senior Kelsey Clark will exhibit her bath and beauty products line, Fuzion, at the April 27 trade show at SWIC Granite City. Clark says she has gained invaluable public speaking and networking experience from the program. “This program has shown us how to be successful, to be our own boss, and to work hard,” she said. “It has given me greater confidence in speaking before large crowds and the understanding of how our community is better with young entrepreneurs. We are Granite City’s future.”

SBDC Director Patrick McKeehan is looking forward to attending both tradeshows. He and his staff have given significant time, expertise, and information resources to both CEO programs. “It is great to see the student business ideas finally come to fruition,” said McKeehan. “I am extremely impressed by these young entrepreneurs and the local support they have received. My hope is that Midland’s CEO program continues to expand in our region, so that all high school seniors may experience remarkable opportunity.”

The Metro East SBDC assists young entrepreneurs, start-up ventures and existing business owners throughout the nine-county Metro East region of Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe and Randolph. The SBDC is supported, in part, by the U.S. Business Administration, Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville as a service to the community.

To learn how the SBDC can help small business, contact the Metro East SBDC at (618) 650-2929 or

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