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More districts have eyes on CEO program

    Edwardsville High School looks to be the next home of CEO, a program that aims to build hometown leadership and entrepreneurism skills at a young age.
    Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities is slated to start in the fall of next year, pending the anticipated approval of the school board and the hiring of a facilitator to run the program.
    “We’ve had conversations with many people,” organizer Marc Voegele said. “We’re at the point now of getting the initial startup fee collected, and we’ll have that done (in time) to get it on the schedule for startup next year.” The $25,000 fee is underwritten entirely by donations from local businesses and private individuals. There is no cost to taxpayers or school district
    A facilitator — a leader of the program — would then have to be named, he said.
    If all goes as expected, Edwardsville will join programs that now serve high school students in Granite City, Alton, Roxana/Bethalto, Waterloo, Belleville and Macoupin County.
    In Southwestern Illinois, talks have also begun about establishing the program in other districts, among them Collinsville and O’Fallon Township/Triad, each for the 2019 school year, one year after Edwardsville is expected to start.
    “This is a great area to target and it’s done exceedingly well” in this region, Voegele said.
    The CEO program is a concept created by the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship in Effingham. The programs involve districts in at least five states.
    “They have about 40 programs and about 160-something school districts contribute to those programs,” Voegele said.
    The whole aim is to prompt high school students to one day become business leaders of their hometowns.
    Classes meet off campus throughout the year, hosted by area businesses, giving students a direct networking opportunity with important leaders in the community.

    “They’ll visit 40 to 50 businesses in the local area and they have an additional 40 to 50 different speakers that come in. In April, they hold a trade show where they exhibit their own individual businesses that they’ve started,” he said.
    Students meet first thing in the morning in the meeting rooms of the businesses and arrive in their regular classes later in the day. Students must develop business plans — and start real businesses — as part of the coursework.
    The first Metro East program began in Granite City three years ago, and Voegele, a local businessman and supporter who has grown to be one of CEO’s biggest enthusiasts, has been involved from the start. He runs into graduates of the program all the time.
    “Even if they don’t start a business right away, or even if they never do, they wind up being the best employee somebody could ever hire,” he said. “These individuals now know how to look at a company from an ownership standpoint. It’s an entirely different mindset.”
    Midland participants have enjoyed a string of successes, from creating a 3-D printing company to crafting a jewelry line.
    “If you ask kids in any community, they all think their opportunity for the future lies somewhere else. (CEO students) see the opportunities that are right here at home.”
    Voegele said he welcomes the chance to talk to people. He can be reached at or (618) 920-2705.
    More about the entrepreneurs can be found at

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