Students learn what it takes to be entrepreneurs

Area young people will soon find out what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Starting next fall, Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) will be an option for up to 22 students from Luverne, Edgerton, Adrian, Hills-Beaver Creek and Edgerton in southwest Minnesota.

An April 24 meeting in Luverne drew 30 people interested in starting the program, which has roots in the Southwest Initiative Foundation’s challenge to end the cycle of poverty in communities.

Committee member Diane Robinson, Luverne, said she attended a summit where she learned immigrants often come to the United States with little or no money and are able to start successful businesses and live comfortable lives.

“Yet we put our students through 13 years of school and many don’t know what an entrepreneur is nor how to start their own business,” she said.

Robinson met the Kandiyohi CEO facilitator Tyler Gehrking from the summit.

She brought Gehrking to the April 24 meeting in Luverne as the guest speaker to share information about the CEO program.

“It’s an entrepreneurial class that doesn’t talk about entrepreneurship … but has them live it,” he said about the Willmar area program that began 2014.

Students meet at various businesses in Kandiyohi County Monday through Friday from 7:15 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. during the school year. They’re required to wear appropriate business casual dress and arrive on time at appointed locations.

Gehrking said as a teacher in a regular classroom he has told students about the importance of sitting up in a chair and engaging in conversation.

Business owners call attention to yawning or tardy students in the CEO program, if needed, to drive home this point.

The students tour as many as 83 businesses in the Willmar area during the school year, develop a group fundraising event and compile business proposals.

The year culminates with a trade show where many of the students demonstrate products or businesses they developed during the class.

“A big disconnect with kids today is they only think about getting a job with a big company … they don’t think they can make their own value,” Gehrking said.

Prior to the Kandiyohi CEO, he said about 20 percent of the students thought Willmar was a place to stay and work after college.

“Now 90 percent think it’s possible,” he said. “I know this class changes lives.”


SW-CEO ready in 2018

While CEO targets high school students, it’s not a school program and schools incur no costs.

Instead, businesses, organizations and individuals invest $1,000 for each of the next three years through the Luverne Area Community Foundation, which serves as the fiscal host.

In the next 17 months the steering committee behind SW-CEO is hopeful they will find the right facilitator for the possible vocational education offering.

A steering committee operates CEO and coordinates the curriculum through the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship of Effingham, Illinois. A facilitator lines up business contacts and meeting locations since students do not meet in a regular classroom setting.

Isaac DeBoer is one of the business leaders on the steering committee that also includes representatives from the community, government and education.

Joining DeBoer on the steering committee are Robinson, Lisa Dinger, Craig Oftedahl, Brian Sterling, Gary Papik, Mike Cox, Ed Elbers, Connie Connell and Pat Baustian.

DeBoer said $25,000 has already been pledged to bring the program offering to local students for the three years.

“We feel strongly that we want to keep the momentum going,” he said.

If a facilitator is not located for the fall of 2018, DeBoer said the class start date would be delayed until a suitable person is found.

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