CEO program will prepare local students to become entrepreneurs

A new community organization, Crawford County CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities), is looking for investors willing to help entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

The new countywide program will teach high school students about business and entrepreneurship, said Audrey Flood, who chairs the Crawford County CEO Board.

“What it is for students is a really hands-on type of course that they go through that is focused on business development and the whole concept of entrepreneurship,” a- she declared. “They meet every day. They’re matched with a local mentor. And then they really get hands-on business start-up experiences. They start a business together as a class, and then they start a one-on-one business. That is not a hypothetical or theoretical business; they really, really run the business and sell a product or service at the end of the program.”

Flood said that in an effort to give back to the community, his employer, the North Central Electric Cooperative, took the idea to community leaders to see if it would work here. In recent years, the co-op has helped launch Ohio’s first CEO program in Seneca County; the Crawford County program is expected to be the second.

Preparations to launch the program began last year; the class is expected to start at the start of the 2023-2024 school year, she said.

The CEO program is a model created by the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurshipa non-profit organization based in Effingham, Illinois.

“It was very successful there in that community, so they decided to help other communities start their own programs,” Flood said.

Institute staff members travel to other communities to help launch the program, she said. “But it’s completely driven by the local community,” she said.

The local group is looking for investors

A local council makes all decisions about the program, and it will be funded locally with investment from local businesses and entities, Flood said.

“Our biggest need at this point is community investors,” Flood said. “These are entities that would donate $1,000 a year for the program.”

The group is looking for a minimum of 35 local businesses willing to support the program with an investment of $1,000 per year, according to a press release from the Crawford Partnership. Once launched, the program will need businesses to host students at their sites, guest speakers to share their knowledge and experience, mentors to pair with students, and volunteers to help run the program. At present, gathering investors of $1,000 each is the most urgent need to ensure the success of the program.

“That’s our main focus right now, which we’re really spending a lot of effort on,” Flood said.

The Crawford County CEO will host a “Community Kickoff” event from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on October 11 at Bakers Pizza to introduce the program to the community, according to the news release. Guests will hear from Chris Egelston of the Midland Institute as well as students who participated in the Seneca County CEO Program last year. Business leaders as well as interested parents, students and community members can attend.

“Schools don’t pay for their students to participate, and neither do students pay to participate,” Flood said. “All students in the county will be able to apply, at no cost to them.”

The CEO will be open to juniors and seniors from county school districts

The program, which will be open to juniors and seniors from all school districts in the county, will have a facilitator — that position will be filled later — but students will spend little time listening to that person, Flood said. The majority of class time will be spent visiting local businesses and listening to local business owners and community leaders.

There will be a bankers’ day, when students apply for loans or grants; then a pitch competition, where they can pitch their ideas to local investors. At the end of the year, there’s a trade show, “which you can think of as a science fair, except they actually sell their products or services there,” Flood said. “So it’s show-and-sell instead of show-and-sell.”

“Personally, why I like it the most is because of that hyper-local focus, it’s really rooted in the community and it’s focused on creating those local connections between students and members of the community and the businesses, so it sort of answers that ‘Why here?’ issue for young people,” Flood said. The program aims to address the “brain drain” problem facing Crawford County and similar rural communities.

It “shows these young students why they can do what they would like to do here in our community, whether it ends up starting a business or it ends up becoming an intrapreneur in one of the businesses that already exist using the skills that ‘they learned to be a very good employee of the future workforce,’ Flood said.

“The main goal is to strengthen our community by creating these future community members and business leaders who will have that local network and local focus, and know they can succeed here,” that means coming back after the college or by staying here and investing in their future, Flood said.

According to the press release, leaders of the Crawford County CEO Program, in addition to Flood, are Nate Harvey of the Crawford Success Center, David Zak of the Crawford Partnership, Miranda Jones of the Galion-Crestline Chamber, County Commissioner Larry Schmidt, James Patrick of Bucyrus Copper Kettle, Averee Richardson of the Bucyrus Area Chamber of Commerce, Todd Boyer of the Ohio Mutual Insurance Group, Kevin Fourman of the Mid-Ohio Educational Service Center, and Todd Martin of the local Colonel Crawford Schools.

David Zak: The program has an excellent track record

“I’m a big believer in programs that are proven models, proven to work,” Zak said. “This program has been demonstrated in nine states, over 60 programs, hundreds of schools, to turn high school students into brave young professionals and understand how to make things happen in the real world.”

The program serves the community well, as the students involved become both business owners and good employees. In the community where he was founded about 11 years ago, the CEO has driven the creation of 11 new physical businesses, he said.

The program helps students realize that they don’t have to travel to larger communities to achieve their goals.

“It changes their mindset about Crawford County and I’ve seen it live – it’s not about theory, it works,” Zak said. “And that’s just really, really cool.”

For more program details or to make reservations for the October 11 event, contact Flood at 440-387-6562 or [email protected]. Learn more about the general program on Discoverceo.com.

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