Making smart career choices can help kids overcome the opportunity gap — lifting up the one in six children living in poverty in southwest Minnesota, and growing the economy. But it takes guidance to find the right career path. In the very corner of the state, six communities have come together to give kids an introduction to entrepreneurship. Starting fall 2018, Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) will be an option for up to 22 students from Luverne, Pipestone, Edgerton, Adrian, Ellsworth, Hills and Beaver Creek.
“It’s giving our students another opportunity. It’s a great thing for students who think outside the box, who have that entrepreneurial spirit, to be able to start experimenting with it in high school and to be given some direction,” said Lisa Dinger, secretary of the local Southwest Minnesota CEO (SWMN CEO) board of directors and a Child Guide at Luverne Elementary School.
CEO is an investor-backed program, with no direct cost to the school. Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) provided a grant for the startup costs, and three dozen organizations and individuals have pledged $1,000 annually for three years to fund the program. SWMN CEO plans to have an additional fund to help students who may not have access to transportation or the appropriate work attire.
SWIF also supports a successful CEO program in Kandiyohi County (pictured). Tyler Gehrking is facilitator for Kandiyohi CEO (KCEO), which started in 2014. Students there tour as many as 83 businesses in the Willmar area during the school year, develop a group fundraising event and compile business proposals. This year’s cohort of 21 high schoolers will wrap up the class with a trade show, highlighting products or businesses they developed during the year.
Tyler attended SWIF’s Grow Our Own Summit in December 2017, which sparked an interest in starting CEO in the corner of the state. Tyler has shared his experience with the newer program through several presentations, emphasizing the value of hands-on learning.
“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,” he said, adding 90 percent of KCEO students think of Willmar as a place to stay and work after college.
For SWMN CEO, that’s the goal — seeing the opportunities close to home.
“I am most excited about collaboration with all the communities working together to give the students another option for another pathway for them coming out of school,” Lisa said.
Involving seven school systems, SWMN CEO is bringing together a lot of people, inside the schools and out — mentors, investors, businesses hosting tours and board members, which include Lisa, Isaac DeBoer, Stewart Kreun, Joe Douty, Mike Fey, Kristi Groth, Cate Koehne, Dan LaRock, Craig Oftedahl, Kevin Paulson and Jason Tweet.
“The more people that are involved the more successful this program will be,” Lisa said.
In early November, the SWMN CEO board announced the hiring of facilitator Cody Henrichs, who attended Luverne High School and graduated in 2001. He’s already connecting with supporters and schools involved in the program; student recruitment will start early in the new year in anticipation of spring enrollment for 2018-19 classes.
We support entrepreneurs at all stages, including launching a business. Find out how millennial business owners Tobias and Mark got started with help from SWIF’s Microenterprise Loan Program.