Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

May 1, 2014

CEO class 'goes bigger'

Jackson Adams Daily News
Effingham Daily News

---- — Jackson Adams

Daily News

Standing by a display of multicolored bow ties in glass cases — with several sold stickers plastered on — Sean Sandifer is looking for even more sales.

He’d already sold 38 ties through his business, The Middle Knot, each one designed to be bigger and flashier than ones that may traditionally be available. Wednesday was an opportunity to put more of his product in people’s hands.

“We’re about to go bigger tonight,” Sandifer said.

The Effingham CEO Class Trade Expo Tuesday gave 22 students from Effingham County schools an opportunity to show off their businesses to community members and visitors alike. The expo is the culmination of nine months of meticulous work, between developing business ideas and securing finances to implementing, marketing and displaying the finished products. The results of that work show, with hundreds of visitors crowding the lobby of the Effingham Performance Center Wednesday, looking at diverse business ventures covering everything from cookbooks and baby accessories, to fishing lures, athletic gear and 3-D Printing services.

That challenge on top of the normal workload for high school juniors and seniors can be tough, but students agreed the businesses came down to finding and exploring a passion. Hailey Meyers, who created Here & There Boutique, said the jewelry she sells at shows and local businesses is the type of jewelry she would buy for herself.

“It’s stuff I wanted to wear,” she said. “That’s what gives it a personal touch. It’s a great opportunity, and I really enjoy doing it.”

Coming up with an idea the owner is passionate about is one thing, but getting to the point where the business is marketable and profitable is another. Madison Bushue’s love of golf inspired her to create Mad Dawg Golf Products, selling custom-fitted mats for putting practice. She said one of the toughest parts of the experience was turning an idea into a business and realizing the financial side of turning a theoretical venture into a reality.

Transforming a business model into a real business is a lot to absorb, she said. “Then you think of how it’s real money that you’re actually dealing with. It’s crazy to think about, but it gets really real. “

Interactions with local business owners helped drive home how real the challenge of owning and running a start-up can be. Bushue said she learned from local business owners, many of whom shared their early mistakes and regrets, and said she would be able to apply those to her future.

“In the future, we’re going to use most of this stuff,” she said. “We’re not going to fail.”

Being able to interact with a community that supports the CEO Class was pivotal to many of the young entrepreneurs at the expo. Zach Tegeler, who developed JetStream Media, a consulting firm which assists businesses in developing an interactive and vibrant social media presence, said working with community members and business leaders gave him a support system.

“It’s been phenomenal,” the St. Anthony senior said. “I’ve been connected with countless people who would give me the shirt off their back if they thought it would help.”

As only a few days remain for the students in this year’s CEO Class, Sandifer said he’s still amazed that only a few short months ago his business didn’t exist.

He said he would recommend the class to others, adding those involved should take time to enjoy the experience and absorb the lessons.

“The best part of CEO is it’s connected to the real world,” he said. “It’s real life experiences and that’s something you don’t get in a lot of classroom settings. I would tell people to put everything they’ve got into it and enjoy it, because it goes by so fast.”

Jackson Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 131, at jackson.adams@effinghamdaily news.com, or on Twitter @EDNJAdams.