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CEO Trade Show gives students chance to shine

Mitchel Haman of Wadena, the owner-operator of MEH Productions, is one of the seven students who participated this year in the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) class. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal1 / 3
Amber Moen of Deer Creek sold a polar fleece tie blanket to Janet Wright of Bluffton at the CEO Trade Show Wednesday evening in Verndale. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal2 / 3
Ryan Gerard of Staples owns a sports card business he calls "Gerard's Cards." The CEO student sells many of his cards online. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal3 / 3

Glimpses into the creative side of teenage minds were on display last Wednesday evening as Cindi Koll's Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) group staged a Trade Show at Maasconi's Char and Bar in Verndale.

The three-year-old innovative business class draws students from a variety of area communities - including Wadena, Deer Creek, Staples, Bluffton and Verndale.

It's not your typical high school class. The seven juniors and seniors in Koll's group do not meet over books or iPads in a classroom. They meet at business places which they tour. During the past year, they have toured 48 businesses and heard from 75 guest speakers.

Funding for the two-credit, year-long class comes from business partners, the Community Foundation and student projects. They need letters of recommendation, a written request for admission and a complete entrepreneurial profile.

The trade show at the end of the year is a time for the class to show off their own enterprises.

Amber Moen

The creator of "All Tied Together" cuts, ties and markets a variety of polar fleece tie blankets. Her time in the CEO program has been a great learning experience for the Deer Creek resident.

"We tour all the businesses and learn. You get a little step up," Moen said.

Alex Burckhard

The muscular Wadena lad has run "Burck's Mowing and Moving" about three years. It started when a neighbor lady asked him to mow her lawn. Since that time he has picked up more customers and has learned how to deal with something called "competition." He has enjoyed the class.

"I think it's been a great experience. I don't think I would have taken any other classes than this one for business," Burckhard said. "I wanted to get a business taste and I think this is one that had everything to offer."

Katie Johnson

Verndale's student in the CEO program and the owner of "Katie J.'s Jewelry," Johnson makes and sells a variety of colorful bracelets - some made of lava beads - an aromatic diffuser - which their wearers can anoint with the essential oils they like.

Ryan Gerard

The Staples entrepreneur took two of the things he loves - football and collecting - and turned it into a business he calls "Gerard's Cards." His plan is to sell his older football cards online.

He also has a plan for the future—in another 50 years he plans to sell some of the newer cards in his collection.

How has the CEO program helped him?

"Getting exposed to all the businesses around here and networking, knowing a lot of people and how you can connect with other people," Gerard said.

Mitchel Haman

Haman has built a business called "MEH Productions" for himself. The Wadena student is tech-savvy enough to handle video, filming and editing projects. He is called on for special events like weddings and graduations.

Caitlin Savage

Living between Bluffton and Wadena, Savage decided to call her business "Leaf River Creations." She makes and sells lanyards, pillowcases and rice pack heat pads. "It's fun, it's a totally new learning experience that I have been able to go through."

She likes the hands-on experience CEO offers.

"I like learning that way, more than just opening a book and reading a book."

Does Savage like the idea of running her own business?

"Yes, I have definitely fallen in love with the idea of owning my own business."

Matthew Fisher

The tall, lanky Staples student has grown up being called "Fish" by his friends, just as his dad was, and he doesn't mind. It is one of the reasons he decided to call his detailing business "The Happy Fish."

Fisher advertises his service on posters in gas stations and hospitals, on a Facebook page and on business cards scattered around Staples. Word of mouth is also a great advertising tool.

"We have a lot of mentors and guest speakers come and talk to us and revise our business plans and it's really helpful to see these people who have been successful in their lives. It's something you can't get unless you're in this class."

Jessica Langer

Langer is a member of the first CEO class three years ago. The Wadena-Deer Creek graduate is presently majoring in Entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota in Duluth.

She calls her business "The Furry Dogmother" and offers pet sitting and dog walking services. Langer has learned one lesson in spades.

"Entrepreneurship means taking risks. Trying something new and getting out of your comfort zone," Langer said.

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