It is 7:20 a.m. and 45 high school seniors file into a training room at Sikich. Some of the students razz each other about an upcoming soccer game; others grab a bottle of water or Pop Tart, laughing and engaging with each other. Their strong connection to each other is obvious. That might be visible in many classes in any high school, but these students come from different Sangamon County schools. Arriving early every weekday from August through May, they are part of Sangamon CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities), learning about business and entrepreneurship.
Nick Phalen, a student from Sacred Heart-Griffin High School who hopes to go into business, said, “Everyone wants to be here and works hard; we are diverse but here for the same reason.”
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Now in its seventh year, the format and offerings have evolved. A new nonprofit called iVenturED now oversees Sangamon CEO, and this year a partnership with District 186 offers juniors an opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship through business classes at their home schools.
Nabih Elhajj, an instructor for the past five years for Sangamon CEO and the director of iVenturED for the past two years, explains, “We wanted to expand the number of students who can learn about business and entrepreneurship. Sangamon CEO is really limited to 45 students, due to constraints on meeting space. The premise is to give youth the tools to think as an entrepreneur, and we hope they will stay in the area and pursue their own business ideas. Now working with business teachers, we have expanded. Juniors are experiencing some of the same information in their business classes. Those students might decide to apply for Sangamon CEO in their senior year.”