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Perham school among first in MN to participate in CEO program

Brandon Hemmen was in CEO in Teutopolis, Ill. For his business, he created “the man closet” for storing hunting gear and other potentially dirty or smelly clothing. Submitted photo

Local students will have the chance to take a unique class next fall – one that organizers say transforms how students look at the world.

The class is called Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities: or CEO. It began six years ago in Effingham, Ill., where it was taught by Craig Lindvahl, who was in Perham last week to talk to students about the program.

Today, there are 15 established programs in Illinois and Indiana, he said. Minnesota’s first four pilot classes will begin at the start of the 2014-2015 school year.

Perham, Battle Lake and Henning schools have committed to combine and collectively host a pilot program for at least three years. New York Mills had not yet officially accepted or declined its invitation as of press time Tuesday.

No more than 22 juniors and seniors will be chosen from the districts to makeup the class. They will meet at a location outside of their home campuses for 90-minute sessions every school day. The city of Ottertail is approximately equidistant from the three school districts involved, so classes will likely be based there.

No homework is assigned, but that does not mean students can coast through the class. On the contrary, each pupil will be tasked with starting a real, live business, and will have to work to ensure it succeeds. The class will also run a business as a whole.

Lindvahl stressed that there will be real money and real risk involved, rather than using pretend currency.

“You can’t just do enough to get a D,” he said. “Everything you do in this class is real.”

The business must be “a stretch” and it “has to be real,” Lindvahl said. Aside from from those two guidelines, just about anything goes. He also noted that a “stretch” means different things for each student, and that is perfectly acceptable.

Community investors (individuals or companies) fund the class activities, businesses and teacher’s salary, rather than the school districts.

These investors can make a $1,000 commitment for three years: no more, no less. This is intended to ensure equal opportunities for everyone involved.

Other assistance will also be needed for the program to succeed. Each student in the class will be matched with a business mentor from the community. These mentors will provide advice and act as a sounding board for ideas.

Students will also tour local businesses and manufacturers to better understand what happens behind the scenes.

“This class is transformational,” said Lindvahl in an interview with the Focus.

After taking the class, he said, students see business opportunities everywhere, and are more comfortable thinking outside the box.

In Perham, CEO applications are now available in the high school office.

Applicants must be trustworthy and have a good work ethic, said Lindvahl. Other “traditional” factors, such as grade point average, are not taken into consideration. Applications are submitted through a blind process – with a number rather than the student’s name – in order to ensure fairness.

More information about the program can be found at