By Clair Kenney
A group of students from Saint Joseph High School in South Bend and Marian High School in Mishawaka are getting hands-on entrepreneurial experience. The students are part of St. Joe CEO, the St. Joseph County chapter of the national program Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, which seeks to educate young minds on sustainable, innovative and applicable business practices through concepts such as supply and demand, competitive analysis, emotional intelligence, financials, marketing and overall product development.
During the year-long program, all 34 St. Joe CEO students work together as a team to create a platform for raising seed money for their own individual businesses. Though they function as a single unit, they are also broken down into separate subteams assigned to various concentrations, much like an actual business model. For example, one handful of students are assigned to oversee the financing for the fundraising, another group manages the marketing, etc.
This is how Start Up the City was developed — a ticketed event that will showcase various entrepreneurs, including the students themselves, who will compete the evening of the event for an opportunity to pitch their business ideas to local investors. The winners of the pitch competition pool will receive investment money.
Open to the public, Start Up the City takes place at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 2, with the venue to be determined in the coming weeks. The students’ mission statement for the event reads: “We want to highlight and educate the community about local technology and entrepreneurship in St. Joe County and to raise awareness for up-and-coming ideas in our area.”
The St. Joe chapter of CEO pulls from both public and private high schools in the area. There are 19 students representing the local Catholic high schools. These students are Michael Cataldo, Marielle Corbett, Jack Deputy, Anna Garatoni, Adam Cseh, Madeleine McTigue, Emily Sharp, Robert Sink, Victoria Gomez and Annalise Hernandez, Marian High School seniors; and Sorin Horvath, Meghan Raster, Abby O’Connor, Brian Tyler, Nicole Nemeth, Grant Gillis, Max Manta and Louie Nanni, seniors, along with Michael Anthony, junior, from Saint Joseph High School.
“My favorite part of the class is connecting with local, successful business leaders in the area and not only learning business lessons from them, but also life lessons,” Horvath said. In the class, the students learn how to integrate ethics, integrity and morals with entrepreneurial business practices. Sometimes this is taught through guest speakers.
“… in the long run, if you treat others with care and you have … a set of moral values that you and your team follow, you’ll end up succeeding,” Nanni explained, describing the main message of University of Notre Dame men’s lacrosse head coach Kevin Corrigan, during a talk he gave to the class.
“My faith has formed me as a future business leader in the fact that when I make business-oriented decisions, I am guided by my Catholic values,” McTigue said.
Adam Kronk, head of La Lumiere School, was another guest speaker who touched on the importance of channeling moral values through business practices. “He talked to us a lot about what it means to choose an ethical business when you’re looking for someone to work for and what it means to choose someone who follows your values, who has the same upstanding morals as you,” McTigue said.
Many of the members of the Start Up the City team are interested in pursuing a career in some sort of area of business later on. “In the future, I want to own my own business,” Corbett said. O’Connor is looking to do something in sports marketing or management — something at the intersection of the sports world and business.
For these students, their corporate dreams are grounded in ethics. McTigue hopes to one day work for a company that conforms to his ethics and aligns with his moral values, and Horvath just knows he wants to help people in the future — “as many people as I can, because I feel like that will have a ripple effect and those people then help other people,” he explained.
Iris Hammel, one of the facilitators of St. Joe CEO, works with the students on a day-to-day basis. Hammel and other members of the leadership team select the speakers and businesses that the students interact with in order to ensure that the students gain a comprehensive understanding of how to be a true business leader. “We are extremely selective in the businesses we tour and the speakers we have come into class. It is imperative for the health of our program and the transformation we want to see in our students that we connect them with ethical business leaders and mentors,” she said. “They quickly learn that while making a profit is important, it is more important to be ethical and work for a greater purpose.”
For Hammel, the job is one that reaps short-term and long-term rewards.
“Watching students grow and go outside of their comfort zones to become entrepreneurs of their lives is what I live for in the day-to-day, but the true reward is when I get a call out of the blue from last year’s students excited to share about an opportunity they have because of what they have applied and learned through CEO or asking me to be on an advisory board for a new startup they are working on,” she said. “The return on investment is a long-term game and I absolutely love it.”
Notre Dame student Catherine “Cat” Edmonds completed the St. Joe CEO program during her senior year at St. Joseph High School. This year, she has teamed up with Hammel and the program’s leadership team to help current high school students learn about business and entrepreneurship.
“Through CEO you learn how to make ethical business decisions and these translate into the students’ daily lives,” she said.
For Edmonds, the program was transformative and ultimately led her to attend Notre Dame in order to study business. “CEO changed my life completely,” she said.
St. Joe CEO is accepting applications for next year’s class, through Feb. 28. Those interested in applying can visit www.stjoeceo.org for more information.
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