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Leaders of tomorrow: Mower County CEO Program students host first trade show

The inaugural year of the Mower County CEO Program came to an end Wednesday night, with 17 students showcasing a variety of businesses they created and fostered throughout the year.

Inside the Hormel Historic Home’s ballroom was an array of businesses that were showcased for the Austin community. From bath bombs to babysitting services to t-shirt production and home decorations, the first class of Mower County CEO didn’t hold back.

“Seeing where they are today, their booths speak for themselves,” said Emily Hoveland, Mower County CEO Program facilitator. “Our business community and the community in general have been so supportive of this program. Without them, we could not have succeeded. Our students have really grown and developed awesome businesses. We learned a lot together, and they should be very proud of themselves.”

The goal of Mower County CEO was to ensure that students were able to solve real-life problems with real-life solutions.

Tim Fritz, CEO advisory board chairman, believed the initial year for the program has been an eye-opening one for students and has helped prepare them for the real world.

“They’ve all grown in maturity,” Fritz said. “They weren’t like this 12 months ago. This year could not have gone any better. The business community has really opened up and stepped up in showing support for this program.”

Next year’s class has been filled to capacity with 22 students ready to embark on the year-long journey in creating their own businesses and seeing their ideas come to life. Not only has the class size increased, but the number of business investors has grown from around 40 to 56 for the following year, according to Fritz.

The hope is that students who develop connections with the various business community members through the Mower County CEO Program will go on to receive their next level of education, and come back to help build the local business scene even more.

“What attracted us about this program was giving students exposure to real life problems that’s happening in Austin,” Fritz said. “Our hope is that after they receive more schooling that they would consider coming back and building opportunities here.”

Not only has the CEO Program provided exposure to students interested in seeing what it takes to start a business, but it was also the community investors who helped make the program accessible to all students regardless of financial hurdles that they may face.

Donations from community investors have helped provide funds for students who may not own business attire or have the money for gas to transport themselves.

“We don’t want finances being what deters students from applying to the program,” Fritz said. “If you need something, we want to be the ones to ask how we can help.”

What started off as an idea for some, turned into real life application of skills and lessons that many of the students will continue to carry with them upon graduation. They’ve learned the highs of success, and the lows of failure, but each student walked away with a lesson learned about the real world and how businesses operate.

Wandering around in the ballroom examining students’ businesses was AHS Principal Andrea Malo, who was brimming with pride for what the Mower County CEO Program students were able to achieve in just a year.

“I’m super proud of them and what they’ve done,” Malo said. “They’ve all worked very hard and have done an amazing job.”

Ryan Flanders, left, and Thomas Berglund present their t-shirt business Ryan Club during the CEO Program’s Trade Show Wednesday evening at the Hormel Historic Home.
Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Ryan Club

What started off as an inside joke turned into a budding business between best friends.

Ryan Flanders and Tom Berglund were able to expand their initial offerings of a signature red t-shirt that reads “Ryan Club” and improved the quality of the type of apparel they were printing on for customers. They’ve expanded to tank tops and hats, as well as some newer designs on different colored shirts.

The two AHS seniors learned a lot from the Mower County CEO Program, and quickly adjusted to their schedules of early morning sessions and lectures. They came to appreciate the business community, and how each entrepreneur got their start.

“I really liked learning from others who started their own businesses,” Flanders said. “Yeah, we hear success stories, but not every moment is successful. Some say they failed a lot. It gives you a lot of perspective to keep moving forward.”

Although the students will be graduating soon, they believed Mower County CEO taught them the necessary skills to continue building on their experiences. For the incoming class, Flanders and Berglund wanted them to seize every opportunity to become successful.

“The seeds have been laid out,” Flanders said. “This program is going to grow into something really special. It’s been a really good year.”

“Don’t be afraid to take risks,” Berglund added. “Don’t let others think for you. Instead of following the paths we created, make a path of your own.”

Aqua

Wanting to get a head start in her business, Samantha Sheldon, an AHS senior, took a chance with creating a bath bomb product that was created with essential oils and came at an affordable cost.

She developed a range of products from bath bombs to lip scrubs to shower steamers for those who don’t own a bathtub, and was able to create over 60 scents for everyone to enjoy and take home.

“I really wanted to give people more options,” Sheldon explained. “I’ve had a really great mentor who kept me organized and gave me a lot of help with my business.”

When Sheldon first started in the program, she didn’t know that a handshake could make all the difference in a first impression. Through her experiences, she grew as a person. A confident one in fact.

“The trade show is amazing and I love seeing how everyone’s businesses turned out,” she said. “In the beginning I wasn’t very confident and everyone kind of gathered in the corner. Now everyone has grown confident as well. Be creative and work hard and you’ll see your business grow.”

Morgan Hose answered questions about her business Handle with Care.

Handle with Care

After learning about the shortage of childcare options in Austin, Morgan Hose, an AHS senior was inspired to create a babysitter service that calls upon high school students to step up and help with watching children as parents who work at Quality Pork Processors and various other jobs work hours that standard daycare service operating hours aren’t accessible for some families.

So, Hose created Handle with Care, a service that helps connect parents with qualified babysitters in the area to help care for their children. As of Wednesday night, Hose had 13 babysitters already out in the community earning money while sitting for parents and had 42 applications waiting for review.

“Not everyone gets to be a babysitter right away,” she said. “Obviously, I have to call one of their references and get things checked before they can go out and start working.”

Having been raised by a single mom, Hose wanted to give parents in the community a peace of mind whenever they have to go to work to support their families. Handle with Care was the product of that vision, and Hose was proud of what she accomplished.

“I hope to continue this in the summer,” she said. “I really hope to see Handle with Care continue. I already have students from the next class asking to buy my business after I graduate. I really don’t want to see this business die off after I leave.”

For next year’s class of Mower County CEO students, Hose has some advice.

“Keep in mind the bigger picture,” she said. “Keep in mind the connections you make and the reason why you’re here.”