Framework Photography!

IMG_3888framework full logo blue

Nick Smith (Sangamon CEO, 2014) and Andrew Gochenour are the co-owners of Framework Photography in Springfield, Illinois. They started their business before Nick entered the CEO program, but it has changed radically since then. The business has grown exponentially, and they have rented an older building and are now completely renovating it.




They actually had an impromptu ribbon cutting on the last day of CEO class in the Spring.

That’s what makes CEO real, by the way. Students aren’t engaged in pretend activities and worksheets, they’re building real businesses! Framework Photography’s revenues in the first few months of 2014 exceeded their total revenues of 2013. In fact, they just booked a wedding that exceeded their total 2013 revenues.



kate studio-1Nick credits CEO and the network he developed for that growth.  At the CEO trade show alone, for instance, they gained over 80 potential customers.





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Nick’s mentor, Sarah Petty, who is a very successful photographer and New York Times bestselling author of Worth Every Penny, played a huge role in helping this business. Jeff Stauffer, a local CEO board member, is creating all of the signage for the company and has worked closely with Nick and Andrew as they’ve built their business. That’s the real magic of CEO-building an ecosystem that supports young entrepreneurs as opposed to just feeding information about entrepreneurship to students. It transforms everyone, and that’s what I love about it.

Business incubation in a small town!

My home area of Effingham County, IL is a place rich in entrepreneurial history. There is evidence everywhere you look of companies and businesses started by local residents who started with little more than vision and passion.

They’ve grown to be businesses of all sizes, and serve a global customer base. It’s a pretty amazing thing, and students in our CEO program have the opportunity to meet dozens of these entrepreneurs. Many of the entrepreneurs talk about their early struggles with finding a “place” to do business.

It’s great to see our county take another bold step in support of entrepreneurs. Through the newly launched Effingham County Incubator Network, new and expanding businesses now have easy way to access professional office, retail and manufacturing space at a cost effective price.

Working with communities across Effingham and neighboring Jasper County, the ECIN has three separate spaces now available for individuals or business looking for new space.  With locations in Altamont, Effingham and Dieterich (and coming soon – Newton), each location offers professional office space, meeting rooms, staff break areas and other amenities.

In addition, the Effingham space offers free internet broadband services to occupying tenants.  Rental rates start as low as $50/month.

As I visit CEO classes around our network, I often hear “I wish I’d had something like this when I was younger!!!” I’m sure a lot of established entrepreneurs will say the same thing about the Effingham County Incubator Network. It’s a fabulous idea, and comes at just the right time.

Ted Gonder and Moneythink


I had the opportunity to spend a little time with Ted Gonder a couple of weeks ago.  This is a guy you need to know about!!!


nv1dgcgjqrihv52g7bjhHe’s a member of the resident’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans and has served as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, advising the Obama Administration on immigration policy for foreign entrepreneurs.  He also worked with the Kauffman Foundation and the Chilean government on transnational entrepreneurship initiatives, and published research with MIT Press and McKinsey.


His work has been featured on MTV, and the Wall Street Journal, and has spoken at the White House, the U.S. Senate, New York Stock Exchange, and TEDx.


He is the executive director of Moneythink, an exciting initiative providing financial education to young people.  Among the startling facts on the Moneythink website are these:


•          More than half of U.S. adults have subprime credit scores

•          The average U.S. borrower carries almost $11,000 in credit card debt

•          39% of U.S. adults have no non-retirement savings

•          33% of U.S. adults do not pay their bills on time



His innovative model uses college and university students as mentors who provide the financial skills for students in schools around the country.  Thirty universities in ten states around the country participate in the program.


Ted recognized that financial literacy is a critical part of preparing young people for life.  I love that he took his concern for young people and took action.  He is an incredibly dynamic young man, and his approach to teaching has value far beyond the financial how-to’s covered in the program.


Like CEO, what Ted does is life changing for both mentor and student, and has an impact on the trajectory of all their lives.


Ted told me that Moneythink and CEO share an approach that is “transformational, not information”.  How I wish more people understand the power of that!


Check out Moneythink’s website as well as Ted’s personal site.  I know you’ll be as excited about his work as I am!

The CEO Network is Growing!

We’ll have more than a dozen CEO classes this fall, spread throughout Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota.

CEO network 2014







We brought all of our teachers together recently to learn more about facilitating a CEO class.  It takes a major league teacher to facilitate a CEO program, and fortunately we have a major league group to do it.





IMG_2784We spent time learning about True Colors, the fabulous personality assessment that changes the way our students view themselves and others.  It’s cool to see high school students change their views, recognizing they need people around them who are different from themselves.






IMG_0877We did teambuilding exercises that facilitators will use with their students, and explored the methodology CEO uses to allow students to guide and “own” their own learning.  CEO classes typically involve students from multiple districts, and it’s critical they feel comfortable in the class.










CEO alumni shared their passion and enthusiasm with the group, along with specific guidance for working with young people in this transformational environment. They shared what they felt were the most important aspects of CEO, and answered a myriad of questions from our teacher/facilitators.

It’s important for our teacher/facilitators to bond.  They’re on the front lines of a revolution in learning, and they lean on each other as they work in this transformational experience.

2014-2015 is going to be a fantastic for CEO students all through the CEO network.  Best of luck to all our new programs!


A CEO Business Comes Full Circle

CEO is a very intense experience, and it transforms everyone who participates in it. It’s so exciting to watch as students learn by doing. They leave CEO with knowledge that can’t be learned any other way. It’s even more exciting when they take what they’ve learned in CEO and build on it.


IMG_20140608_0001Keith Sutterfield, CEO ‘10, is a recent graduate of Eastern Illinois University. He started a video production company while in CEO, and has carried on with his work during college.









Back of Business CardJust last week Keith launched Sutterfield Media, a full service video production located in Effingham. It specializes in corporate video and video for not for profit organizations for use in training, marketing, and fundraising. Sutterfield Media assists its clients in communicating their message online through their website, social media, and broadcast.



CEO is not just a transformational learning experience, it’s a long term effort in economic development. More and more economic developers understand the importance of growing local businesses, and CEO produces young people who understand the entrepreneurship isn’t something one studies, it’s something one does.

Keith’s experience in CEO provided him with experience, knowledge, and a network of contacts. “My experience in the Effingham County CEO Class opened my eyes to the great business community here in Effingham. When deciding to start my own business, it only made sense to come home to this community to do so,” he says.



“Before CEO, I did not consider entrepreneurship as a possible career. I can point to few other experiences in my life that have had such a permanent and meaningful impact on my future.”





photo-1Keith is a terrific young man, and all of us in the CEO community are very excited about having him back in Effingham. “This community shaped me into the person that I am, and I’m really excited to come back and be a part of it. It’s both exciting and terrifying to be starting out on my own fresh out of college, but I feel very lucky to be pursuing my passion so early in life.”




That’s what CEO is about, and everyone in the CEO family congratulates Keith and wishes Sutterfield Media the very best!

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CEO Alumni in Action

I had the opportunity over the past few days to catch up with a few of our Effingham CEO alums.  It’s such a privilege to watch these young people take their CEO experience and use it to alter the trajectory of their lives.


IMG_0852Mariah Story is currently a student at the University of Alabama, majoring in marketing specializing in sales.  She hopes to attend graduate school in London, then acquire experience working for a company before starting her own business.  She’s currently interning at Agracel, Inc., through the Effingham CEO internship program.



IMG_0854Molly Higgs is major in Culinary Arts at Vincennes University.  She started a cupcake business while in CEO, and plans to use that experience to launch her own restaurant later in life.  This summer she’s working for the Firefly Grill, one of the most respected eateries in the Midwest, working under renowned chef Niall Campbell.





IMG_0842Lexy Teichmiller continues to expand her business, A•T Avenue.  She has a busy schedule of shows, and has added fashion shows to many of her events.  Customers obviously look to Lexy for ideas on clothing and accessories, and she is quickly developing a reputation for her taste and ideas.    I ran into Lexy the other day while she was conducting a photo shoot for a new line of fitness wear.

Spreading the message of CEO

IMG_3333I just spent an incredible week on the road with Molly Niemerg and Amelia Winters, two of our CEO alums.  It’s such a privilege to share our passion and vision for CEO with people around the country.








IMG_0821 IMG_0825We started the week in Omaha, NE, with a great meeting at the Gallup Organization operations headquarters.  In addition to Todd Johnson, Joe Daly, and Glenn Phelps of Gallup, we were joined by Craig Schroeder of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, Gregg Christensen of the Nebraska Department of Education, Dusty Reynolds from the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, and Val McPherson, a local community leader.


We learned more about Gallup’s Entrepreneurial Strengths Finder, an exciting new assessment tool that helps identify entrepreneurs, and talked about how something like CEO can help give budding entrepreneurs the skills and networks to be successful.



Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetWe then spent a very enjoyable evening with Tyler Gerhking in Willmar, Minnesota.  Tyler will be the CEO teacher for the Kandiyohi CEO class this fall.  All three of use feel like he’s going to be an all-star.




images UnknownAfter a long drive, we then had the opportunity to present CEO to a large crowd at the South Bend Career Academy in South Bend, Indiana.  If the crowd we talked to is any indication of the caliber of the business community there, CEO would be a great addition to their community.


images-1We also had the opportunity to meet with the staff of this very innovative school.  They totally get what we do in CEO, and share many of our educational philosophies.




As always, when people meet the “products” of our work, they’re anxious to start a CEO program of their own.  There’s just nothing like seeing the results of what we do.

Being with our students reminds me that our CEO classes are wrapping up their year with successful trade shows.  Students are reluctant to see their experience come to an end, and they realize what a family they’ve become as they’ve made their way through this transformational time in their lives.

CEO graduates are now part of the CEO family, and they’ll now join the growing network of CEO alumni and investors.  Many of them will continue the businesses they started while in CEO, many will start new businesses, and many will connect with investors and alumni across the CEO network.

All of them, though, will wonder how they’ll get along without a CEO class to start their day!