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WDC partners with Staples-Motley, Pillager to launch entrepreneurship class

Craig Lindvahl explains the "Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities" class to Wadena-Deer Creek sophomores. In cooperation with the Pillager and Staples-Motley school districts, WDC will being offering the program, which teaches business and life skills, to a select group of students next fall.

She's only 20, but Alexis Teichmiller has already founded two businesses.

Last Thursday, the 2011 graduate of a "Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities" (CEO) class in Illinois talked to Wadena-Deer Creek students and community leaders about how the innovative high school business course changed her life.

"To this day, I'm still using things people like you taught me," Teichmiller told a group of about 20 business owners and other Wadena leaders over lunch at the Pizza Ranch.

Next fall, Wadena-Deer Creek will partner with the Staples-Motley and Pillager school districts to bring the CEO course to a select group of 20-22 juniors and seniors. The two-credit class will meet each day before normal school hours at businesses around the area. Throughout the course, students will hear from 50 to 60 guest speakers and develop three business plans. At the end of the year, they will launch their own businesses.

"Kids come out of this with a working knowledge of all kinds of businesses," said retired teacher Craig Lindvahl, who launched the CEO program in 2005.

Lindvahl, the executive director of the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship who is also an accomplished filmmaker and musician, presented the program to leaders in the three participating communities and at the three high schools last Thursday.

Businesses, not school districts, pay for the class through $1,000 per year donations with a minimum three-year commitment. The entrepreneurs also provide the curriculum for the class.

"The real heart of this is you guys," Lindvahl told the Pizza Ranch lunch crowd. "It's really important work. It changes kids."

He said investing in the class "is investing in the next generation," because it makes it more likely talented Wadena students will choose to spend their careers in their hometown.

After the presentation, Wadena leaders seemed impressed with the CEO program.

"We're definitely going to be involved on some level," said Trevor Zastrow, district branch manager for Central Minnesota Credit Union. "It's a really dynamic program and it's good for the community."

Mayor Wayne Wolden said he'd be interested in talking to the class about how business interacts with local government. "Students coming out of school aren't really in tune with how the local community works. Those are things good citizens should know."

Later at the WDC high school/middle school, Lindvahl and Teichmiller explained CEO to separate groups of sophomores and juniors.

"It's a business class, but it's not only about business, it's about life," Lindvahl said. "Some stuff you only know by doing it."

Students, he said, don't need a great grade point average to get into the class - or to succeed at it. Rather, they need two things: work ethic and trustworthiness.

"If you don't have those two things you should not apply," Lindvahl told the students.

In addition to the two high school credits, CEO students will be able to receive credits through area community colleges. Central Lakes College is working on the details with Staples-Motley superintendent Mark Schmitz, he said.

Holly Doyle, director of student services for the M State e-campus, said the college network offers a range of business degrees and should be able to offer credit to students, too. "When they are doing that level of work, they should be getting credit for it."

After listening to Lindvahl talk about the CEO program, WDC sophomore Jarrett Pettit said he's considering applying. "I think it's a great opportunity."

Tyler Church, WDC middle/high school principal, said he's going to encourage students to apply.

"This is a cool thing," he said. "I would like to see a full group of WDC students involved in this."