Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Entrepreneurial Effingham

One of the major assets of my home county of Effingham, IL is the entrepreneurial spirit that permeates the community. I can’t tell you the number of times that someone from 20 or 50 miles away asks me, “What is it in the water there? Why do you have so many more entrepreneurs than other towns around? And, you always seem to get things done that no one else, even much larger towns, can even think of.” I don’t have a good answer for them, although I have to agree with their assessment.

This past week we had another example of what these entrepreneurs can do and how they are helping to shape the entire region for the future when the first Camp E3 took place. Billing itself as Energizing, Emerging and Entrepreneurial, Camp E3 came about when a group of entrepreneurs partnered with Eastern Illinois University’s Business School (EIU) to put on a two day camp for potential entrepreneurs ages 14 to 18.

Thirty students, seven college student coaches and Jeannie Dau, head of entrepreneurial activities at EIU, had an incredible time during the camp. One mother wrote me about her son’s experience, “He really enjoyed the program and talked about it at length every night when he got home. This speaks volumes for my son since I practically had to drag him to it.”

She went on, “And he was really tickled that they won, he told me repeatedly that one of two groups he labeled “the smarter kids” was going to win, so it was good for him to see that creating a successful business is about executing a good idea and not necessarily about who is the smartest…I think he got much more out of it than just a lesson in entrepreneurship.”

I wrote back to her that the common knowledge in entrepreneurial circles is that the ‘A & B kids’ are going to end up working for the ‘C ones’. I can’t tell you the number of entrepreneurs that I know here locally who barely got out of high school much less college, but today run wonderfully successful companies employing hundreds.

In being one of the judges for the business plans, I was incredibly shocked at how much knowledge teenagers could accumulate in only 48 hours because of the internet. I could see how the speed of business is only going to get faster.

The first place team developed a transit company for Effingham. Second place was a drive-in theater and third was a sports equipment store.

After the judging, the students were asked of the take-home value from the two days. Common comments were, “We really learned to work together as a team. I’m starting to understand the importance of financial statement. The details of what you put together can make or break you. You could really tell the speakers who had a passion for what they did. Failure is not permanent.”

Smart kids! Tomorrow, some of the other ideas and an incredible course put together by the business community.

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