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New program in Willmar will connect young aspiring entrepreneurs, business owners

A new program in the Willmar area hopes to match high school students with some of the area’s most innovative entrepreneurs.

The CEO program, which stands for “Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities,” connects high school juniors and seniors with business professionals who have started their own companies. The program was founded by Craig Lindvahl as part of the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship in Effingham, Ill.

This summer, Gary Geiger, chairman of the Heritage Bankshares Group in Willmar, heard a presentation from Lindvahl and began working with him to bring the program to Willmar.

As part of the program, students meet 90 minutes every day before school with local business mentors. Students learn how to create a business plan, how to pitch their ideas and, essentially, how to run their own business.

“It’s a really hands-on experience,” Geiger said of the program. “They’re learning so much more than balance sheets, income statements or a sales pitch. They’re going to understand how to start their own business. They’ll know that it can be done.”

Geiger has been working with Ridgewater College President Doug Allen to see if participating students could earn college credits through the program. All of the high schools in and around Kandiyohi County will be invited to have students join the CEO program, Geiger said.

As of now, Geiger hopes to launch the program next fall. He’s currently looking for 50 Willmar-area businesses to sign on as sponsors of CEO. Sponsors give $1,000 to the program for three years, as well as commit to being involved in the program in some way, either as mentors, speakers or a host site.

Willmar has a strong entrepreneurial community, Geiger said, and can benefit in the future from more young entrepreneurs. One of the goals of the CEO program is to encourage participating high school students to go to college, and then return to their hometowns to start a business.

“Not only do we want kids to understand entrepreneurship, but on the other side, think of how good it will be for our community if these kids come back here after college,” Geiger said. “Entrepreneurship is important to the whole economy of this area.”

For more information about the program contact Geiger at 320-212-7416 or email

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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