D190815 CEO students

Marcus Abrams, left, and Jackson Coffey have a conversation in front of their classmates as part of their training in the Decatur-Morgan CEO program at the Entrepreneurial Center on Wednesday. [JERONIMO NISA/DECATUR DAILY]

With no money and virtually no experience, a group of Decatur-area students have begun creating a business they hope will live beyond the elective class they are taking at the Decatur-Morgan County Entrepreneurial Center.

“It’s a lot of pressure, but not from the class, but because we personally hold ourselves to a high standard,” said Decatur Heritage Christian Academy senior Carter Sample.

He is among 11 students participating in Decatur Morgan Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities or Decatur Morgan CEO, a program designed to expose students to real-world business experience.

The group, which includes seniors from Decatur, Austin, Priceville, West Morgan and Falkville high schools as well as Decatur Heritage, meets every school morning for 90 minutes beginning at 7 a.m. Students will participate in the class for a year and learn how to start a business from local entrepreneurs and business professionals.

Joy Laney, a retired certified public accountant who worked for several businesses during her career, is the students’ facilitator. She said her goal is for the students to start two businesses, and she didn’t waste any time before challenging them.

Austin senior Marcus Abrams said they have agreed to start a business that involves selling advertising space on work badges students will wear. He said they have to go out in the community and meet with business owners, but even this takes planning.

“We have to decide what business we’re going to visit and who will visit them,” Abrams said.

Students said they'll also have to take the time to find the best prices on badges and shipping so they can maximize profits.

Because the students are from different schools, one of the first lessons they learned was the importance of networking in business, and that is why they have formed a group chat, Decatur High student Jackson Coffey said.

“We cover a lot of stuff in class, but we plan to be more active with our group chat,” he said.

Ellen Didier, who owns Red Sage Communications and is chairman of the Decatur Morgan CEO board, said Decatur’s program follows the footprint of a program the Midland Institute in Illinois started more than a decade ago.

She said Decatur is the first community in Alabama to give students the opportunity to be part of the CEO program, and that students have to start a legitimate business and not something that is theoretical.

University of Alabama Huntsville dean of business Jason Greene, who learned about the program and its benefits while working at Southern Illinois University, pitched the idea to Morgan County business and school leaders more than a year ago.

“This program has numerous benefits for students, including the development of business knowledge and skills, experience in thinking and acting entrepreneurially, and practice in using soft skills — whether it is selling a product, selling yourself or selling your ideas,” Greene said in a written statement.

“So it isn’t just helping students develop into business people,” he added. “It’s helping them become more innovative, entrepreneurial and successful in whatever field they pursue.”

Regardless of what happens with the businesses they create, students said they have already benefited from being in the program.

“I’ve ventured outside the group I’m comfortable with and met new people that will teach me things that will help me in college,” Abrams said.

Decatur Heritage student Stephen Ross said he, too, has learned about networking in the class.

“I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of business owners in the area,” he said.

Priceville High senior Ian Livingston, who plans to study engineering in college, said he’s learning business skills he otherwise wouldn’t get without the CEO program.

Petra Beaver and Savannah Echols — both Austin students — are the only females in the class. Beaver is not sure what business she wants the students to start next, but Echols wants it to be something involving creative media

— deangelo@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2469. Twitter @DD_Deangelo.

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