A dozen young entrepreneurs representing every high school in Franklin County came together last week to showcase their business ventures in a trade show at the Benton Civic Center.
"Entrepreneurial Development Growth & Education," or EDGE, has been two years in the making for Franklin County, according to EDGE board member Martha McCreery.
"This is our first group of entrepreneurs that have completed the one-year program," she said.
McCreery is semi-retired and teaches part time at Rend Lake College.
"They (the students) have done a phenomenal job," she said, "just to see where they've come from to where they are now."
McCreery said the program is a big commitment. "It's not for everyone," she said. "They meet at 7:30 every morning."
The program is one of several that are popping up around southern Illinois.
The premise is simple -- to give students an opportunity to see what owning a business is like and to encourage entrepreneurship that will boost local economies. For their efforts, the students earned two dual credit hours at their respective high schools and Rend Lake College.
Benton businessman Lee Messersmith is the facilitator for the program that is funded through in-kind donations.
"We have some businesses that have invested," he said, "but a large percentage has come from individuals."
Messersmith said that Rend Lake College stepped in to fund the facilitator role. "That made it all happen," he said.
The students meet every morning at 7:30 a.m. at the Farm Bureau office in Benton. Unlike traditional classes, the EDGE program is more of a hands-on learning opportunity.
"We did business visits, usually one or two a week," said Messersmith. "We have had people from different industries, like insurance and banking, come in and talk."
Messersmith said students had to sit in front of a banker and present their business plan. The bank then recommended a loan amount based on the presentation. The loans were funded through the EDGE program.
"They have gone through every aspect of business development," said Messersmith.
More than learning business techniques, though, Messersmith said the program teaches presence and confidence. "They can go in any situation and engage with any group or individual and are confident in themselves," he said.
The students agreed, but they also have seen the value of the experience.
"Going through EDGE gave me an entrepreneurial outlook," said Benton Consolidated High School senior Caron Webb, owner of Webby's Wraps. "I realized I can make money from it."
Webb's business, which he says he "stumbled across a few years ago," offers customized banners, signage and vehicle wraps, as well as in-house graphics. "If you have an idea but lack the art skills, we can do it for you," he said.
For his display, Webb had several examples of work he had done for area customers including several schools and the Marion Culver's.
Isiah Edgell turned his love of woodworking into his EDGE business, Cutting Edge Cutting Boards.
"I've been in the workshop with my grandpa since I was 4 or 5," said the West Frankfort High School senior. "I knew a little about selling," he said, citing participation is a few church craft fairs. "EDGE helped me streamline it," he said. "It made it smoother and more enjoyable."
Thompsonville High School's Kailee Fox also used a family favorite as the basis for her business. Fox Resto Mods restores classic cars, equipping them with what Fox describes as "modern day amenities."
"They're like a rolling piece of art," she said.
For other students, like Andrew Kent, their "product" was the sale of knowledge. Kent operates E-SISTENCE.
"I actually sit down and teach older people how to use a computer."
Kent said that EDGE gave him a perspective of what he wants in a career.
Messersmith said he was proud of the efforts of the inaugural EDGE group, especially in their personal growth.
"They own their space and know they will be successful."