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MADISON, Ala. – 14 students from Bob Jones, James Clemons, and St. John Paul II High Schools started the year as strangers, but they all have one thing in common: they want to be entrepreneurs. Now, they’re relying on each other to be successful.

The students gather every weekday on Zoom for their daily Madison CEO meeting. Started by Midland Institute, it is the nationwide business program’s first year in Madison.

This is only the second branch of the CEO program in the entire state. The acronym in this case, however, is not Chief Executive Officer. It stands for Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, and it’s meant to inspire the next generation of self starters with lectures and visits from local entrepreneurs.

“This is funded by local entrepreneurs during this year, which its a big deal that they felt that strongly that they needed to invest in young entrepreneurs,” Madison CEO facilitator Michael Katschke said.

Students are given tasks, and their performance determines the amount of money they’ll have in their pockets to invest in their next task. First, they had to find a way to turn $1 into $100; then, they had to come together with the money earned and start a real business.

“They’re learning how to manage themselves, they’re learning these business concepts, these entrepreneurial concepts, and they’re learning that, really, they’re ridiculously in control of their future,” facilitator Suzanne Katschke said.

The inaugural class of Madison CEO chose to start Mad City Apparel. They saw a lack in uplifting messages during this pandemic, so they found a niche in which their business could thrive, even selling their signature t-shirts for a fitting $20.20.

“It’s been a journey – some days we were just sitting there pulling our hair out because we didn’t know what we were doing. You don’t know in advance, the reward,” student and Mad City Apparel CEO Jonah Roberts said. “A couple days ago we had 17 sales in one day, which is super cool.”

5 Boys screen printing Vice President Kyle Dennis was a guest speaker for the class. He has been a supporter since the program came to Madison, and little did he know he would soon be the business’s supplier.

It’s very cool to be hands-on and have that opportunity to give back, reach out and teach them something about being an entrepreneur,” Dennis said.

The students have run the business fully virtually. Lately, students have been strategizing how they can expand their online reach and how they can hit their monetary goal of $8,386 before the end of January. More importantly, they hope their shirt’s messages make an impact.

“Just trying to put a smile on people’s faces when it’s been a really hard year for a whole lot of people, and that’s just what we’re trying to do is bring positivity and allow our story of Madison CEO and Mad City Apparel to bring a light when there is some darkness,” Roberts said.

The students’ next task is splitting the money raised from Mad City Apparel to start 14 individual businesses next semester. Roberts hopes Mad City Apparel can stay running too.