Belleville CEO Program Empowers Students 

The Belleville CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) Program is a year-long program that offers a comprehensive educational experience to the community’s high school students, equipping them to be “enterprising individual and entrepreneurial thinkers.” Participants are eligible for up to four college dual credits through Southwestern Illinois College upon completion. Students learn skills they will carry with them for life. The St. Louis Community Foundation is a fiscal sponsor of the program. 

Student Zion Watson said, “The program is a gateway to fulfilling and showcasing your business potential. Hearing the different perspectives of several entrepreneurs has been powering and motivating.” 

In the first semester, the class works together on a class business to create funding for each student as start-up capital. One of the two 2022 classes recently held the Belleville CEO TopGolf Classic at TopGolf in Chesterfield, MO, raising approximately $12,000. 

In the second semester, each student entrepreneur develops their own business. Each student receives $250 for their businesses from the TopGolf Classic event and can request additional funding from the CEO board (made up of local business leaders), if needed. The remaining funds are invested back into the CEO Program.  

Working with a mentor to create a business plan, the students meet with industry professionals and local business owners. The mentorship program strengthens the CEO Program’s success and builds generational bridges between the student and the business community. Mentors also help students immerse themselves in real life learning experiences with the opportunity to take risks, manage the results, and learn from the outcomes. 

Wendy Witte, Donor Relations Manager at the St. Louis Community Foundation, recently gave a presentation about planning a charitable event to the students in January. The tools the students learned in this presentation helped them as they worked with sponsors for their TopGolf Classic. 

Originally started in Effingham by the late Craig Lindvahl, the Belleville CEO Program has served 147 students in seven years. The program and its associated costs are supported by local businesses who commit $1,000 per year for three years at a time. Additional investors are needed to support the growing popularity of the program, which recently added a second class. Learn more about becoming a program investor. 

The Belleville CEO Program is accepting student applications now through March 4, 2022. Contact Julie Siebers, Facilitator, at with any questions about the program.