Press Release: United Way Announces $30,000 Venture Fund Grant To Sangamon CEO

United Way provides $30,000 in venture grant funding for the expansion of the Sangamon CEO collaboration

Sangamon CEOSPRINGFIELD – United Way of Central Illinois provided a $30,000 venture fund grant to support the expansion of Sangamon CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities). United Way’s Venture Grant Committee and Board of Director’s unanimously approved the investment in Sangamon CEO following a review of the program’s grant application for expansion.

“United Way is pleased to serve as a contributing investor to the expansion of Sangamon CEO,” said John Kelker, president of United Way. “Program’s like Sangamon CEO are strengthening our community by bringing together businesses, schools and nonprofits to develop a new generation of leadership in our community.”

In its second year, the Sangamon CEO program is collaboration between businesses and school districts in Sangamon County utilizing a competitive application process. It is an accredited high school class that connects students to business leaders and allows them to experience the challenges and rewards of running a business. In emphasizing real-world learning, approximately 25 high school seniors from different high schools across Sangamon County meet for class at businesses where the business owners share their knowledge and experience. Over the course of a year Sangamon CEO visits more than 70 different sites and hosts over 150 guest speakers.

Students in the program utilize what they learn to create both a class and individual business. To start their individual businesses, students use money generated by their class business and create a business plan, including a marketing plan, which they present to banking professionals and potential investors. In addition, students display their individual businesses at two different trade shows; Business Connections (April 30) and Leadercast (May 8).

United Way funding will assist Sangamon CEO in its plan to expand the program by adding a second class next year. The program is funded entirely from private investor/donors primarily from the local business community; no tax dollars are used.

“We are extremely grateful to the United Way of Central Illinois,” said Bruce Sommer, Center of Entrepreneurship at University of Illinois Springfield and board chair of Sangamon CEO. “Not only does their investment assist us in immediately reaching more students, but I am confident it will further provide tremendous returns for the social and economic prosperity across Sangamon County for generations as these students launch and grow new businesses.”

The investment in Sangamon CEO represents the largest venture grant awarded by United Way since the venture grant funding was first introduced in 2005. United Way’s venture fund was created to provide one-time funding for projects created to enhance the quality of life in Sangamon and Menard counties. Eligible projects must also be aligned with one or more of United Way’s funding priorities which are basic needs, education, financial stability and health. Although projects must align with United Way’s funding priorities, any nonprofit organization, regardless of membership, may apply for funding.

Funding decisions are made by a committee of local volunteers responsible for evaluating grant applications and program outcomes. Requests exceeding $3,500 require additional review and approval by the executive committee of United Way’s board. Requests exceeding $10,000 require the review and approval of United Way’s full Board of Directors.

For more information about Sangamon CEO contact Brant Mackey, facilitator at or 217-836-3300.