Students attend CEO conference in Texas

Dr. Gerald Hills (third from right) presents Chuck E. Cheese founder with the CEO Lifetime Achievement Award.

December 2, 2011

By Elise Dismer ’13

As he entered the Cowboys stadium, surrounded by thousands of people and ESPN cameras trained on his every move, one man’s walk across the field had nothing to do with sports.

Dr. Gerald Hills, an entrepreneurship professor at Bradley, presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to the founder of Chuck E. Cheese, Dr. Gene Landrum, at the Texas stadium during the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) student conference.

“We felt very honored for the opportunity to be on the field and to announce the Lifetime Achievement Award,” said Hills, the founder and president of CEO.

The CEO conference, which focused on encouraging student entrepreneurs, brought together about 1,000 students and staff from 120 universities. During the conference, students had the chance to network, listen to a variety of speakers covering a broad range of topics and compete in the largest elevator pitch competition in the U.S.

“CEO is all about inspiring students throughout the country with a dream to one day become an entrepreneur,” Hills said. “Part of realizing that involves doing everything we can, through knowledge we have as successful entrepreneurs, to convey a knowledge of how to start and build businesses.”

Hills said the conference has a real impact on students each year.

“The intensity of their entrepreneurial dreams accelerates,” he said. “The conference increases the likelihood of students one day becoming entrepreneurs.”

Vitaliy Stefanov, a junior entrepreneurship major at Bradley, said the most rewarding component of the conference was the opportunity to network with professionals.

“It was such a fun conference and I liked getting all these connections and business cards from people that have actually been in my shoes,” he said.

Stefanov, who is competing in Bradley’s business start-up competition, Project Springboard, shared his business plan with one of the speakers at the CEO conference.

“We were emailing back and forth because he liked our idea a lot,” Stefanov said. “We want to sell handmade crafts from around the world on the Internet.”

Stefanov expressed his gratitude to Bradley and Hills, in particular, for supporting the learning event.

“If you have a good idea or even if you don’t, it’s a good motivational tool. It’s fun and you just get to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to meet,” Stefanov said.

Hills said student responses like this drive him to continue his work with the CEO.

“For several decades, my passion has been entrepreneurship,” Hills said. “Anything that will help spread entrepreneurship seeds among young people is really what I very much applaud and encourage.”

So while some might have considered being projected on the big screen in the Cowboy stadium to be the highlight of the conference, Hills said there was something better:

“The most rewarding part was having students from around the country come up to me expressing appreciation for a great experience.”