Apr. 30—When Bronson Smith was a kid, he and his father would go to Indianapolis and pick up small vials of cologne made from essential oils.
The senior at Kokomo High School remembers they smelled so good, he'd get compliments from the girls in his class.
When it came time to decide on what sort of business he'd create as a student in the Kokomo CEO program, Smith thought back to those trips to Indy with his dad, and BronScents was born.
BronScents was a hit at the Kokomo CEO Trade Show on Wednesday. The alcohol-free, roll-on scents are potent without being overwhelming. Just a dab on the skin is all you need.
Rarely was there not a line of people wanting to get a whiff of Smith's colognes and perfumes. He made more than a few sales, too.
Wednesday's trade show was the culmination of a year's worth of hard work for the 18 high school students in the entrepreneur program.
Students in Kokomo CEO learn the ins and outs of starting their own business and the amount of time it takes to do so.
A stroll past the various booths showed the creativity and professionalism of the next wave of young entrepreneurs.
Businesses ranged from pet treats and tennis lessons to home décor signs and computer repair. Students chatted it up with those who passed by, giving them their pitch and business cards.
"This is a legit trade show," said Kokomo CEO Facilitator Brandon Bishop.
Plenty of students found customers and future clients. What is a trade show without some networking, after all?
Kensley Seekri's dog and cat treats were top sellers.
The idea to start Daily Goodies came after Seekri's puppy had a digestive issue. She found pumpkin puree helped her pet turn the corner.
Not long after, she had her business — organic treats to help with a pet's diet.
Seekri teamed up with the Kokomo Humane Society, and 25% of her proceeds were donated to the shelter.
A senior at Western High School, Seekri joined Kokomo CEO after seeing the experience her brother had.
The program is hosted through the Kokomo Area Career Center. Students also earn high school credit upon completion.
Kokomo CEO students visit local businesses and learn from business owners. They also have mentors.
But it's not all entrepreneur lessons. Bishop said a significant part of the program is learning soft skills, like learning how to network.
It helped students such as Seekri better converse with people who approached her booth.
"I've learned how to ask authentic questions that are necessary in a conversation," she said.
Smith said Kokomo CEO helped him become a more vocal leader and step outside his comfort zone.
"That's what you have to do to be successful, and that's what I'm learning every day," Smith said.
Margaret Johnson saw the development of soft skills in her son, Elijah.
A usually quiet kid, you wouldn't have known it talking to him about his business, Evergreen Creations.
With ease, Elijah explained his 3D printers and the products they made, and if you had a little time, he could even tell you how he put the printers together. He used his printers to make bag tags, customizable in school colors.
"It's unlike anything else," Elijah said of the program. "Being able to talk to business owners is something you can't get anywhere else."
"He's really come out of his shell," his proud mother added.
Owen Myers took a different route with Kokomo CEO.
Instead of starting a business, he used the education provided by the entrepreneur program to build on his service project — Christmas in a Shoebox.
Myers started the Christmas donation project as a third grader after a guidance counselor told his class about families who struggle at Christmastime.
Every year since then, Myers solicits donations from the community and puts together shoeboxes which are then donated to CASA of Howard County. The organization advocates for children in court who are victims of abuse and neglect.
Christmas in a Shoebox donates about 150 boxes a year. Myers estimates they've donated more than 1,000 since he founded the project.
He wants to expand his efforts, link up with other CASA programs and file for nonprofit status. Kokomo CEO has given him the tools to do just that.
"It's really given me a lot of information on turning it into a nonprofit," Myers said.
Wednesday was also a proud moment for Bishop. Having watched the class grow, learn and overcome challenges, he knows their futures are bright.
"They're going to go and do great things," Bishop said.
Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.