Start a new business without a business plan? That often spells disaster.
The Business Opportunities for Self-Starters program at IU East (BOSS for short) imparts this fundamental lesson to local high school students by teaching economics, entrepreneurship, and, yes, how to write a business plan. Tim Scales, director of the campus’s Center for Entrepreneurship, established the program in 2007.
In true startup fashion, he began with modest ambitions.
“Fifteen years ago, I was challenged by the state of Indiana to create this program for high school students,” Scales explained to Inside Indiana Business. “Two years, 160 students. That was my goal. At the end of two years, hopefully we could sustain it, but we weren’t sure.”
Today, more than 6,000 students later, the BOSS program is a permanent fixture of the IU East curriculum. And it continues to inspire and cultivate young business leaders.
The First Order of Business
Think of the BOSS program as real-world training. It connects Richmond-area high school students with successful business leaders in the local community. Those professionals share their entrepreneurial learnings and their experiences in starting a business. Then, students apply what they’ve learned to write and present their own business plans.
Of particular importance is how to scale up an idea into a successful business. The professional guidance helps students develop practical steps to build their business from the ground up.
“The [BOSS program] has given a lot of students the opportunity to dream and think bigger than they have before. Several of the students have actually started businesses,” said Scales. “It’s just been amazing the opportunities the students have taken advantage of through the program. Sometimes they’ve started a small business on the side; other times, it became their full career.”
Students’ businesses have run the gamut, from clothing lines to subscription boxes to smart home devices and everything in between. Scales is adamant about encouraging students in the early stages of their ideas: “If they believe in it, I believe in it,” he said.
Making Gains and Managing Growth
As the BOSS program has grown, so too have its results. Connecting with so many high schools has created a pipeline for new IU East students—an unexpected boon for the campus. Scales has also taken the program on the road, presenting across the state, country, and even internationally in Mexico, India, and South Africa.
Most recently, Scales added a new facet called the BOSS Experience: a two-week program that largely follows the same formula, but is focused on IU East graduates. Beyond the business education, BOSS Experience participants also earn a paycheck for their work. Best of all might be the potential impact the program can make on state and local economies. After all, many students may return to communities with established connections to local business owners and a newfound know-how—not to mention confidence—to launch their own business.
With the continued success, Scales has set his sights even higher. “I’d love to see every IU campus involved in the BOSS Experience,” he said.
He’s already making strides. The IU Kelley School of Business has partnered with Scales to bring the program to Indianapolis public schools. With additional support, the program could expand even further.
It’s fitting that the program’s growth has followed the lessons it imparts on budding business students: Start with an idea, create a plan, and see where it takes you. In that way, the BOSS program doesn’t just teach how to start a successful business—it’s proof in itself.
You can help advance life-changing initiatives like the BOSS program at IU East. Make a gift to the IU East Entrepreneurship Center fund or contact Rae Buchholz, director of gift development, at 765-973-8331 or email@example.com.
This article was originally published in the 2023 issue of Imagine magazine. Thank you to Mike Bennett, IU East Newsroom, for original reporting that contributed to this story.