BOSS provides 15 years of ideas, collaboration for business-minded students

The BOSS program started with a state-funded grant for two years, a creative new instructor and no guarantees of a long-term future.

Fifteen years later, today BOSS is basically tenured at Indiana University East. Its future is all but guaranteed. Accordingly, it’s time to reminisce and recognize its amazing success story.

BOSS is an acronym for Business Opportunities for Self-Starters. As it has prospered, BOSS might be accurate to stand for Built On Steady Successes.

The program was designed by founder Tim Scales in 2007 with an ultimate goal of encouraging 160 students in nine county high schools to design their own businesses from idea to implementation.

The 54-hour program of economics and entrepreneurship was dependent on getting buy-in from teachers who took three days of curriculum training at IU East. It also was dependent on raising awareness – and building sources of funding.

Today, Scales can boast that the BOSS style of real-life business education has been presented to over 6,000 high school students around Indiana. It has been presented in many other states and in Mexico, India and South Africa.

portrait Tim Scales
Tim Scales created the Business Opportunities for Self-Starters (BOSS) program 15 years ago to encourage high school students to design and implement their own business ideas. Scales is the director of the IU East Center for Entrepreneurship and a senior lecturer of business administration for the IU East School of Business and Economics.

BOSS has branched into three other programs and has gone online.

And it is only going to get better, believes Scales, who is director of the IU East Center for Entrepreneurship. To tell the truth, he admits: “I didn’t know how powerful it could be.”

To tell another truth: Scales had an idea of what BOSS could be, but no real plans past the first two years. He was in his first year as an instructor at IU East after leaving an executive position in banking.
BOSS exceeded expectations for the original two years – and for a third, too, because Scales had some leftover money from the initial grant.

His vision of BOSS was collaborative and upbeat, where encouragement was equally as essential as giving students the learning tools that they would need to succeed in the future. There would be no bad ideas, said Scales, an energetic optimist: “If they believe in it, I believe in it.”

He found believers in IU East, high school teachers and his own college students who helped take BOSS from ideas to implementation.

“His commitment and passion for teaching has been central to its success over the past 15 years,” Denise Smith, dean of business and economics, said in an email. “Students in high schools have gained business knowledge and have had opportunities to learn about entrepreneurship. It has helped build positive relationships with high school educators and support for their business-education programs.”

Scales also gained believers in community leaders, private foundations and proven entrepreneurs.

Among them is Valerie Shaffer, an IU East graduate who is president of the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County. She often talks to students involved in BOSS and admits she is “a local champion of the program.”

She said entrepreneurship and college graduate retention are vital to the community. “The BOSS program combines the two through education of how to start a business and through encouraging students to get out of the classroom and into the community to meet with business leaders and learn from their experiences.”

Scales is a regular presenter at educational seminars and conferences around the United States and the world. “I learn a lot from attending them,” he said.

And the attendees learn a lot about the successes of BOSS. That has paid dividends.

Unsurprisingly, BOSS has drawn national attention and won major honors.

Surprisingly, BOSS has become a driver of new students at IU East and an important public-relations tool.

“In addition to providing great opportunities to students, the BOSS Program has brought recognition to IU East and has served as a recruitment initiative,” Smith said.

Dozens and dozens of IU East students – and high school teachers – have been involved. The collaborations often bring students to campus. For example, 16 students from Richmond High School visited campus early in December to present their business ideas. “I am proud of the program and the many relationships we’ve built,” Scales said.

The prestigious Kelley School of Business has partnered with Scales and IUPUI since 2019 on a pilot program to teach BOSS to students in Indianapolis public schools.

The connection started after Scales gave a presentation at a conference in California.

Creativity and getting the word out have helped land funding through the years.

Scales gives a prime example: “People kept saying, ‘What if you did BOSS and celebrated Richmond.’ So, nine students wrote a marketing plan for Richmond.”

The late Mayor Sally Hutton was so impressed that she helped gain funding over three years through the Richmond Redevelopment Commission. The money was used to help create BOSS Technologies.

“Each year, we have to depend on a network of opportunities (for funding),” Scales said.

Scales made his first overseas presentation in South Africa in 2010. BOSS first evolved in 2012 by adding a new component called Marketing Your Success. BOSS Technologies started in 2013.

The newest, called BOSS Experience, was implemented last May.

The BOSS Experience started with recent graduates from the Class of 2022. During the two-week experience, participants traveled to Richmond's Historic Depot District to explore local entrepreneur-owned shops. Left to right: Reggie Reuss, Jessica Maupin, Garrett Silcott, and Colton Toms (front) Dailen Troutman, Joao de Lima and Colt Meyer.
The BOSS Experience started with recent graduates from the Class of 2022. During the two-week experience, participants traveled to Richmond’s Historic Depot District to explore local entrepreneur-owned shops. Left to right: Reggie Reuss, Jessica Maupin, Garrett Silcott, and Colton Toms (front) Dailen Troutman, Joao de Lima and Colt Meyer.

Dozens of IU East students also have helped with the planning and presentations.

The first class of six listened to entrepreneurial speakers and visited successful companies around Richmond and western Ohio. The members were presented with ideas for business plans. As befitting their new status as graduates, the participants were paid a salary.

Scales said it worked well, but like the original BOSS, there is a lot of work needed to make it a staple at IU East. “I’ve got it ready. Can I get it funded?”

Richmond High School teacher Denise Selm said she regularly uses the program with her business management classes but offers components of it in other business classes.

That flexibility has helped the program grow and adjust to a rapidly changing and challenging educational environment in public schools. “It was originally designed around students doing 40 hours a week for two weeks. Now, it’s integrated into other curriculum we cover.”

Scales’ teachings and collaborations have had positive effects in multifaceted ways – and brought out stories about his helpful and positive nature.

Shaffer said his encouraging style of teaching and mentorship helped pave the way for her quick rise into one of the most prestigious job positions in Wayne County. “When I decided to attend IU East, I did not have a career goal in mind,” she said. “Through Tim’s leadership, I learned more about my community and the various opportunities right in front of me. Local connections ultimately landed me the opportunity to get my foot in the door of economic development and my love for the profession and our community blossomed from there.”

She said he builds unique connections: “Tim is the only professor that I stayed connected to post-graduation. He checked in on me periodically and provided words of encouragement throughout the years and I appreciate him so much for that.”

Devon Milholland is one of them. He was there at the start, helping “take it from paper and bring it into life,” he said.

portrait of a man standing next to a pond
As an undergraduate at IU East, Devon Milholland helped to establish the BOSS program. Today, Milholland owns Diamond Outdoor Solutions.

He had long known that he was destined to be an entrepreneur. As a student in the business administration program, what he needed was direction and mentoring.

He found them by forging a strong connection with Scales. They traveled together to make dozens of BOSS demonstrations.

Milholland learned from the program that he was helping to implement.

“It helped speed up the process,” he said about his own forays into entrepreneurship. “It made it clearer … instead of a dream.”

Milholland’s idea called Build A Rock was used to motivate teachers to get creative and see the possibilities of entrepreneurial education.

The teachers and guests were transported to a riverbed in Richmond, where they were asked to find their own rock that would have a motivational statement imprinted onto it. That rock and statement were theirs to keep.

Today, he owns and operate a commercial power washing business, Diamond Outdoor Solutions, located in his hometown of Hartford City. He and his three employees are kept busy. “We’re doing great,” he said. “It’s been hectic here.”

Scales always has taken a hands-on role in teaching, mainly as a business educator whose role is to draw out creative entrepreneurial ideas from students and give them the optimism and tools to realize their goals. “I encourage them to not let people say no,” he explains. “We show them resources and don’t judge them. We allow each student to share their idea and turn it into a plan.”

His optimism, his energy and his collaborative spirit are evident on and off campus. “I spend so much time in high schools, so I am comfortable with them,” he said.

He works to make his students at IU East feel comfortable, too. Any student on campus is invited into his large office, which offers a variety of high-tech equipment for experimentation – including some pieces that haven’t even hit the market yet.

“My office is 100% geared to students,” he said. “They are visualizing their success in my office. We build a real connection.”

Scales counsels business students and meets with prospective new students. He is a huge booster for Red Wolves’ sports, visiting for an hour with each recruit and often showing up at home games and even ones that are hundreds of miles away.

Scales became heavily involved with sports teams after serving as chair of the committee that brought in soccer. “I help recruit for every team. As you start to recruit them, you want to support them.”

Milholland said he quickly felt Scales’ support and loyalty as a student – and sees it as BOSS has grown and evolved. “I can’t say enough good about him,” he said. “He’s good for the community and schools. If you need somebody to talk to, he’s a good guy.”

Scales returns the compliment: “He’s done some amazing things. He always talks about the BOSS program.”

Valerie Shaffer, President of the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County, is an IU East alumna who often talks with students as a presenter for the BOSS program.

Shaffer is highly complementary, too. “Tim has a unique way of applying what is learned in a textbook to real world experiences. He always encourages his students to get out in the community and see the good in where they live … He is a motivator by always encouraging students to find ways to improve upon themselves while also impacting our community, mainly through entrepreneurship.”

Selm was one of the first instructors to implement BOSS. “It definitely gives students opportunities to start thinking creatively, to come up with innovative ideas and the steps needed to bring them to market,” she said. “We’ve kept adding to it – a technology and marketing component – and branched off in different areas.”

Besides the basic program, she now has included BOSS-style components into her business-education classes since 2016.

Selm even accompanied Scales on the two-week trip to teach the program in South Africa. “I plan to continue, to expand,” she said. “Most students have no idea what it takes to start a business, to implement a plan, to become an entrepreneur. By the end of the program, they have much deeper awareness.”

Selm said she regularly uses the program with her business management classes but can pick and choose what she wants to use in other business classes.

That flexibility has helped the program grow and adjust to a rapidly changing and challenging educational environment in public schools, she said.

The original BOSS program – and its branches – are built for the long term now.

In July 2019, Tim Scales works with a George Washington High School student during the BOSS Summer Camp. Photo courtesy of Victor Hill, Shadowbox Photography

Future businesses that spawn from it will create jobs and bring other benefits to their communities. The entrepreneurs nurtured at IU East and through BOSS could become sources of its funding, its growth, its future.

The steady progress has led to numerous awards. BOSS was a finalist in 2017 and 2019 for excellence awards from the University Economic Development Association (UEDA).

It was selected as the UEDA winner for North America in 2020 in the Talent Category. It won in part, judges said, because BOSS added an online component because of the COVID pandemic.

The pilot program called BOSS Experience was implemented last May for new graduates at IU East.