Customizing Shoes for the Community

Customizing shoes

In Valparaiso University’s College of Business, students gain skills that prepare them for today’s globalized business environment. But young entrepreneurs, such as Jake Miller ’22, don’t have to wait until graduation to utilize their education.

Jake, a business management major, started his own business, JEM Custom Shoes, in 2015. While his journey into entrepreneurship preceded his acceptance to Valpo, his experience in the College of Business has provided the skills and knowledge he needs to succeed in his business endeavors.

“The College of Business wants you to succeed and gives you the opportunities you need to grow,” Jake says. “The skills I’m developing in class coincide with what I’m already doing with JEM Custom Shoes. I’ve been able to apply class projects — like designing a website — to my business, which has helped me better understand various marketing and business techniques.”

JEM Custom Shoes began as a hobby for Jake to paint custom shoes for friends but has quickly grown into a full-service shoe cleaning, restoration, and painting enterprise. Through his business, Jake also found a way to give back to the community.

shoe drawing

“During the summer, I work at the Boys & Girls Club of Michigan City,” Jake says. “Last year, I taught an art class and was able to talk to the kids about painting shoes. I gave the kids templates of blank shoes and had them draw custom designs. After seeing their work, I wanted to bring their art to life.”

Jake selected a few of the drawings and created a new line of custom shoes called the Boys & Girls Club collection. He used a pair of donated shoes for the first project and sold the completed shoes on his website. Through the sale and a subsequent resale of the shoes, $450 was donated to the Boys & Girls Club.

Jake was invited to join the Society of Innovators at Purdue Northwest in December 2020 for his commitment to entrepreneurship and his impact in the community. The Society of Innovators aims to contribute to economic and community development throughout the region as the champion of innovation in Northwest Indiana.

“I didn’t know that I was nominated, but I was honored to be recognized for my work,” Jake says. “Through the Society of Innovators, I learned about a new set of opportunities to expand my awareness of the community and grow as an entrepreneur.”

Jake’s willingness to grow himself and his business venture exemplifies the College of Business’ goal to prepare business leaders to achieve at a higher level with integrity.

“Jake has demonstrated his entrepreneurial spirit at Valparaiso University,” says Joseph Trendowski, Ph.D., assistant professor of management. “At Valpo, students have the opportunity to work with faculty, learn from one another, and find inspiration from outstanding student leaders like Jake.”