Does Github Pages need an index.html file?

The instructions here indicate that I should create two repos: 1) A Github Pages repo, and 2) A “my-wowchemy-site” repo.

I created the first repo without issue, however, the instructions for the second repo (see the link) indicate that I should " Fork a Wowchemy starter template on GitHub". The issue is that I am using a sponsor template (Academic Pages) which is in a private repo and doesn’t allow forks.

So what I’ve done is copied the necessary files for the template I am using into my repo.

How do I publish the page? As far as I understand I need an index.html page but I am not sure what the contents of this file should be in order to point to the content in the current directory and subfolders.