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When the five aspiring entrepreneurs initially met one another, they realized they had a lot more in common than they expected. Some were self-conscious. Some struggled with self-doubt. All of them wanted to feel supported. It wasn’t until they were randomly assigned a group project in a class at Virginia Commonwealth University that they learned the importance of gaining confidence by stepping outside their comfort zones.

The class — Survey of Entrepreneurship taught by Jay Markiewicz, executive director of entrepreneurship programs in the VCU School of Business — provides students with skills to start and run successful businesses. For the class’ five-day business project, groups create a product or service and try to make a profit from it on five consecutive days.

One of this spring’s standout ideas was a female-led podcast called “Living in Pink,” which co-creator Sarah Mekonnen, a May graduate, describes as an avenue for women to talk publicly about their issues.

Recognizing that self-doubt is a widespread problem, the team wanted a product that would embolden women. A podcast, Mekonnen said, would provide an interactive forum for women to support each other on a variety of issues.

“In the podcast, we each individually have our own segment,” she said. “So we all kind of bring something different to the table that we’re super passionate about — whether it’s work, personal life, mental health — we talk about it all. It’s really important to have that diversity to get different [listeners] interested.”

Each five- to 10-minute podcast, which can be found on the free streaming site PodBean, addresses relatable topics such as mindfulness, women in the workplace and birth control.

Co-creator Christine Lee, a rising senior, said a podcast for women and allies was a good fit for VCU’s urban campus and surrounding communities.

“I don’t think there’s really anything that is essentially, specifically, here in Richmond, that women and allies can go to and have an open conversation in and feel very comfortable in,” Lee said. “So this just gives the people in Richmond a community they can really speak in and feel really comfortable in.”

Although the podcast was created to empower women, Lee said 12% of their audience is male.

“That kind of gave them a platform, too, to ask women questions that they weren’t really sure of,” said Nicole Michalek, a rising senior and fellow podcaster. “We’ve had questions like, ‘How do you approach women in public? What’s the best way?’ I think that’s a really good way to communicate from both sides as well.”

Since its launch through Instagram in April, the “Living in Pink” podcast has not only empowered other women, but also has given some of its creators a confidence boost.

“Working with these women really uplifted me and [taught me] to not let myself waver and always station myself and stay strong,” Lee said.

When reflecting on the first presentation the group gave about their podcast, Michalek said she remembered how nervous she was. To her surprise, the group did so well that she believed they were capable of succeeding every single time after that. 

“These women have given me confidence that I never knew I had,” Michalek said.

While the podcast itself does not make money, the team sells merchandise, such as clothing, on Instagram to raise funds necessary to continue the venture. The group — including seniors Erika Minor and Jynise Moses — will continue searching for other ways to monetize the podcast, such as gaining sponsorships. As it reads on their site, the podcasters are hopeful they can continue to encourage and motivate other women “to live loudly and unapologetically.”

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