University of Connecticut graduate Ali Oshinskie is a driven entrepreneur. The self-taught podcaster launched Podstories in May 2017 and is making a name for herself here in Greater Hartford.
Ali and Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price met at Café Fifty-Five for coffee and conversation about Ali’s experience with UConn’s Innovation Quest and what it means to be an entrepreneur.
NAN PRICE: How has your education prepared you for your role as an entrepreneur?
ALI OSHINSKIE: I didn’t really think of it that way until you said that. I actually started as an acting major at the University of Hartford. A lot of what you do as someone who wants to be an actor is to go out there and push yourself as the product. So I have that background from going to auditions.
NP: You’re really selling yourself as a brand.
AO: Right. My mom always said: You are your own instrument. It’s true. When you get a job, employers are not just looking for a hard-working millennial, they’re looking for you. If you want to sell yourself to a company, you want them to like you for who you are.
For me, if I’m going to get a job it’s going to be Ali Oshinskie getting a job, it’s not going to be X young millennial with these five things on a resume. I wanted to have something unique, which is one of the reasons why I decided to create and produce my own podcast, Professors Are People Too for the English Department.
NP: Tell us about that experience.
AO: Last summer I had a year left before graduation. I knew I wanted to be a podcaster, but I didn’t know how to do it. At the same time I thought: I need to get something out of the experience. I approached the internship program and asked if I could earn three credits to teach myself how to make a podcast. They said sure.
Professors Are People Too became less about the professors’ research and more about their lives—and more about the experience.
NP: You were a talk show intern at WNPR assisting with The Colin McEnroe Show and Where We Live. How did you land that gig?
AO: I applied through the UConn English Department internship program. I had actually applied a year before and didn’t get it. And then I went and taught myself how to make a podcast.
I loved it at WNPR. I grew up listening to Chion Wolf and Colin McEnroe. It was also cool to bring in my own experience of having made a podcast, because I could understand the language they were using.
Ultimately, it changed my view on internships, ideally these people these people could be coworkers someday, so I kind of allowed myself to be comfortable in that because I’d like to work at a place like that someday.
NP: What was your biggest take away from your internship experience?
AO: Public radio personality Ira Glass talks about this gap between the work you do right now and the work do you want to do. When I was at WNPR I was feeling that gap. Because the work they’re doing is at a speed that’s a lot faster than what I can do and they’re doing it at a professional level.
Some days I would think: I’m so far from where I want to be—I’m so far from the producer, the radio personality. That gap is always shrinking and sometimes it feels like you go backward and it gets bigger.
So my take away from the internship experience was patience with myself and where my skill level is right now.
NP: Let’s talk about your experience with Innovation Quest.
AO: Honestly, I never saw myself in the landscape of that incubation program. I sort of applied on a whim. But the Innovation Quest program really emphasizes that good ideas can come from anywhere. That’s probably what kept me in the program.
I participated in the six-week InQbator bootcamp earlier this summer. I saw it as a way to take what I already doing and turn it into something that I could sell. Because I think that’s a skill people need, even if you’re not an entrepreneur.
NP: Was your participation in the program a launching off point for you? When did you realize podcasting was something you could market and turn into a business?
AO: I already knew how to podcasting—at least a little bit. I had also talked to enough people that I realized podcasting is really big right now. People want to add those stories to their company or their academic institution’s brand story.
So, I knew how to do it and I knew there was a need for it. I thought: Maybe I can marry these two things in a business idea. Originally I thought of having students produce the podcast and doing it in a university setting—I still like those ideas. But my uncle once told me: Go where the money is. So I thought I’ll do it for businesses.
NP: What is it about Connecticut?
AO: I think being a lifelong Connecticut resident, there’s always a wanderlust of thinking other places have all these sexy, young adults cities and I want to go there, but interning at WNPR and staying here throughout college, I realized it doesn’t get much better than Connecticut—in some ways. And the startup scene is really big here. I’m just beginning to get involved.
And in Connecticut, it can be both a place where ideas are growing and I’m growing. That seems like a cool marriage, right?
NP: You mentioned the startup scene. How are you becoming involved?
AO: As I said, I’m just starting out. I’m learning to network and make connections. I met with the producers of the CTStartup Podcast and I’ve been meeting other Connecticut startups through IQ.
NP: Let’s talk about the future. You graduated, so what’s next? Is this startup something you’re going to put everything into?
AO: That’s a really good question. After the investor pitch day at the Innovation Quest incubator I had a lot of people reach out to me who want to learn more.
But a big thing for me is, I taught myself how to do a lot of these things, but I want to keep learning. I’m considering doing a part-time internship because I do believe you have to have mentors to grow.
So the next steps are using my professional connections to grow in what I want to do, which is podcasting.
Also, I’ve been working with local CT businesses to tell the story of their company or stories related to their values through the medium of podcasting. For example, I’m working with the Technology Incubation Program in Farmington to tell the story of medical startups there.
NP: Lastly, what does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
AO: I think it means knowing that I have something, a skill that is worth sharing with people.