Thursday, July 29, 2021

Highlighting Hustle in Happy Valley: Teacher and podcaster Bill Zimmerman has created an empowering platform for local entrepreneurs

What began as an idea aided by an inexpensive microphone from Amazon has become a flourishing space for entrepreneurs in central Pennsylvania. 

Whether it be on travel, food, career development, or even something as niche as listening to people review Harry Potter books chapter by chapter, chances are there is a podcast for everyone. Bill Zimmerman, a Penn State lecturer, took note of this – and so began his journey to create his own podcast, Happy Valley Hustle, in 2018. The podcast has been showcasing conversations with local entrepreneurs ever since, and celebrated its 100th episode in April. 

The podcast has racked up some impressive statistics, including 19,000 all-time downloads and listeners from at least 68 countries.  

“I didn’t see anything like this around and thought, I think I can build an audience because something like this does not exist,” Zimmerman explains.  

The first 100 episodes took Zimmerman, an entrepreneur himself, on a fascinating journey. He’s interviewed people such as New York Times bestselling author Keith Ferrazzi; local cookie connoisseur Anne Yorks; and Nate O’Brien, a recent Penn State graduate whose YouTube channel with advice on productivity, personal finance, and minimalism garners up to 3 million views per video. The O’Brien episode amassed more than 400 downloads.

Each episode begins with upbeat music and Zimmerman’s jovial introduction: “Welcome to Happy Valley Hustle, the podcast that highlights the innovators that aren’t afraid of a little hard work.”

Building rapport through conversation is nothing new for Zimmerman; he spent the first 10 years of his professional career as a newspaper reporter in western Pennsylvania. It wasn’t until 2012 that he made his way to State College and was hired in the Office of Strategic Communications at Penn State. He simultaneously earned his master’s degree in education while working for the university. When he was given his first chance to teach a communications class, it all clicked for Zimmerman. 

“I taught a class and really loved it, so I started to tailor my graduate studies towards teaching. … I also had work experience in an emerging field, and starting in the fall of 2017 got hired as a full-time faculty member,” he explains. 

The podcast has provided networking opportunities for Zimmerman, as he is often a guest lecturer in other classes and gets to meet with other budding creative minds.

“Just a few days ago I talked to two recent grads starting a business. I find it super-energizing to be in the same orbit as some of these people and see what they are doing,” he says. 

Matt Swayne, a science writer who contributes to The Quantum Daily, was the guest on Zimmerman’s first and 100th episodes. Swayne says Zimmerman is doing a great deal for the local entrepreneurship community. 

“There are two things you need as an entrepreneur: You need to champion something and you need someone to champion you … and that’s what Bill brings; he is a catalyst for entrepreneurs,” Swayne says. 

Swayne adds that his conversation with Zimmerman challenged his own thought process as an entrepreneur, as he articulated them during the show.

“Bill does not realize he is doing this; it is just Bill being Bill,” Swayne says. 

Zimmerman likes to keep it real during each episode.

“I … want to give a clear idea of what entrepreneurship is like, how tough it is, and how it may not be for everyone,” he says. “I also try to show that it comes in a lot of different forms; you don’t have to quit your job and max-out your credit cards. … You can start a mini-entrepreneurial experience and grow from it.”

Zimmerman says one of the easiest aspects of making it to the 100th episode was sourcing guests; he keeps a running list of people who have been recommended to him and names he has come across via social media and local news outlets. While most episodes feature a guest, Zimmerman occasionally sprinkles in a shorter “solo cast,” where he shares some of his industry expertise with listeners. 

When asked why a podcast for his own entrepreneurial venture, the answer is simple: it was something he was interested in outside of his professional life.

“It was a wakeup call in life when I stopped listening to rap music when I would go out for a run, and was listening to podcasts instead,” Zimmerman says with a chuckle. 

As for the future of Happy Valley Hustle, the sky’s the limit. 

Zimmerman hopes that the next 100 episodes leave listeners walking away feeling empowered to do the things that make them happy, realizing that side-hustles, or entrepreneurial endeavors, do not necessarily need to be activities that generate revenue, but rather are “something you’ve always had a knack for.”

Elizabeth Molek is a freelance writer.