Andrea Lee, part of the Lyles Center in Fresno State, started the HiLow podcast to discuss bipolar disorder. Photo provided by Lee
Mental health has become the focus of many conversations as the pandemic has gripped the world. A Fresno State business student is amplifying that conversation with the business world with her podcast.
Andrea Lee graduated as a valedictorian of her class at Clovis North High School and this month she graduated with honors from Fresno State. But behind the awards was a struggle for mental health.
In 2020, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental health disorder associated with extreme mood swings of emotional highs and lows.
The disorder affects millions of Americans, but Lee decided to turn it into a business opportunity when she realized she doesn’t have many role models in the business world. Her show, The HiLow Podcast, gives a voice to business leaders, students and mental health advocates. Available on Spotify and Apple, the podcast launched in March and has five episodes so far.
Its goal is to create a sense of community and understanding and inspire others to function despite the disorder.
“I really wanted to find someone who had bipolar disorder and was able to live with it so that I could see through my future, but it was really difficult and virtually impossible for me to find, especially when we were isolated,” she said.
The idea formed in a business class in the state of Fresno and Lee further developed it at the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
“Every problem you encounter is solved by a business project or a firm, and I thought my biggest problem was not getting inspired when I was diagnosed,” Lee said.
She was selected to be part of the Student Hatchery program, a business incubator where 10 students have access to business contacts, their own offices and company mentors. Students in the program are also exposed to investors.
Anna Borgeas, a faculty member at Fresno State’s Craig School of Business, met Lee during her entrepreneurship class. Right from the start, Lee came to Borgeas’s class thinking about The HiLow Podcast.
Upon learning of the idea, Borgeas invited Lee to apply for the Hatchery program.
“We have room for up to 10 students and are quite selective about who we ask to come. We offer them support services to help them launch and grow their business, ”Borgeas said.
Lee said the podcast was a great way to start something that was doable and other than a blog or website. Her advice to future entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs is to get started.
“I think a lot of the problems for young adults wanting to start a business are that they don’t put pressure on the game – they keep writing things down and then they don’t necessarily take action. It is a common trap because we are perfectionists. We want everything to be perfect before launch, “she said.” I went to my laptop, grabbed a microphone and started. “
Nelson Sebra, a Fresno State resident entrepreneur, helps select students for the Hatchery program at Lyles Center. He has been part of the process for over 10 years.
“From time to time we will meet a student like Andrea who is truly an exceptional student,” said Sebra.
Vartuhi Tonoyan, Lee’s mentor and professor of economics, described Lee as a creative, a leader and an intellectual.
“She is a truly incredibly talented human being,” said Tonoyan.
Tonoyan met Lee last year while teaching an entrepreneurship class and said she is one of the most outstanding students he has ever taught.
Tonoyan said Lee’s business plan is particularly interesting because many people talk about physical disabilities, but not many people describe mental disabilities as Lee started to do.
“I think what makes her stand out more than anything else is that she just has a serious set of goals. She is guided by her experience of her and a desire to fill a void she encountered when she was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ”Borgeas said.
Borgeas said Lee’s story is extraordinary due to the challenges he has overcome.
“I think it’s just a beautiful thing to see someone blossom this way through such adversity, turning it into an opportunity to do something meaningful,” Borgeas said.
Jorge Cruz, one of Lee’s economics professors at Fresno State, is an entrepreneur himself. He says Lee stands out among his peers because he was not afraid of risk and used his own challenges as a business opportunity.
“Entrepreneurs always have a sense of urgency and they work in those conditions,” Cruz said. “They see failure as a learning opportunity.”
Lee appreciated the contact with others who suffer from bipolar disorder.
“It’s kind of like you’re not alone. And it’s a time when you realize that I’m not the only one who has experienced it, “Lee said.
He attributes his strength over the past two years to his therapist and case manager. They both helped her set goals and helped her see the bright side.
Once the diagnosis is accepted, you can find ways to help you, he said.
Lee used her vulnerability to her advantage and asked her loved ones for help once she identified her needs.
Encourage other business owners to transfer their business plan from notepad.
“Yes, it’s important to do the paperwork, but just talk to people. Start making your business a real thing, ”Lee said.