Cesar R. Hernandez faces a one-in-six chance of being arrested or going to prison. Why? Because he’s a Hispanic male who grew up in the United States. Growing up in South Brooklyn, Hernandez had been arrested six times on wrongful charges by the age of 21, and encountered police brutality firsthand.
In the U.S., Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, or BIPOC, are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to land in prison than any other demographic group.
Today, however, Hernandez represents some of the largest tech companies in the world through his public affairs firm, Omni Public. He has worked with companies like Tesla, Ford, HyperloopTT, Bird, Scoot, various government agencies, and most recently, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. And COVID-19 has revealed just how important Omni Public’s work is to not just the Tampa Bay area but to the rest of the United States.
He is also working hard to help design diverse entrepreneurial ecosystems across Florida, through the Latin Chamber of Commerce and advising entrepreneurial resource organizations like Synapse Florida and the Tampa Bay Wave.
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This is hugely important work, as BIPOC entrepreneurs face far more obstacles than other groups. They have to work harder to find funding opportunities, to brand themselves, and to find support networks of people who look like them.
This is bad news for innovation, as diverse teams have been proven time and again to be instrumental in a company’s creativity and ability to pivot. Hernandez is one of the many young innovators who is actively reshaping the landscape.
Hernandez’ work to shape policy and work for a better future comes to him naturally.
He is descended from a line of Mayan warriors, politicians, and activists, and grew up in South Brooklyn, in a one-bedroom apartment, learning the stories of secret wars fought by Guatemala’s indigenous people, his people, against the government from his grandmother. The conflicts were so brutal that his great-grandfather was given to a Catholic orphanage so that he might live.
His grandmother, one of 15 siblings, was one of only five who survived. That grandmother, Christina Garcia, became a political activist who eventually had to flee her country for her own safety. She ended up in Brooklyn, NY.
His family, and family history, instilled in him a strong sense of resilience from the beginning. “I am persistent in my mission to prove that a BIPOC entrepreneur from Brooklyn, N.Y. can survive, make it out alive, and thrive. I am persistent because I am a catalyst for change and serve as an example to young BIPOC entrepreneurs that our future is not defined by statistics or our current environment, but instead by our ambitions.”
Innovating for change
Hernandez studied at the University of South Florida, and after graduating, he took his knowledge to the University Area Community Development Corporation (UACDC). He worked with young people as a community organizer and liaison between the nonprofit and law enforcement—which is how he first became steeped in grassroots movements and public policy.
“I recognized those kids’ stories from my time in Brooklyn,” Hernandez told us. “My heart went out to them.” His efforts on behalf of the UACDC caught the attention of local politicians, and he was hired as a Legislative Aide at City Hall in Tampa for then-Councilwoman Lisa Montelione.
“That job defined my career because it gave me the understanding and opportunity to shape policy while interacting with city, county, state, and federal representatives.”
Afterward, Hernandez led the government relations office for The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART), where he helped craft the country’s first ever public-private partnership between a government agency, a rideshare company (Transdev), and an electric vehicle manufacturer (Tesla). The partnership produced a first and last mile rideshare solution called Hyperlink.
Funded via a $1.2 million investment from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and $250,000.00 from the private sector, Hyperlink was able to augment existing routes and connect patrons to HART MetroRapid stations in the most transit-void areas of the region.
Back in April, Hernandez sat on a virtual panel to discuss the rapid technological growth the Tampa Bay area has seen, and remarked on his entrepreneurial journey. “For the first time in many generations, I am in a position to think about more than just survival. I am now in a position to thrive and positively impact society.”
Hernandez’ story shows just how powerful a force BIPOC entrepreneurs are, and why more communities should be pouring resources into giving them the support they need. For too long, this group of founders has faced obstacles to accessing everything from funding to mentorship opportunities. Hernandez, and groups like Tampa Bay Wave, are changing that—and their example can be a beacon for other cities across the country.