Helping a Community of Entrepreneurs Elevate Underrepresented Communities - Hellen Hernandez (A&S '26)



Entrepreneurship empowers underrepresented communities! When communities come together to support each other, it creates a rippling effect that unifies the strengths of diverse backgrounds.

Hellen Hernandez, a Pitt sophomore and intern at Ascender, shares how she found an intersection between her political science major and her work at Ascender to engage and elevate the Latinx community.

Interview Transcript

Rankin: Okay, so can you tell me about yourself?

Hellen: So I'm a first generation immigrant from Cuba and I I grew up in Miami and I came to fit to study political science, philosophy and Spanish actually and I joined Ascender as an intern because they're very focused on helping minority communities, especially Latinx communities, which I like to help as much as I can because my mom actually started up her own small business in Miami and you needed a mom and pop grants to actually get going and I feel like Ascender is doing that same thing for a lot of people in Pittsburgh, so I wanted to give back.

R: Well, let me ask you about your internship then.

H: OK, Well, I'm working on creating a community engagement plan. So that involves a lot of researching and interviewing people who have gone through Ascenders money programs and see how they're doing and then kind of ask them what they think Ascender could be doing more of to engage more with minority communities and underrepresented communities to really elevate like how much they're able to impact the Pittsburgh community.

R: Can you tell me about the the communities that you're currently reaching out to?

H: Right. So I'm mainly focused on Latinx communities because I am Latinx and actually our Executive Director and innovation leader are both Latinx. So it's very cool and I look up to them a lot because they're just really powerful and amazing women. But mainly we're focusing on that, I am, because the Latinx community is very fastly growing in Pittsburgh, but it is a lot of immigrants and 1st generation who are coming and who aren't familiar with the landscape, who need the help to get started.

I feel like Latinx people are very resilient and a lot of them want to work for themselves. so a lot of them seek out ways to create their own businesses and Ascender is here to provide that help. I want to keep helping by providing more language help because some people don't know English perfectly and just providing the accessibility to these programs that a lot of people may not know about.


R: Can you tell me what got you started with innovation, entrepreneurship, or Ascender?

H: So actually, I had no desire to join like an organization that was so focused on businesses, but through the Elsie Hillman Civic Forum, I was matched with Ascender and I'm actually really enjoying it because I never thought that I would want to enter the nonprofit sector or Innovation Center like this. But now that I have, I see how much it benefits communities and how important focusing on the people you are serving is because before I just wanted to go into politics or policy, but now just working here has really changed my my perspective and my outlook on how I want to actually help people in the future.

R: It's interesting that you come from politics into this business side. It shows like how multidisciplinary and cross functional it is to have a space like this and engage communities. What kind of support do you get as an intern? Do you have a mentor?

H: Yeah, so I do have a mentor. My mentor is Annia Aleman. She's here right now. She's really awesome and she really helps push me to think bigger. And then Ben is my supervisor and he also is just always there when I have a question. I feel very supported by this community as a whole because even at the events I've gone to, it's very welcoming and everyone just wants to talk and network and there's never any closed-offedness. Even if I'm just a student, they also always want to talk and be like, "What's going on with you? Why are you here? Like, let's let's talk about this." and I think it's really awesome.


R: What kind of things factor into that community atmosphere here at Ascender?

H: I feel like just the space is very welcoming because when you think office space, you think cubicles and really cold and all white and just stuff like that. But I feel like it's very open and there's a lot of windows. It actually used to be a current factory. So it it's very cool how they've reused the space.

Also just the fact that it's open to so many people allows there to be a community forming. And so many people who have gone through the programs come back and want to keep engaging with other people who are in the same spot they were. So it creates this entrepreneur community and ecosystem where they want to pull each other up and keep it going, put out good energies.

R: How do you think your time working at Ascender effects what your work at school?

H: Right now I'm focusing a lot in school about political theory and stuff like that because that's my major. But it's definitely allowed me to see things through a different lens of what communities want and what they need. Not so much like, oh, big government, what can big government do for you? It's more like what can the people around you help you with? I think Ascender and entrepreneurship center also help a lot because they just, they're able to give resources to people who need it. I think we need to think about that more. The resources that are available to us, I think, are very important. And that's definitely changed my mindset.

R: What was your previous mindset (before working at Ascender)?

H: Before it was definitely a lot of thinking politically. Like, what are the politics of this? What is the philosophy of this? Why do people act this way? Or how can the government help people? But I think there needs to be kind of a middle man, like a sender who gets the money from the government to then help these small companies start up because sometimes the government isn't able to really help small businesses with mentoring them and helping them be the business they need to be. And that's not going to help the economy. So I think Ascender and the Big Idea center are able to really just get into the community and talk to them and tell them what they need to accomplish to be able to help the greater community as a whole, which I think is very important for a growing economy.

R: Awesome. I think that's all I'm going to wrap with.

Thank you, Hellen!


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