Edgard A. Hernandez is the Executive Director of Atlas Co and VBLA. Excelsior Business Development Corporation (d.b.a. Atlas Co.) is a not-for-profit community development enterprise/organization focused on taking on the responsibility of developing, training, financing access, advocacy, and providing technical assistance to the underserved – Minorities, Women, Veterans, Emerging businesses to become successful and leaders in their industry.
By providing Mentor support services, businesses can then strive in the public and private marketplace. Mr. Hernandez understands the numerous complexities of operating a small business and the niche area of selling to the government.
Connect with Edgard on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Work collectively in the business world
- Private or Government Sector
- The term “progressive” is viewed as a bad term in business
- Trust but verify is truly important, especially when coming out of COVID-19
- Grant vs. Loan business strategy
- Veteran Business Leadership Association mission and strategic plan
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:02] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Association Leadership Radio. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:17] Lee Kantor here another episode of Association Leadership Radio, and this is going to be a fun one. Today on the show, we have Edgard Hernandez with Atlas Co. Welcome.
Edgard Hernandez: [00:00:27] Oh, thank you, Lee. Thank you for the opportunity.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:30] Well, I’m so excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about Atlas Collective. How are you serving folks?
Edgard Hernandez: [00:00:36] So one of the things that the the major part of our mission is that we’re taking on the responsibility of supporting and developing our small business community, especially minority women owned and veterans. So we we focus on the development side of of the business. And it’s something that we it’s a passion. It’s a love that we we it’s not just a job or just run the organization. It’s just we want to get this done for the community.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:08] So how did you get into this line of work? Were you always serving this small to midsize business owner, this minority business owner group?
Edgard Hernandez: [00:01:17] No, I’ve done it for over 13 years. I was also the LaGuardia Community College P-TECH director. P-tech is an organization, the Center Procurement Technical Assistance Center. So it’s also part of 97 other PE techs around the country in Puerto Rico, Guam and even in Hawaii. So I’ve been in this field for a very long time. It’s it’s something that I got into in 2008. And what we’ve been able to do with that program is we we did over $800 million worth in government contracts, especially during the pandemic. For example, we were supporting businesses that were pivoting into PPE, gear, mask and all the other stuff that was going along with the cleaning, janitorial and everything. So during that phase, we did over probably over $200 million worth of work. So it’s it’s a it’s a program that is designed to help businesses with the process of competing and governments in the government space.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:26] Now, are the folks that you’re serving, are they kind of first time entrepreneurs or these seasoned entrepreneurs that are just looking for additional revenue streams or maybe getting into government, government contracting?
Edgard Hernandez: [00:02:38] It could be. It could be. We, as long as they’re viable, is that they’re starting out. But they have an understanding because we want to focus on the folks that are really geared up, that they really want to succeed. Some of them, if we see that they don’t have sort of things in place, they’re just trying to figure out where they’re going. That’s not what we want to do. We we love to invest our time in folks that have some direction. They have they’re committed to to the process and to the development. And that’s what we work with.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:14] So is there any element that educates, like kind of maybe that aspiring entrepreneur with the skills it takes to be an entrepreneur or these are folks that have already kind of been around the block a little bit and they just need some help getting to a new level.
Edgard Hernandez: [00:03:28] It’s a it’s a great question. In most cases, it could be either way. I mean, all the let’s put it this way, not everyone, not every business owner knows everything. Right? Government changes, policies change, regulations change. We do a lot of business development from the early stages all the way through. So it just depends on the initiative or the needs of the business community. So we’re able to. One of the things that we do is that we actually adjust to the needs of the community at large.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:03] So say I have a consulting business and I’m like, You know what? I bet you there’s work to be had maybe in government. And I’ve only worked in the private sector and I’ve only had private sector clients. Is it possible for you to help educate me on the process, to maybe tap into some of these government opportunities that maybe I don’t have the skill to navigate that world? Because that’s a you know, you do one thing wrong there. You could be months behind. Like it takes some help kind of navigating those waters for most business owners.
Edgard Hernandez: [00:04:38] That is correct. So so in this case, let’s say, how do we take your your business experience and apply to the government? That’s what we are looking at. How do you sort of communicate that? How do you sort of form them in the way that the government speaks and understands? Right. And that’s that’s the that’s how we need to transition into that type of language. And then the the sort of the not that can we say handholding is going through that process 101 to sort of focus on understanding what you’re getting yourself into. But. One of the things that we’d like to do first is that do you have the capacity to compete? Do you have the understanding? Because there’s two terms in government, you have to be responsible, responsive and responsible. Do you meet those two criteria? If you do, then we can move forward. If not, we can say, let’s just do more development early on before you get into this. Why? Because time is money. We don’t want you to spend time on trying to go into government, work, spending all this out, all these hours, and then money goes along with it. Right. So we’d like to avoid that and focus on what you’re good at.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:53] So can can we play out a scenario like an example, like, okay, so my business is Business RadioX. We do this show called Association Leadership Radio. One of our superpowers is we’re able to do kind of podcasting at scale. So like we can go into your association and interview all your members, produce good content that is going to be distributed in all the podcast directories so that that’s a business line of ours. How would I frame that for a government? Opportunity? Is that something that you would say, okay, I understand, or I kind of understand what you do, let’s see where there’s opportunities there. Let me kind of go into a database and put podcast. I don’t even know how you would begin something like that.
Edgard Hernandez: [00:06:40] One thing one thing to point out is that the government is they are responsible for spending the tax dollars, tax dollars wisely. They are not. They just don’t throw it out. There’s always government spending that you can sort of questionable, but they are responsible for our dollars and the way. But in doing so, they have to play it out with the small business community or the community at large. The business community because competition brings down pricing, but it also brings out opportunities when there’s certifications. All right. So so there’s to diversity inclusion. Now, it’s a very big topic and it’s been for a while. But but you play those things out, but you have to go to market that that’s what the government is required to do. So there are websites, the federal websites, the offer for New York state. There’s the contract reporter for the city of New York. There is the city record for any county that you live in. I mean, in Georgia alone in Atlanta, there’s a lot of work coming out of there. Right. There’s also, for example, they’re building a new airport. Am I correct? The airport is getting redone after so many years. And but also there’s messaging for you, for your services. There’s messaging, right. How do we get the public to know about, let’s say, about the new airport modifications? How do we communicate that to the public, to you have about a viable community and you can actually pitch that to the government. You can say, I have a following of 10,000 listeners, right? That would play out and say, oh, wow, you know, we can actually contract out Lee and his team to do that kind of work for us because we want to make sure that we reach as many people as possible.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:37] Now, is it something that you’re you’re just saying, hey, Lee, here, go look in these four places, or is it something that I can go, hey, I want to partner with Atlas Collective. Are you going to go in there and do this for me? Like, is it a do it yourself is a do it for me is it do it with me? Like, how do you interact with your participants?
Edgard Hernandez: [00:08:57] We are doing it with you. We’re going to step by step. We’re reviewing the RFP. We are answering all your questions. We’re confirming you have everything in place to be responsible and responsive. Right. Do you have the right accounting system to keep track of your of your transactions with the government? Do you have the right insurance? So we’re sort of doing all this pre check before you get in. So because we don’t want you to waste your time, but once we check off all the major requirements, we can say we need to move forward. And it’s, it’s that’s when you can initiate and go and go with the opportunity.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:36] Now, do you help businesses get government grants or government loans? Because each of those has their own headaches when it comes to signing up for. And there’s a lot of I mean, there’s so much this is what I’ve heard. I mean, I haven’t pursued this really, but there’s so much documentation. There are so many opportunities for you to make a mistake in filling out the documentation. And if you make a mistake, in some cases, you’re like back to square one.
Edgard Hernandez: [00:10:06] Yeah, you’re so right. And that’s why, for example, we atlas are funded to support businesses with the New York State Recovery small. Is this recovery grant. Right. And we helped with the entire process. It’s a I mean, the state has done a great job of explaining what the requirements are. But not everyone and not every business understands that. And we deal with businesses from from just in from small to all the way, medium to large, up to $2.5 million in gross receipts. And we can see it throughout that, a lot of them still. It’s new sometimes it’s new jargon or they don’t understand how the government interprets the information. And that’s why we’ve been tapped to do that. And if for us, we’d like to explain that. So when we sort of go through this, you become more compliant or you’re in compliance for the next opportunity, either if it’s for a grant. The the SBA programs that are out. And there’s also confusion also with grants and loans. There are grants which don’t have to be paid back. And there are loans. And also grants are not. The the grants that are coming out are for viable and operating businesses, not for new businesses. So there’s this. Mr.. This is where we get into the weeds, right? We try to explain as best as we can in order for businesses to to move forward.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:47] So now if a business comes to you and says, I need help or I want to pursue this, what is the kind of how does the relationship unfold? Like what is an onboarding look like?
Edgard Hernandez: [00:11:58] The most simplest thing is that we ask you to fill out our registration form online and then we can get started immediately once we receive that application, because we need to confirm your location, your gross receipts. So we start doing all this pre assessment. So, so when we get into the conversation, we’re well versed and then we put all the pieces together.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:26] Now, as you mentioned, that this this is a it’s a nonprofit, right?
Edgard Hernandez: [00:12:31] That is correct.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:32] So how are you funded? Is this do I pay a fee for the service? Is this you have your own kind of funding source?
Edgard Hernandez: [00:12:41] None at this time. We are funded by New York State for this initiative, for the grant program or the TA program. And then we are moving into a subscription model for for a lot of our services based on gross receipts. Our mantra is to think collectively because we want to build a community of business owners that can perform in the private and government sector. That is part of our mission. So so we. So if you’re if you’re starting out, you can get all the services for a very nominal fee and you can have an advisor sit with you and go through this entire process. And then from there, if you’re growing the business, we also want to grow because we want to use those funds to reinvest back into the community. More programing, more resources. For example, we want to put together a loan program for businesses to have working capital. So when they have those small jobs that they really want to perform on, they can borrow that money and repay it back. So we are developing new programing, new initiatives, new opportunities to connect businesses.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:54] Now, right now, are you only serving businesses in New York State?
Edgard Hernandez: [00:13:58] Right now, in New York State, we’re looking once we build our our our our collective, we are going into New Jersey and probably several other states, but we are geared up for New York at this time.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:14] And is there any kind of industry that you’re looking at right now or is it kind of fair game across the board? Like, say, I have a cybersecurity business or I have a janitorial service? Either of those are both good fits for you or are there certain ones you want to stay away from? Or is it kind of anybody can, you know, at least inquire?
Edgard Hernandez: [00:14:35] It’s all it’s fair game. We are not industry specific. I’ve been doing this for a long time and never focused on one industry. If we get a grant or a fund to do that, yeah, we’ll do that. But we built an organization that is for everyone. And because right now you see a lot of organizations that are focused on research and development technology. But what about the other, the mom and pops? What about the small businesses? Where do we develop them? And that’s why we that’s why I started this organization is really to focus on that grassroots. From from bottom to up where we can develop them. And what that does is adds more jobs, increases payroll and and reduces the amount of businesses that closed. We want to that’s where we want to be, and we’re good at it.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:34] Now, do you think that business owner who has kind of explored getting into doing some government work is missing an opportunity that that most businesses should at least take a shot in this area.
Edgard Hernandez: [00:15:49] And they should look during COVID. And one of the things I said to my one of my colleagues in the business, in the field is that we’re battle tested. Right. What does that mean? Is that when we came on board in 2008, this is when I got started in the field, we were dealing with the with the financial crisis then after that Hurricane Sandy. And but now we’re dealing with COVID. But the government has it stopped, right. The government has to stop buying because they need to spend in order to keep us secure and to make sure that we have the viable services no matter what is going on. So the government is recession proof they should give it a shot. But is it? It’s all about timing. Are you ready for it? Because I’ve had businesses that want to go into this field and they’re going too fast. And then I then I pump the brakes and I’m like, You’re not ready for this. And they’re surprised that I’m telling them that. And I’m like, if you go into this now, you would fail and then you are out of money that you might not be able to recoup. And that’s the honesty that we bring to the table. So so just to just to make sure is that we want to this is where we do all the pre checks before you go in.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:14] So what is your kind of maybe the story, the most rewarding success story you have of of helping somebody maybe get into this and then it takes their business to a new level?
Edgard Hernandez: [00:17:29] You know, sometimes I just sometimes I don’t focus on the dollars I focus on. The effort, right. Did the person do the things that we talked about and they were able to succeed? But but just to touch on one we were able to take a business that. That one did that during the pandemic, didn’t really know how to deal with government. And was just really struggling to understand how that process worked with the federal government and. What we did is that we actually sat there and went through the entire process with them and also protected them from from making mistakes early on and their business. They generated over 100 and something million dollars and now they have expanded even and even at this time have expanded to a huge facility in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. And now they are actually doing all the gowns for the city of New York. So we took a garment business that wasn’t even focused in that field, and we’re able to really get them up to speed on government work so that that’s been very, very fruitful. And it always touches me because during the pandemic, I actually my wife would kill me because I’m actually working at late at night trying to answer questions on how to approach the government. And we were able to get that done.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:03] So what do you need more of? How can we help you?
Edgard Hernandez: [00:19:07] It’s just to get the word out. We want to. The collective is is to make sure that we bring partners from all levels, from big companies, large companies, small companies. We want people to understand that by working together, we can make our our economy stronger, we can make our nation stronger. And everyone want the goal of a small business is to get to that next level. So why can’t we? What we need to do is support each other.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:40] Amen to that. So if somebody wants to learn more, what is the website?
Edgard Hernandez: [00:19:44] W w w atlas collective. Dot org.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:48] Atlas Collective org.
Edgard Hernandez: [00:19:51] That is correct.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:52] And then what about like on LinkedIn? If somebody wants to connect with you.
Edgard Hernandez: [00:19:55] Linkedin is my name. Edgar Hernandez. It’s it’s it takes you straight a straight shot on Instagram. It’s a really it’s our mantra at think collectively. And if we need to get a phone call, it’s 5166361090.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:15] Well, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Edgard Hernandez: [00:20:19] Thank you very much, Lee. Keep up the great work. All right.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:24] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We will see you all next time on Association Leadership Radio.