It was 2013 when Raven Hernandez saw a sleek Tesla cruising quietly down the highway in her home state of Tennessee. It was the first time she’d ever noticed an electric vehicle—they were still a rarity then in the South—and she was fascinated.
But when Hernandez left Nashville for law school at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, electric cars were everywhere. California is way ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to EVs—thanks to a pledge to ban internal combustion engine or gas-powered vehicles by 2035.
We need this in the South, Hernandez thought to herself. “I wanted to be a part of that story of bringing it here."
Hernandez had been on the path to practice law after graduation. Childhood experiences with the legal system—visiting family and friends in prison throughout her childhood; even attending the trial for the murder of one of her uncles— made her want to do work that would make a difference. But, after she finished law school, applying to law firms just didn’t feel right. "If I would have gone five [or] 10 years being an attorney, even though it wasn't my passion, that was five or 10 years of my life that I could have been living my authentic truth," she says.
So, instead of torts or trials, Hernandez spent a few months traveling in Bali, Hawaii, and Australia to clear her head. Then, in October 2020, she went back home to Nashville to launch an eco-friendly rideshare service that uses only electric vehicles (EVs), using her and her husband’s savings as well as investor seed money: Earth Rides, the first all-EV rideshare.
"We want to reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Our overall mission is really to provide access to clean technology for everyone, and, right now, clean technology is in electric vehicles," Hernandez says. While rideshare giants Uber and Lyft pledge to be EV-only by 2030, some critics say this isn't happening fast enough to meet challenging climate goals. Hernandez saw the need to build an entire business around clean transportation technology.
Earth Rides has grown quickly. In 2021, the company moved more than 180,000 passengers, offsetting 230 million grams of carbon. Hernandez’s company has since expanded from Nashville to Austin, Texas, too, and now has some 100 employees. The company's six-person leadership team is 50 percent female or POC. Forty percent of Earth Ride’s drivers are women. (Uber’s driver workforce is 27 percent female, and Lyft is about 21 percent.) Hernandez prides herself on her staffing and on the reliability, ride quality, and safety her company provides to her riders. Earth Ride drivers go through industry-standard FBI background checks that include sex offender registry, federal, state, and local county searches, as well as an in-depth interview process and training in safety and customer service.
The 26-year-old Hernandez is a minority in both the tech and automotive worlds. Although it’s not known exactly how many women entrepreneurs are in the cleantech space, women make up less than 30 percent of the clean energy workforce, while Latinx employees are 17 percent, according to a recent report from the business group E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs). The car industry is another where women are barely represented: Only 27 percent of the auto manufacturing workforce is female, according to a Deloitte report.
"Female or POC, the fact that you exist is gonna be really exciting for other women or POC because we're in a time right now where people want to hear our voices, people want to connect with us, and people want to lift us up," she says. Hernandez has created her own network and found inspiration in other diverse tech communities, such as Women in Cleantech & Sustainability and BrainTrust, an organization that offers networking meetings for women entrepreneurs to talk about everything from scaling their businesses to revenue goal setting.
Creating EV access for women and minorities is one of Herdandez’s central missions. She thinks getting a lift in an Earth Ride can be a first step to an interest in EVs—like when she saw that Tesla for the first time so many years ago. "In Nashville, about 80 to 85 percent of our riders had never been in an electric vehicle the first time they got in an Earth Ride," she says. So, when a passenger steps into one of Earth Rides’ fleet of Teslas, Polestar 2s, and Mustang Mach-Es—cars with lofty price tags—her knowledgeable drivers can help influence customer buying decisions. "We're able to train the drivers as real industry experts who are behind the wheel,” she says, “and who say, 'Oh, let me tell you about regenerative braking. Let me tell you about the different types of charging." Hernandez hopes speaking to women directly can make a difference—in 2019, 75 percent of all EVs were purchased by men, according to a recent report. Hernandez says: "Exposure is the most crucial element of accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles.”
Before starting the company, Hernandez admits she had never patched a tire, changed a brake pad, or understood the charging infrastructure. But she studied hard and caught up quickly. "These were more male-dominated industries,” she says, “but at Earth Rides, I get to show men the value of teaching and sparking a passion in their daughters to be more involved in the automotive and clean technology space."
Now just two years into the business, Hernandez is doing the groundwork to expand to other cities and grow her fleet, including branching out into the next frontier: hydrogen-fueled vehicles. There’s still a lot she wants to do, but when she looks back at what she’s already done, she’s proud to be representing the female and Hispanic viewpoint in this industry. "I've had young women already reaching out to me and just being thankful that I exist,” she says, “which is a unique place to be in at this time of my life."
Brittney Oliver is a career and lifestyle freelance writer and content strategist based in Nashville. Over the past six years, Brittney has built her platform Lemons 2 Lemonade to help young professionals turn career obstacles around. Her platform is known for it’s networking mixers which has brought over 5,000 professionals, entrepreneurs and creatives together to turn life’s lemons into lemonade in NYC, Nashville, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Atlanta. In 2019 Forbes listed her as one of "Nine Black Women Leaders Dedicated to Empowering Others." Brittney has a BA in Public Relations from Howard University. After living in NYC for seven years, Brittney returned to her home state Tennessee to grow Lemons 2 Lemonade nationally.
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