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Impact Spotlight: How ACFC's P22 Program Boosted Sophia Fernandez's Small Business


A lifelong athlete, Sophia Fernandez says she never pictured herself working a typical nine-to-five. “I always knew that I wanted to be my own boss,” she says. “I just knew a typical desk job wasn't going to be for me. I'm a very active person. I need to be out and about.”

The Downey native tried a range of different jobs before starting her freight and logistics business, Mava Transportation, which she received a P22 Small Business Grant for in 2023. But in 2020, she was ready to take the leap. “I wanted my own thing,” she says. “I didn't want to have somebody else controlling what I wanted to do.”

The Player 22 Program aims to position current and retired female and gender-expansive soccer players for success in new jobs or entrepreneurial endeavors. Named for ACFC's inaugural 2022 season in the NWSL and the 22 players on the pitch in a soccer game, P22 comprises educational programs as well as the small business grant Fernandez received.

Fernandez’s dad, who she’s close with, suggested she get into his line of work: trucking. “He owned his own trucking company from 2006 to 2008,” she says. “He’s like, ‘try that! You have the knowledge, so why not?’”

With money she’d saved up working as a neuromuscular therapist and later a flight attendant, Fernandez bought her first truck. She found a driver using her dad’s connections in the industry, and set about building her business one client at a time. 

“I would literally walk to different businesses and say, ‘I'm Sophia Fernandez, this is my company, this is what we do. I have one truck. I'm just trying to get started,’” she remembers. “And I’d ask if they needed transportation services. I slowly started getting clients, and I think what helped me is that I would actually go and visit them. They would say, ‘oh, wow, nobody's ever come to see us!’”

Fernandez kept her flight attendant job and worked on building up Mava when she was home. “I’d fly at night and on weekends,” she says, “and then get right back at it on Monday.”

Over time, the business started making enough money for her to buy a second truck, and then a third. She now owns eight trucks and employs dispatchers, a job she used to do herself.

Building a business from the ground up in a very male-dominated industry wasn’t easy. “I have a strong personality, so I don't have a hard time going up to somebody and introducing myself and saying what I do,” she says. “And a lot of men would almost feel uncomfortable. They’d brush me off or tell me I didn't know the industry.”

“I had to do my best to not let that affect me, because honestly it would hurt. I'm trying to grow my business, and they think I'm a joke.”

Her background in soccer—Fernandez played Division 1 ball at Pepperdine and played a handful of friendlies with the Mexican national team when she was in college—helped prepare her for those challenges in more ways than one.

“My college coach would say, ‘fake it ‘til you make it,’” she laughs, “and that’s what I always tell my kids.” That confidence she learned carried her through as she learned the ins and outs of the business, something she worked on with the persistence of a player learning to bend in a free kick or strike a perfect volley.

The dynamic reminded her of playing against boys when she was growing up. “At school we would line up to pick teams,” she says, “and of course the boys never picked the girls. And I'm like, ‘okay, well, you want to lose, then!’ It gives you that competitive edge because you feel like you have to to prove yourself.”

She learned everything about her trucks, including earning a class “A” license so she could drive them herself. “I know the rail yards like the back of my hand,” she says. “So if we get a new driver and he's like, ‘oh, I'm stuck behind the train, I can't move,’ I can say, like, ‘make a left and go around and go through the white zone. They’ll try and play dumb, because they're hourly,” she jokes.


Fernandez says her relationship with her drivers is the most rewarding part of the business. “ I've gotten to know them personally, know their families and their spouses,” she says. “They're just really awesome people. They're such hard workers and I appreciate them so much. I get emotional about it, because I always tell them, without them, my business would not be successful. I try to take care of them the best I can.”

The P22 grant has helped Fernandez with that, especially as the economic slowdown over the past year and a half has made business difficult. Operating a fleet of trucks isn’t cheap—a new set of tires runs $3200. She also says winning the grant has helped boost her company's exposure to potential investors and new clients, adding that she hired five new drivers after receiving it.

“What felt good about it wasn’t just the grant itself,” she says. “It was the recognition. Somebody saw something in my company and in me that stood out to them. It was like, ‘hell yeah! Somebody noticed me. Whatever I'm doing is working.’”