LITTLE ROCK – Maf Sonko, who was born in Gambia, traveled many miles and lived in many places on his way to settling in Little Rock to launch his company here.
Maf’s choice of Arkansas affirms that the economic development initiatives we have undertaken in Arkansas are working.
Maf officially launched LumoXchange this week in a ceremony at the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. He describes his company as hotels.com for cross-border currency exchange.
The idea for LumoXchange occurred to Maf when he was sending money to Gambia. The cost for sending the funds could be as much as 20 percent of the amount he was sending. There was no easy way to compare the fees of one company to another or to find the best rate of exchange for U.S. dollars.
Through LumoXchange’s website, you can shop for the best rates, and the cost is as much as 50 percent less than alternatives in the marketplace.
Although Maf’s company makes the transaction simple, the path to his grand opening was fraught with challenges. He was able to leap those barriers through his own determination, which was undergirded by the spirit of cooperation in Arkansas that you don’t find everywhere.
LumoXchange’s journey to Arkansas was made possible eleven years ago when local leaders created a Technology Park Authority. In 2014, a group of entrepreneurs and business leaders opened The Venture Center.
The Venture Center partnered with FIS, which produces financial technology – or FinTech, as it is called – for companies around the world.
Then to help attract entrepreneurs, my administration set aside funds for the Accelerator program, which is designed to accelerate the growth of technology-based startups and enlarge the stable of high-tech talent in Arkansas.
While all of this was happening in Arkansas, Maf was in New York City, working his day job as a Supply Chain Operations Manager with PepsiCo while building his money-exchange platform by night.
In 2016, The Venture Center and FIS chose LumoXchange to participate in its first class of 10 startups. On Wednesday, many of the mentors and partners who helped make this happen gathered for Maf’s announcement that LumoXchange was up and running in five countries.
Maf could have picked any number of places in which to start up LumoXchange, but few offered the intangibles that he found in Arkansas, such as the cooperative spirit, the quality of people, the relationships that are so easy to form, and our excellent quality of life.
One of our state’s many strengths is the diversity of opportunity. Agriculture and tourism are our top two industries, followed by retail and manufacturing. But technology is crucial to our economy, and we have made great strides in preparing our young people with our statewide computer-science initiatives.
When people ask me what I’m doing as governor to prepare for the future, I say that we are training a new generation of coders and entrepreneurs, which creates a talent pool that will attract businesses to Arkansas.
I am proud of the success of the Venture Center, which provides, the content, connections, and capital to help entrepreneurs move quickly and grow here in Arkansas.
This program is one of the ways we attract innovators such as Maf Sonko and his six-foot-eight chief technology officer, Daniel Pollock. This is part of our future.