In 2000, when Maf Sonko was 15, his family fled a bloody government crackdown on student demonstrations in their native Gambia. They received asylum and settled in North Carolina, where Sonko finished high school and earned a degree in industrial engineering from North Carolina State University
Since then, Sonko has built a successful career in supply-chain logistics and warehouse automation, working for companies including Swisslog and PepsiCo. In 2016, he moved to Little Rock to launch LumoXchange, a tech startup that will make it easier and more transparent for immigrants to send money home to their families. These remittances can dramatically improve quality of life for people in developing countries. “We like to call ourselves the Expedia for money transfers, because we find the best exchange rates for our customers,” Sonko says.
LumoXchange was supported early on by an accelerator run out of Little Rock’s Venture Center. “In the United States, you have access to so much,” he says. “Even though I came from a middle class family in Gambia, there’s a lot more I can do here because of the freedom and flexibility I have to achieve the American dream.”
Now Sonko wants to repay his adopted city by hiring locally and keeping his company’s headquarters in Arkansas. “We like the area, and the access to the folks who’ll help with our business,” he says. “I don’t see any reason why we would move.” LumoXchange currently employs three Little Rock residents, and by this summer, will hire three more, with further growth likely as business picks up. Sonko believes the company will be handling $500 million a year in transactions by 2023. “These are active citizens who are working and paying taxes here,” he says of his clients. “They might send $250 home, but they’re generating much more than that in the United States.”
Sonko says his career, and his decision start a business, is just one example of how immigrants are contributing to Little Rock’s economy. “A lot of immigrants are very entrepreneurial,” he says. “We’re coming in, and seeing all the opportunities to strive and grow and innovate. We want to be part of the success story of what America is today.”