IN 2000, when Maf Sonko moved to the United States from his native Gambia and started working for his uncle’s small money-transfer company, he glimpsed his future. He saw how customers shopped around for the best exchange rates and he learned a thing or two about the market. Fifteen years later, after snagging an industrial engineering degree and gigs at Swisslog and PepsiCo., the light bulb turned on: Why not create a platform that would offer exchange-rate comparisons, easing the transfer of money across international borders? Kind of like for money transfers. In fact, that’s the exact analogy Maf Sonko uses to describe his tech startup, LumoXchange, which he launched after moving to Arkansas in 2016. Today, the company’s processed over $150,000 in transfer volume, and started partnerships in the Philippines, Gambia, Senegal and Mali with plans to expand to Vietnam and China.

On how he put his plans into motion:

“I wanted to build a platform that would help people find the best conversion rates when they’re sending money across borders. While I worked for PepsiCo., I started formulating an idea when I came home at night. In 2016, I applied to a FinTech Accelerator sponsored by the FIS in Little Rock. I did the program, got a little bit of funding to build the platform. Finally, we were able to launch our platform this past summer.”

On the bigger picture:

“We like to say that we’re the world’s money transfer marketplace, so we truly want to be the global hub for currency conversion and facilitation of payments. We want to be the go-to place for anybody that’s sending money, to be able to come and compare the different rates from institutions, payout options and facilitate payments. So we’re starting off in the U.S., but we can foresee ourselves replicating the same business model in Europe, Canada as well as, obviously, Southeast Asia. So the goal is to build a global hub of banks that plug in and compete for payments that are coming in and out of countries.”

On taking risks as an entrepreneur:

“You have to have a high risk tolerance. When you start off as an entrepreneur, there are so many unknowns. You can make a plan, but it won’t go the way you think it’ll go because of the risk associated with it. You have to have a strong drive and be very persistent to really push things from the ground up and build something. Entrepreneurs are very driven and persistent about what they want.”

On moving to Little Rock:

“Our first exposure to the state was through the FIS program. At the end of the program, we visited the city. It’s a small enough city that you can make one or two phone calls and have the right person talk to you, whether it’s looking for advice or partnerships. You can make connections with the right decision-makers within an organization, who really understand what you’re doing and can support you. So, that’s why we decided to make the move. Arkansas has a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. The city and the state are trying to build an ecosystem here and we wanted to be a part of it. The cost of living is good. As you’re building a company, you can lower your operating costs because it’s not as expensive as the east and west coast. That was really attractive to us. Obviously, the quality of life is pretty important, too.”

On having a personal connection to his business:

“The best businesses are the ones that come from personal experience. You kind of understand what problem you’re solving. I have a unique perspective from a customer standpoint. I’m not building the business with the mindset of somebody who’s been in finance for years and is just taking some of the same playbooks that are prevalent in the market. What I’ve taken is something that I know as an immigrant. For example, if I had $100 in my hands today, and if I showed up in Gambia, I would have a really good exchange rate because I have access to those local institutions. What I’m doing is basically building a platform that allows people to get the same great local exchange rates that Western Union has access to that customers don’t. I know that this is actually a real-life phenomenon regardless of where you come from. The rates are always better locally in those countries, and that’s what I’m bringing to the market.”