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Agent of Impact: Martin Muoto, SoLa Impact

ImpactAlpha, Jan. 7 – The Nigerian-born entrepreneur and investor was investing in zones of opportunity before there were Opportunity Zones. Muoto has acquired, rehabbed and operated low-income housing in South Los Angeles since 2008.

In 2014, with Gray Lusk, he launched SoLa Impact, which now manages a family of funds expanding access to quality affordable housing and jobs in Watts, Compton, South Central and other low-income communities while providing investors a competitive return. Nearly all of SoLa’s tenants are people of color; one-third have been homeless.

Growing up in northern Nigeria gave Muoto an appreciation of both poverty and opportunity. “If you can understand the risk in these communities you can make really good returns,” the former venture capital partner told ImpactAlpha.

Muoto moved to the U.S. to study at the University of Pennsylvania, on a full scholarship. Last year, SoLa’s nonprofit gave $100,000 in college scholarships to students in South L.A. 

SoLa’s work has been supercharged by the capital-gains tax breaks available for Opportunity Zone investments. The firm closed its third fund at $115 million to build affordable housing and community services in South L.A.

SoLa also will build out its first commercial project: the Beehive, a 92,000-square-foot campus for startups, creatives and established businesses across six 100-year-old brick buildings that were once part of a Goodyear Tire factory. The idea is to provide amenities scarce in the area and attract companies that offer quality jobs. Rents will be discounted for nonprofits and social enterprises serving the local community.

SoLa’s work won a grand prize for urban-focused funds in this week’s Opportunity Zone Catalyst competition at Sorenson Impact Center’s Winter Innovation Summit. Investor enthusiasm has been so great that SoLa is launching a follow-on fund.

Muoto follows what he calls the four P’s: profit, purpose, passion, and pragmatism. “I think we’re all trying to figure out how to balance those four objectives in our professional lives,” he told the Los Angeles Sentinel. “For me, it’s very easy to be completely invested.”

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