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Diego Torres-Palma: Bringing Communities Together Through Real Estate

Diego Torres-Palma has always been on the cusp of greatness. He received a degree in civil engineering and an MBA from Boston University. He has also been an angel investor and founder of multiple companies, each more interesting and creative than the last. Diego was raised in Peru, where he realized there were only two types of people: the haves and the have-nots. Coming from a single-parent home, Torres-Palma saw wealth and success as something almost impossible to reach. He grew curious about how people became successful in the United States, which began a lifelong search for knowledge. “I would say my first mentors were the Warren Buffets of the world that I would get for free via books. I just read a lot when I was a kid around the business — I was fascinated by it,” Torres-Palma states.

Eventually, the Peruvian native started a bowtie company called OoOTie, where users could utilize their smartphones to see how a bowtie would look with their outfits. During his time in San Francisco, he helped launch another company called Smarking Inc., one of the earliest companies to apply data analytics to the parking industry. During this new venture, Torres-Palma began noticing some interesting things. “As we started this parking data analytics company, it made me understand how under-utilized these assets were and how they could better provide for the public good. We met with airports, public agencies, private developers, and big companies behind huge garages — they were all interested in our data.” Torres-Palma was curious as to how they would leverage the data. It turned out some of these finance groups were trying to value these assets properly. If they purchased these assets, they would know exactly what to do to make more money, which would help increase the NOI (Net Operating Income), making the investment more valuable. “It was almost as though this light went off. That was the first moment I was exposed to commercial real estate and thought it could be something,” Torres-Palma says.

Venturing through the Ventana

In 2018, Torres-Palma decided to sell his share of the parking data company and move to Los Angeles. He had no real plan outside of knowing he was eager to jump into commercial real estate. “When I started my real estate development company, finding empty buildings became the first step,” he explains. “I remember going around LA and seeing ‘for lease’ signs everywhere, and I thought it was interesting that there were so many empty buildings, even on prominent streets.”

His first steps didn’t come without their challenges, though. Initially, Torres-Palma would sit in coffee shops all day, emailing brokers and economic development directors in LA and different cities to ask if they would be willing to chat with him about his vision for his own firm. Luckily, some people were incredibly gracious in their replies and gave some great advice. Through these conversations, the mission of Torres-Palma’s company, Ventana Ventures, became crystal clear. “My mission became not so much, ‘Acquire the building because the supply was already there.’ It’s not like you had to get too crazy to find it. The problem was that no one could find a tenant,” he says. That was the key. Find the tenant first and then find them the right property.

Connecting With the Community

Ventana Ventures has helped California businesses like Border X Brewery in Bell, Farm Cup Coffee in West Hollywood, and Benny Boy Brewing in Lincoln Height get started with the philosophy of connecting tenants with not just brick-and-mortar locations but with the community as well. Torres-Palma says, “There has to be a connection with the community, especially with projects that involve alcohol. There must be neighborhood meetings, and you’re introducing yourself as the new kid on the block.” These meetings allow companies to avoid opening businesses in places they are not wanted and help curb gentrification by ensuring his projects embrace the community culture and respect the history of neighborhoods. And unlike most real estate projects today, everyone has to put in equal effort when working with Ventana Ventures. “I look at these projects like a musician looks at an album. There are producers, designers, marketing, and so much more. Even if you look at one song, several people have touched it. When it comes to real estate development, I look at it the same way.”

Startup to Storefront

Whether Torres-Palma realized it or not, at the start of Ventana Ventures, he created other entrepreneurs much like himself. When he’s not helping people start their dream businesses, he’s helping through Startup to Storefront, his podcast where he talks to business owners and other people accomplishing great things in their fields. When speaking on why he started the podcast, he says, “I was finding myself ingesting podcasts as much as I was ingesting books. I was listening to some entrepreneurial podcasts, and they were mostly just fans of the guests or good at carrying questions and conducting interviews instead of diving deep into the topics.”

Through Startup to Storefront, Torres-Palma, and his co-host, Nick Conrad, dive into the what, when, and why of success and show that these trailblazers have gone through the trials and tribulations every entrepreneur does but that they can be conquered. “My goal with the podcast is to have anybody on the fence about starting their company listen to it and say, ‘Oh, this person is just like me. I deal with these things all the time,’ or ‘That’s smart, I hadn’t considered that. I’m going to go do that in my business now.’”

Some notable Startup to Storefront guests include two-time UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion Carla Esparza, actress and activist Sophia Bush, Los Angeles DA George Gascon, and author, motivational speaker, and long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad.

What’s Next?

On the horizon, Torres-Palma and Ventana Ventures look to have a building called Startup to Storefront, where past podcast guests can station their businesses for however long they choose. “Our new project is to give these companies a new home in a very tenant-friendly way,” he states. He is also working on a market in Lincoln Heights called Juntos, which will be like an Eataly with Latin flare.

As far as the podcast goes, Startup to Storefront will be doing a lot of work for Hispanic Heritage Month. They’re partnering with Cat Footwear to give away shoes and tell the stories of Latino entrepreneurs throughout September and October.