A Thriving Vine

By Danielle Wong Moores
Photography by Amy J. Owen

For Vinea Capital’s Allan Soto, serving others is where his passion lies. That’s at the heart of his latest business venture, ABLE Kids, which provides therapy to young children with autism. 

But he wouldn’t have gotten to where he is today without a whole lot of Wendy’s cups. 

In 2006, Wendy’s had a drink cup promotion with AirTran. Customers could collect cups to earn a free one-way or round-trip flight. Soto, then living in his hometown of Miami, thought, “This could be a business.” So, with a few friends, he started gathering discarded cups from Wendy’s dumpsters, packaging and then reselling them.

His ingenuity earned him $10,000. While most 23-year-olds with $10,000 could get in a lot of trouble, Soto had bigger ideas. “I really wanted to go out and start building something on my own,” he says. “[But] whatever I did, I wanted to make a difference. I don’t think it necessarily has to be you’re either helping people or you’re building a business. You can do both.”

Something in the medical field was in the back of his mind. Previously, Soto had planned to be a pediatrician and work with children. But when his grandfather, Anibal, had a short nursing home stay and Soto saw how lonely and depressing most homes were, he found his inspiration. 

He began looking for real estate and went all in on a property he found in Washington, Ga. His original idea changed from eldercare to serving adults with developmental disabilities, providing homes and services so they could live independently in the community. Soto ALG, which Soto ran with his sister, Aliana, began to earn a reputation for its service and care. And that’s what brought him to Augusta.

Allan Soto inside Vinea Capital.
Allan Soto inside Vinea Capital

Making Peoples’ Lives Better

Although Soto describes himself as cautious in his everyday life — “I’m not skydiving or racing cars on the weekends,” he says — he is a risktaker in business. But he never strays too far from his focus, also learned from his grandfather’s faith and from his own Catholic upbringing: “We’re all here to make peoples’ lives better and to enrich those around us.” 

After he expanded Soto ALG beyond Washington to the larger metro area of Augusta, Soto says he started to notice that a growing percentage of the adults he served were on the autism spectrum. This was in 2013, when the disorder was being more widely recognized. “At that point, we started doing a little more research,” he says. That included asking, “What can we do to better serve the individuals we have with autism?”

The answer was Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, therapy, which has been found to help people with autism improve their language and communication skills; help with attention, focus, social skills, memory and academics; and reduce problem behaviors. Soto added board-certified behavior analysts to his staff at Soto ALG, who could offer the therapy to adults. Then he took it a step further.

Through a new company, ABLE Tree, Soto began to provide ABA therapy to adults as well as children of all ages diagnosed with autism. He was successful from the start. But those early years, he says, were chaotic, as he and his staff struggled to meet the demand of providing the therapy to adults and a wide range of children, from 18 months to 21 years.

So, he refocused. 

Soto relaunched his ABA therapy services in 2019 as ABLE Kids, which focuses on children younger than school age. The goal, he says, was to intervene early and make a big difference for these children as soon as possible. “In health care, what do you typically want?” he says. “When you are sick, what do you want? Well, you want to find [out what’s wrong] as fast as you can, so you can start treating it as fast as you can — and you want to throw everything at it and be as aggressive as you can be. So, we settled on, let’s just work with the kids before they enter the school system, because that’s where we can have the most intervention with them.” 

To date, the Vinea Foundation has supported more than 25 local nonprofits. Some of the recipient organizations are Heritage Academy, Best Buddies Georgia, Westminster Schools of Augusta, Augusta Symphony and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Soto has also provided a $40,000 scholarship for 1 child graduating from Heritage Academy’s program to attend all four years at Westminster, a benevolence he hopes to continue annually.

Appears in the February/March issue of Augusta Magazine.
For the entire article, pick up a copy on stands.

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