“The median age of our friends is 52.”
In the world of U.S. construction and real estate development, this wouldn’t be unusual to hear – both fields are dominated by males 46 and older, at a whopping rate of 91%. The person making this comment is 31-year-old Natalya Cappellini, who hails from Boston, MA. and runs her own construction company, Curato Design & Build. Natalya is known for her expertise in construction with the added leverage of an architecture degree — giving her the ultimate design and build perspective. Just 9% of all general contractors in the U.S. are female, and of that group, the average age is 46.
Likewise, Latino developers in the U.S. are also highly unrepresented at just 6.7%. So Natalya’s husband, Diego Torres-Palma, age 37, a Bostonian, originally from Peru, is also a bit of an anomaly. Diego helms Ventana Ventures, a private real estate and investment firm founded with a fearless and forward-thinking spirit dedicated to building community and empowering entrepreneurs. Diego is also the host of a podcast that educates and inspires entrepreneurs — “Startup to Storefront,” recorded in one of their project spaces on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Being a mentor and a role model is important to Diego as he recalls being a young immigrant, “I was introduced to freshwater fishing, baseball, and a honey sandwich on wheat bread (a novelty to my nine-year-old self), all while forming a connection with and learning from a model that was a completely different way of life, background, and culture from my own.” His mother fled Peru with her two small children after the political assassination of Diego’s father. Being raised by a single mother in a foreign country was, and is, foundational to Torres-Palma because he genuinely believes anything is possible. As a role model, he also had a fiercely independent and ambitious woman who let neither sexism nor racism defines her or her children.
It comes as no surprise that Natalya has that same ambition and drive that propels her daily in a world traditionally dominated by men. Born and raised in Boston by her parents and the oldest of four children, Natalya pulls on her steel-toed boots each day and goes about her business without hesitation. She seems genuinely surprised by any questions that may address her gender or age as possible impediments to her success. “I let my work speak for itself.” After studying architecture in school, Natalya realized early in her career that she loved being in the field and did not want to be in an office all day. This was solidified one day when she was on the roof of a building overlooking Fenway Park, and the Blue Angels flew overhead – a moment you do not have at a desk in an office.
Together these two are a force in Los Angeles real estate and construction and are changing the statistics in their industry regarding preconceived ideas on age, gender, and race. The projects they undertake and the communities they serve cut across all demographics — no small feat. They are in sync as they stated, “success, to us, means having the flexibility to choose projects that have the greatest positive impact on the communities where they are located.”
On any given day in Los Angeles, these two powerhouses can be found in different parts of the city, with Diego hammering out a deal and conscientiously trying to figure out what businesses might best suit the community. While Natalya is managing construction crews all over the city, bringing their joint projects to fruition and taking on independent projects.
This forceful duo is one to watch as their pursuits improve Los Angeles — from abandoned warehouses to low-slung buildings in Chinatown to a re-imagined market space and restaurant in Mar Vista. Setting aside age, gender, and ethnicity, Diego and Natalya are, at heart, two individuals who have determined that community-building, perseverance, and authentic enthusiasm will be the cornerstones of their businesses.
Striking a balance between their personal and professional lives, this couple is active in their community. Diego serves on their local athletic club and the Imagine LA board. A non-profit dedicated to ending the cycle of poverty and homelessness. Work, play, and giving back to their community are all seamlessly intertwined in their daily lives.
On a recent Startup to Storefront podcast, Diego interviewed Diana Nyad – the legendary ocean swimmer, motivational speaker, author, and advocate (as well as a good friend) – and the two discussed what makes for a life worth living. There was a commonality in their approach to life, and the themes that kept coming up repeatedly were — “There is no substitute for work. Worthwhile things come from hard work and careful planning. Your heart must be in your work.” Aspire to wake up every day and MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN”.
These two are making things happen.
For more on Diego and Natalya:
– Diego Torres-Palma: Bringing Communities Together Through Real Estate
– WINDOWS OF OPPORTUNITY: How Diego Torres-Palma & Ventana Ventures is Reimagining Los Angeles Development