2014-04-04

Meet The Entrepreneurs Behind Nigeria's Startup Revolution

A new generation of tech-savvy youth are trying to remake Nigeria's economy.

Nigerians get sick of the standard narratives about their country. While there's truth to stories about Internet scams, corruption, and terrorist threats, they don't fill in the whole picture, and it's common for Nigerians to express weariness as they're forced once again to correct the record.

Younger Nigerians like Jonathan Lawoyin prefer to point to more hopeful signs for the future, and the potential of a new tech-savvy generation to fix long-standing economic and social problems. "There's so much room for innovation," he says. "When you have a young population [almost two-thirds of the country is under-25] and everyone has way more access to information, education and technology than they used to, you can see why there's going to be a boom."

Lawoyin, who works for the Ready Set Rocket agency, emigrated to the U.S. in 2000, but stays in touch with home, and recently visited Lagos to take the temperature of its tech scene. You can see one of the films he made below (it features interviews with several entrepreneurs), and there's more at RSR's "Nigeria Rising" website here.

During his visit, Lawoyin interviewed the founders of Paga, a popular mobile payments platform, traclist, an e-commerce site, and Wecyclers, which incentivizes trash collection by crediting people's phones (see another video about that below).

Many of the founders were educated in the U.S. or U.K., then moved back again (Bilikiss Adebiyi, who started Wecyclers, went to MIT, for example). Lawoyin says that's a big change from a previous generation that tended to go abroad and stay there.

In the process, they're importing business models, pushing for better transparency (BudgIT demystifies the national budget), and calling for service and infrastructure improvements. The founders of Jumia, an Amazon-like site, recently announced an logistics startup, for example, catering to another big need.

"Even when these guys bring in things from the U.S. or U.K., they end up solving local problems along the way," Lawoyin says.

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