The proliferation of start ups in Nigeria has now become a well accepted and recognized fact in the Nigerian business ecosystem, with companies like iSec raising 10 million dollars in funding from Synergy Capital. But more and more recently we see international recognition for these start ups and one of such start ups is Wecyclers Corporation. Who on May 30th pivoted to a new level of stardom as CNN African start-Up wrote an enlightening piece on the vision, goals and operations of the company.
Although previously featured on BBC, Punch and The Independent UK, the CNN feature seems to be the needed push, as it has resulted in a plethora of follow up reports that has people buzzing and developing more keen interest in the start up.
the co-founder and CEO – Bilikiss Adebiyi, who was a winner at last year’s Cartier Woman’s initiative awards started Wecyclers a year and a half ago with Kenyan born Jonathan Kola in a bid to help unemployed youth raise money to reach their goals, and also to encourage and educate Nigerians about waste management and the benefits of recycling. She tells CNN that: “About fifty percent of the youths in Nigeria are unemployed because it is very difficult to find a job in Nigeria. So people see Wecyclers as a way to save money for some kind of goal. We help people who are saving money to go to college or saving to start a business. We have a localised model we operate at Wecyclers; our low-cost cargo tricycles which collect the waste from households that register with us. We put them on a weekly schedule for waste collection”.
The throbbing question then becomes, is there a need for Wecyclers in the Lagos metropolis? Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) and proud supporters of the start-Up estimate that in a city inhabited by 18 million people, over 10,000 metric tons of waste is generated on a daily basis with a mere 40% properly collected and disposed off. Leaving 60% to flood the streets, gutters and block drains.
“Low income communities are the ones that are more affected,” says Adebiyi-Abiola. “(People) end up living in their waste, so we basically saw that there was a really big need to provide collection services for people that are living in the low-income areas.”
As to how Wecyclers provide these services. Every week the companies cyclists move from door to door in purpose tailored tricycles to pick up recyclable trash from its over 4000 registered households, these items include plastic bottles, aluminum cans and plastic sachets which are all weighed and taken to one of its hubs, and from there are taken to a specific sorting area where they’re bagged in order to be sold to recycling factories.
In return, participating households receive credit points via SMS. These can eventually be exchanged for rewards, mainly donated items ranging from bowls and blenders to food products and mobile minutes that have been funded by corporate sponsorship deals with big brands such as Coca Cola and GlaxoSmithKline. ‘After surveying waste we found their products represented 22% and 12% respectively,’ notes Bilikiss. ‘No big brand wants its name in the gutter!’
“Every three months they have opportunity to redeem the points for something,” says Weclycers chief executive Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola. “So we give them really small gifts that just motivate them and encourage them to recycle.”
Although born and raised in Lagos, Bilikiss developed the idea for her business in the US as a student at the MIT Sloan School of Management, following a five-year career as a corporate software engineer at IBM Assigned to a study project to help people at the bottom of the pyramid, Bilikiss decided to work on waste. She sees huge potential in this sector, with Nigeria’s recycling plants ‘hungry for material due to local and foreign demand for end products.’ Now she is also chuffed to be creating employment and fostering enterprise. ‘One woman buys plastic bottles from us to sell them as containers. I love the fact that we can help people to have their own business.’
She however identified that a major problem was seeing viable return of investment, she stated that “We hope that as we grow and add value to the material we sell, then we hope to see profits come in,”