Meet the Lagos startups using tech to drive change
agos is the heart of West Africa’s tech community. The Yaba district boasts one of the largest concentrations of startups in Africa and its high number of tech companies has helped the Nigerian city earn the moniker Silicon Lagoon.
Many of these innovative companies are using technology for social and environmental good. From edtech and healthtech to agricultural innovators, fintech disruptors and social impact entrepreneurs, there’s a wide range of ventures using technology to address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Startup Guide Lagos profiles a selection of these purpose-driven startups and provides invaluable insights into the local ecosystem. Discover some of the inspiring startups using technology to drive change.
African genetic data makes up less than 3% of the global data used to develop drugs and medical diagnostic products. Additionally, the African genome is the most diverse in the world.
With a background in human genetics, a PhD in cancer biology and experience as a management consultant, Abasi Ene-Obong was well equipped to bring world-class genomic research to Africa. He founded 54gene in January 2019 and is the company’s CEO.
“We started simply, initially as a consumer genetics company, and then pivoted into a research-services and development company,” Abasi says. While he was a member of Y Combinator’s 2019 class, the company gained investor trust and intellectual capital to continue building an international business.
By the middle of 2020, 54gene had grown to a team of 50 people at offices in Lagos and Washington. Backed by a $15 million Series A funding round, the next step in its growth is to codevelop drug targets and therapeutics. It’s also looking to create partnerships with pharmaceutical, medical device and diagnostic companies for clinical programs in Africa.
“Sometimes it takes ten to fifteen years for drugs released in the US or Germany to reach Africa,” says Abasi. “By codeveloping these drugs, we can ensure that Africans have access to them, and also show pharmaceutical companies that they can affordably bring drugs to Africa and still make a profit.”
As a teacher himself, Olalekan Adeeko understands the struggles that teachers in Nigeria face, including reliable internet access, training and materials. In 2016, he established TedPrime Hub with cofounder Ayodele Odeogbola, and since then the company has run education programs across the country.
TedPrime Hub has trained thousands of teachers through its Teach Right program, created Codeliners to train computer teachers in the Ogun state on coding and robotics, established coding clubs and distributed free micro:bit computers to 226 schools. The company has also encouraged women and girls to pursue STEM education through its STEM Her initiative, and partnered with software company 720 Degrees to roll out an online virtual learning platform.
TedPrime Hub created the Edubox, a portable and durable device that provides digital learning content from kindergarten to grade 12 without requiring internet access. The box is pre-loaded with open source educational materials and up to 100 students can connect to a device at once. “No matter where students are in the country, they get access to quality materials,” says Olalekan.
Nkem Okocha founded fintech social enterprise Mamamoni in 2016 to help low-income women who don’t have an opportunity to earn a living wage and who have no social support structure. Her passion for the cause comes from her personal experience of seeing her widowed mother without opportunity.
Since launching, Mamamoni has impacted nearly 7,000 women from different communities across Nigeria through financial skills training and micro-loans for starting a business. Both rural and urban low-income women traditionally face barriers to finance such as not having collateral or a bank account with a transaction history. Mamamoni offers them six-month micro-loans and its business model is funded through the interest paid on the loans. Before receiving any funds, the women attend training in vocational skills, business management and basic finance.
In 2017, Mamamoni reached a major milestone when it set up a factory that employs low-income women. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the company pivoted to giving micro-grants to low-income female entrepreneurs who were impacted to help them restart their businesses. Nkem aims for Mamamoni to impact at least ten million women across Africa, each one helping to boost their local economy.
In 2017, Obi Ozor and Ife Oyedele II had a business selling wholesale baby supplies and other products across Nigeria. The high cost of shipping ate into their profits and they soon realized that there was a market for a more affordable method. They founded Kobo360 to offer an efficient logistics service, from factory to consumer, at an affordable cost.
The company created an app that connects truck drivers and fleet operators to businesses that need to move goods. The cofounders say that before it launched, it took an average of seven to ten days to transport items across Nigeria. Today, Kobo360 takes an average of three days. The improved efficiency has had a positive effect on the entire supply chain – manufacturers are able to get their goods to distributors and consumers more quickly and with higher profit margins.
Kobo360 operates in Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Kenya, Uganda and Côte d'Ivoire, and has plans to expand into more markets.
Founded as Piggybank in 2016 but rebranded in 2019 to reflect a broadened focus, PiggyVest is a platform that helps Africans save and invest. Focused on low- to middle-income customers, it simplifies and encourages saving.
The platform automatically deducts fixed amounts of money from its users' accounts according to their instructions, and users can invest within the platform and earn returns. “PiggyVest exists because 80 percent of Nigerians need to save at least 40 percent of their monthly income to survive. We realized that a lot of young Nigerians were using wooden boxes as means of savings, so we set out to build a more sustainable solution,” says cofounder Odunayo Eweniyi.
PiggyVest has organically grown to over 1.2 million registered users and helped them save over $110 million in total. Odunayo says that the company plans to continue to democratize financial services, with a focus on encouraging microinvestments and entry into insurance.
“PiggyVest has a strong focus on customer satisfaction and reliable service. We have helped a lot of Nigerians get financially empowered and cultivate healthier savings habits,” she says. “People are now more open than ever to transacting over the internet from their devices, so there are a lot of exploratory chances within fintech for us to take advantage of.”
In 2018, farmer Oghenetega Iortim was losing up to 70% of his yield due to lack of adequate cold storage. He wanted to create a solution for his own use and for other African farmers, who often have poor power supply and limited funds.
He started work on a portable cold-storage system, creating prototypes in clay and testing their viability. But clay is heavy and its efficiency is dependent on relative humidity. Oghenetega went back to the drawing board and considered how other products also need cold storage and how it’s important to maintain temperatures in transport. The end result is Gricd’s cold boxes, which contain a cooling device fitted with location-monitoring technology and a battery that lasts about forty-eight hours. Available in 15-liter and 50-liter sizes, they can maintain a stable internal temperature as low as -20℃ (-4℉) for up to 24 hours.
Gricd now works with logistics companies to move temperature-sensitive goods including vaccines, medication and perishable foods. Clients can monitor their products through a mobile app that allows them to control the temperature along the delivery route.
Oghenetega is working on scaling his product to create a larger, more cost-effective model and says that he chose to base his company in Lagos because it’s a hub for tech startups.
Want to know more about Lagos and its exciting impactful startup community? Order your copy of Startup Guide Lagos now.
Written by Alexandra Connerty, Alyx Carolus, Rachel Velebny and Tom Jackson.
Repackaged by Hazel Boydell.