Waste management is one of the major challenges facing developing countries and the ironic part of it all is that most of these wastes are recyclable products that could be put to good use; they could also serve as a source of income for enterprising folks. Startup Nigeria had the pleasure of meeting one of such social entrepreneurs – Mrs Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, the CEO and Co-founder of Wecyclers Nigeria Limited, a company that gives households a chance to capture value from their waste while providing a reliable supply of materials to the local recycling industry.
In this interview with Startup Nigeria, Bilikiss shows us how she was able to convert common household garbage to gold and by so doing, has been able to meaningfully impact the lives of thousands of Nigerians all over the country.
StartupNigeria: Hello Bilikiss, please give us a brief insight into your life and educational background.
Bilikiss: I am a graduate of Fisk University, Vanderbilt University and MIT’s Sloan School of Management. While at MIT, I was a Legatum Fellow at MIT’s Legatum center for Development and Entrepreneurship and a vice president of the MIT Sloan Africa Business Club. I am also a Carroll Wilson Fellow, an Echoing Green Fellow and a 2013 recipient of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards. I am a proud mother of two beautiful kids.
StartupNigeria: Really impressive i must say; So how does one go from achieving all these to working with waste?
Bilikiss: The idea for Wecyclers was developed while i was 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. I was assigned to a study project to help people at the bottom of the pyramid (people living on less than $2 a day), i decided to work on waste with focus on its uses, collection and processing.
After the project was completed, i did some research and saw the huge potential in the waste recycling sector in Nigeria, especially among the manufacturing plants who are hungry for a cheaper and easily available source of raw materials due to local and foreign demand for end products. I then decided to move the idea forward and Wecyclers was born.
StartupNigeria: We understand that it couldn’t have been easy convincing street folks to buy into the vision, how were you able to accomplish that? and how much impact have made so far ?
Bilikiss: We have been able to register over 7000 households. We were able to accomplish that because we incentivize our subscribers. We don’t just collect from them. We reward them with gifts to help them in their daily lives. This initiative has been able to keep them loyal and to encourage them to keep recycling.
StartupNigeria: A venture such as this never comes without a few challenges. What were yours?
Bilikiss: Two main challenges I faced were funding and the wrong perception of people towards waste management. Organizations, both local and international have been of immense help through grants and sponsorship to help augment the financial needs of the company. In terms of trying to change the perception of the people, we have been able to educate people about recycling. We have had outreaches, educational lectures etc about proper waste management, disposal and the benefits of recycling both financially and environmentally.
StartupNigeria: Wecyclers has been able to garner some attention recently, we know about the Sustainia awards and your recent win at the Pitch for Lagos Startup Competition, are there others i’m leaving out?
Bilikiss: The Sustainia awards was in 2014, we have also had the 2015 The Case Foundation Pitch for Lagos competition, The Tech Awards in 2013, Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards also in 2013, MIT IDEAS Yunus Challenge Prize, MIT D-lab Scale ups fellowship, Carroll Wilson Fellowship, MIT Venture Grant, Tony Elumelu Foundation pre-seed grant, Echoing Green Fellowship and the Future Awards.
StartupNigeria: Any advice for upcoming startups?
Bilikiss: First, you have to strongly believe in your business idea for it to be a reality. My advice to them is to never settle for less and keep working towards the attainment of their goals.
Startupnigeria: Thank you so much Bilikiss for taking out time to speak with us, we appreciate your contributions to society and we wish Wecyclers all the best in all your endeavors.