Startup Spotlight: Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola CEO and Co-Founder of Wecyclers | Turning Trash Into Treasure

Startup Spotlight: Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola CEO and Co-Founder of Wecyclers | Turning Trash Into Treasure

Only about 40% of the waste created in Lagos, Nigeria is actually collected by waste management companies. The other 60% is a breeding ground for many diseases, potential for increased flooding is heightened and the psychological effects of living in an environment with an increasing heap of rubbish is evident especially in low-income communities. Meet Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, CEO and Co-Founder of Wecyclers who are changing the face of what used to be an obscure and vague concept of recycling in a country like Nigeria into something tangible, profitable and environmentally effective in cleaning up Lagos one community at a time. Naija Enterprise recently interviewed Bilikiss regarding her plans, her vision and who she would like to meet. Her answers will surprise you and will keep you reading till the end. An agent of change and a woman of courage, Bilikiss has shown insight, fortitude but most of all tenacity to defy the norm.
Bilikiss attended a Historically Black College University at Fisk University where she received an undergraduate degree in Computer Science. It was not always what she wanted to do. She originally dreamt of becoming a lawyer or an artist but one of her teachers saw her natural talent was in science so when it was time to attend college, Computer Science became an easy choice for her. She went on to Vanderbilt University to finish her Master’s degree in Computer Science and attended the prestigious MIT Sloan School of Management. Her credentials extend beyond academia, as she was also the recipient of Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards in 2013 and most recently, 2014’s Sustainia Award Winner. Fast Company also took notice and featured her story in their January, 2015 edition. She is part of a growing segment of entrepreneurs with a social agenda called social entrepreneurs. Bilikiss is cleaning up the streets, creating jobs and helping to develop a healthier community.

wecyclersBilikiss bridged the gap and solved a growing problem for Lagos by incentivizing recycling directly on their mobile devices. Founded in 2011, Wecyclers is Bilikiss’ vision to clean up Nigeria. It is a country whose online access is done mostly through their mobile device so what Bilikiss did is add an engagement level to participants on a tool that is already highly used with incentives that is practical and highly sought such as mobile minute credits, basic food items and household goods. In return, communities become more conscious of the value of water bottles, plastics and aluminum cans that they think twice before disposing of it. The upside to the community of course is that the more people that are aware of this incentive, the more they will work to gather and store it to sell to Wecyclers, the cleaner the neighborhoods become. To date, there are over 6,000 households who are actively collecting and participating in the Wecyclers program. The number is growing everyday and Wecyclers employees is also rapidly growing as the services demand increases. It now has 80 employees helping to deploy Wecyclers mission. To put it in perspective, the growth potential is very high considering Lagos’ population is 20 million. The model is currently being examined in Ghana and of course, Bilikiss is at the helm of that movement.
The path to opening up a business in Nigeria was not an easy path to accomplish even for Bilikiss. For instance, the manual administrative work that accompanies the business process coupled with the heavy red tape issues that a business owner has to deal with would have been enough to dissuade a person from going through the process but through her perseverance and her deep desire to make a difference in a country ridden with poverty and high unemployment was enough to keep her going. The process is easily the anti- thesis for a bed of roses nor an easy feat to accomplish but with the help and support of business incubators like Co-Creation hub. It is Nigeria’s first open living lab and pre-incubation space designed to be a multi-functional, multi-purpose space where work to catalyze creative social tech ventures take place. The HUB is a place for technologists, social entrepreneurs, government, tech companies, impact investors and hackers in and around Lagos to co-create new solutions to the many social problems in Nigeria.
Nigeria is a country whose online access is done mostly through their mobile devices so what Bilikiss did is add an engagement level to participants on a tool that is already highly used with incentives that is practical and highly sought such as mobile minute credits, basic food items and household goods. This model is being fine tuned and tweaked daily not just by Bilikiss but also by her team and the participants that continue to give her feedback. The platform by which this business will operate in the future will be defined by the early adopters and deployed to the rest of Nigeria and eventually all other African countries that has a need for a model like Wecyclers. She maintains an open and honest environment that fosters continued innovation and improvements on Wecyclers. Another benefit that Wecyclers brings to the world is that the business operates on almost a net zero carbon footprint. It uses bicycles to perform neighborhood collection which does not generate ANY carbon emissions.
Bilikiss maintains her focus by doing one thing everyday that will move the business forward. It has been scientifically proven that high functioning individuals become more successful when habits are infused in their daily routine. For Bilikiss, her morning routine consists of having an individual time devoted for prayers, spending time with her kids, and planning her day ahead of time. You may be surprised to find out that Bilikiss admires Beyonce and Kim Kardashian for their ability to increase their respective businesses by building their brands and creating a loyal following.
Bilikiss is definitely a rising star and Wecyclers is a growing company that has the potential to change how Nigerians interact with garbage. Her guiding principles help to define how she lives her life by. Bilikiss said, “Pay it forward, and help people as much as possible.” Her best business advise? “Learn to talk about you, what you are doing. Be an advocate of it. Don’t be tired of answering the same questions over and over again.”

Categories: Interviews, Startups

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