Silicon Valley Incubator Funds Nigerian-American Startup To Help African Businesses Find Trustworthy Partners

By Peter Pedroncelli Published: August 19, 2017, 4:29 am
Nigerian-American startup - Ikenna Nzewi, Isaiah Udotong and Uzoma Ayogu are the Nigerian-American founders of Releaf. Photo - Just Shoot PhotographyIkenna Nzewi, Isaiah Udotong and Uzoma Ayogu are the Nigerian-American founders of Releaf. Photo - Just Shoot Photography

Solving one of the most frequently cited problems in Nigerian agribusiness, Nigerian-American startup Releaf helps to create a business-to-business marketplace that enables Nigerian businesses to find customers and partners that they can trust.

The startup is currently taking part in Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley incubator that has been described by VenturesAfrica and FastCompany as one of the world’s most powerful.

The company has signed up around 1,000 African businesses since its public launch in Nigeria at the start of August, according to TechCrunch.

Releaf’s Nigerian-American founders, chief executive Isaiah Udotong, chief operating officer Ikenna Nzewi and chief technical officer Uzoma Ayogu, all attended colleges in the U.S., with experiences at Yale, Duke and MIT helping to shape their respective contributions to the startup.

Since fraud is a serious problem in Nigeria, most businesses rely on word-of-mouth referrals and one-on-one networking when deciding on and hiring potential partners and service providers, but a system that made this more efficient was required.

While the concept is not new on a global level, a platform that takes into account cultural differences in Nigeria and other African markets was not available, and this is what Releaf set out to create when the company began two years ago.

“We polled how many transactions people need in order to build trust, and people are still pretty timid about who they trust,” said chief executive Udotong, according to Fintechnews.

“That’s why we’re so excited to have transaction histories and to be able to show that these people have done business with this person and this person and this person, and that these are verified companies and not just random people,” he added.

Y Combinator backs Nigerian-American startup

The three students worked on their startup part time until recently, when they managed to secure an investment of $120,000 from Y Combinator, a world renowned early startup investor, according to AllAfrica.

Y Combinator invests an initial amount in startups before inviting those businesses to Silison Valley for three months, where further support and mentorship is imparted, with the aim of making the startups investor-friendly.

The world’s most powerful startup incubator has made investments in globally-recognized startups such as Airbnb, Dropbox and Stripe.

Success stories from the African continent include Paystack, OMG Digital and Flutterwave, in which Y Combinator has invested, VenturesAfrica reports.

Originally designed for the agriculture sector, Releaf is aiming to make the platform available for numerous sectors within Nigeria and Africa, as they will benefit from the verification and strengthened networking enabled by the startup.

Chief operating officer Nzewi explains the company’s long-term aims with regards to having a positive impact in Africa.

“The leading motivation for our company is to do something tangible that can create value for the continent long-term, and the quickest way to do that is to work in the private sector,” said Nzewi, according to Pymnts.

“We saw an article that said agriculture is 11 times more likely than other industries to alleviate poverty,” he added.

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