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Meet Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Nigerian Who Co-Founded Firms Valued At Over $1bn

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, co-founder of fintech firm Flutterwave and training platform Andela, poses for a portrait at Victoria-Island, Lagos Nigeria on June 6, 2023. - Iyinoluwa Aboyeji might not have the personal wealth of Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg, but his level of success as an African entrepreneur bears comparison with any Silicon Valley tech titan. While still in his twenties, the Nigerian co-founded two "unicorns", an industry term for companies that achieve a valuation of more than $1 billion. By most counts, Africa has produced only seven unicorns compared with more than 700 in the United States. (Photo by Benson Ibeabuchi / AFP)

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji of Nigeria may not have the personal wealth of Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg, but his success as an African entrepreneur rivals that of any Silicon Valley tech titan.

The Nigerian co-founded two “unicorns” while still in his twenties, an industry phrase for companies worth more than $1 billion.

According to most estimates, Africa has produced only seven unicorns, compared to over 700 in the United States.

Aboyeji, who has many of the trappings of a global tech CEO – he is commonly referred to as “E” and wants to construct a tech metropolis – believes African entrepreneurs should have great dreams.

But they cannot simply copy-paste from the playbooks of Zuckerberg or Musk.

“We admire these guys, they’re inspirations,” he told AFP over the phone from an investor conference in the United States.

“But when we’re looking for a path we don’t look to them because they’ve got a completely different reality from ours. You’ve got to find your own way.”

Now 32, Aboyeji now spends much of his time funding startups, having left his posts in both of his unicorns – fintech firm Flutterwave and training platform Andela, which counted Zuckerberg as an investor.

“Now I’m the coach, I take a backseat,” he said with a laugh. “I had my time in the spotlight, I played well.”

His Future Africa firm, one of the continent’s biggest startup funds, is preparing to launch a new round of investing.

But it comes as tech firms across the world have slashed workers, and venture capitalists have tightened their purse strings.

The global downturn has seriously hampered African tech startups.

They attracted more than $2 billion in funding during the first quarter last year but this year’s figure is less than half that amount, according to specialist publication The Big Deal.

The gloomy figures do not dim Aboyeji’s confidence.

“It feels like the recession really unlocked people’s ability to build all of a sudden,” he said.

His firm, Future Africa, has invested more than $10 million in dozens of projects, many of them fintech startups trying to improve access to loans and banking services.

Future Africa helps them launch their ideas and get further funding.

But Aboyeji still has an eye for a grand scheme – he is helming a project to build a city devoted to tech talent.

Like similar attempts to create such “charter cities”, critics have said Itana will be a tax haven or an opt-out from state control.

Aboyeji and his partners have repeatedly denied that, insisting Itana is located within an established free trade zone and will respect Nigerian law.

Aboyeji is the son of a pastor and often talks about his religious convictions, describing himself as a “faith-driven investor”.

“I invest in companies that have redemptive qualities. They save people, they improve people’s lives,” he said.

“They transform communities just like my faith does.”

Aboyeji, who spent time at a university in Canada and praises the United States as “the capital of capital”, has a talent for teachable stories and has been a regular on the TED talk circuit for years.

He said the insight that led him to launch his investing career came a decade ago when he saw thousands of young Nigerians gathered in a football stadium trying to get permission to emigrate and get jobs.

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