In the rapidly expanding and competitive business landscape of Africa’s most populous country, certain businesses stand out not just for their innovative models and considerable success but also for their skyrocketing valuations.
Welcome to the exclusive club of unicorn companies in Nigeria, an evolving saga of homegrown businesses reaching valuations of $1 billion or more.
Unicorn status is a hallmark of significant accomplishment for startups, especially those emerging from regions traditionally overlooked by the international investment community.
In this article, we delve into Nigeria’s contemporary corporate scenery, which has successfully birthed an impressive number of these elusive unicorn entities, defying stereotypes and propelling the nation’s entrepreneurial sector onto the global platform.
Join us as we explore these unicorn companies in Nigeria, shedding light on their journeys, business models, achievements, and contributions to Nigeria’s fast-growing digital economy.
- Nigeria has made significant strides in the tech industry, particularly in the FinTech sector, producing five of Africa’s seven unicorn companies.
- These companies, which include Flutterwave, OPay, Andela, Interswitch, and Jumia, have demonstrated remarkable growth and innovation, attracting global investors and contributing to Nigeria’s economic development.
- The country’s FinTech ecosystem has been recognized for its strong and improved brand appeal, with significant achievements such as being ranked sixth in real-time payments and being one of the top crypto trading countries globally.
To be more familiar with Fintech Companies, read through – Top 50 Fintech Companies in Nigeria in 2023
How Did Nigeria Become a Unicorn Hub?
Nigeria has grown rapidly into a hub for unicorn startups, a testament to the booming entrepreneurial ecosystem in the African nation. Several factors have aided in this expansion.
A huge youthful population of around 200 million people and an expanding middle class have resulted in a vibrant consumer market, driving the demand for digital services. Nigeria’s government has actively facilitated this growth, implementing policies that support entrepreneurship and innovation.
A considerable growth in smartphone penetration and internet usage also fueled digital entrepreneurship in Nigeria. Local talent is getting exposure and mentorship from global tech companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Facebook which have established hubs in Nigeria.
Furthermore, Nigeria’s start-ups have garnered international attention and substantial investments from overseas venture capitalists.
Start-ups like Paystack and Flutterwave have set precedence by achieving Unicorn status, proving that Nigeria’s tech ecosystem has a strong potential for high-growth businesses.
All these factors combined have turned Nigeria into an attractive destination for tech start-ups, thereby becoming a Unicorn hub.
Check out the TransferXO’s list of the – Top 50 Fintech Companies in Nigeria in 2023
List of the Top 13 Unicorn Companies in Nigeria
Here is a full list of the top 13 Unicorn companies in Nigeria in 2024:
- 1. Andela
- 2. Esusu
- 3. Fawry
- 4. Flutterwave
- 5. Interswitch
- 6. Jumia
- 7. OPay
- 8. Wave
- 9. Chipper Cash
- 10. Piggyvest
- 11. BudgIT
- 12. Ajua
- 13. Jobberman
Spotlight on the Top 10+ Unicorn Companies in Nigeria
Nigeria has a thriving entrepreneurial scene, and despite its share of economic challenges, several startups have emerged, many of which have earned unicorn status. A unicorn company refers to a startup valued at over $1 billion.
In this article, we shall explore the top 10+ unicorn companies in Nigeria.
Founded in 2014 by four visionaries, Andela is a talent accelerator aimed at curating Africa’s most talented software developers. The company started with a mission to connect engineering talents with leading technology companies globally.
Notably, it secured a $100 million Series D funding round led by Generation Investment Management, elevating it into the exclusive league of Unicorn Companies in Nigeria. It focuses on long-term talent development and invests in software developers across the African continent.
The unique aspect of Andela’s business model is that it pairs engineers with global companies, allowing developers to work on real-time, valuable projects, fostering growth and skills advancement. Andela has indeed placed African technological talents on the world map.
Take time to read through the – Top 15 Tech Companies in Lagos, Nigeria | TransferXO Rankings
Esusu is a groundbreaking fintech firm that caters to the needs of marginalized populations by providing end-to-end infrastructure for digital financial services. It was launched in Nigeria in 2016 by Wemimo Abbey and Samir Goel.
Notable achievements include its exponential growth in the African financial landscape and its significant collaboration with various real estate, property management companies, and public and private partnerships. Its business model revolves around assisting renters to save for rent while boosting their credit scores, providing loans, and giving financial literacy resources.
Esusu is distinct in its provision of savings, credit-building, and lending solutions. Their focus is to create pathways for financial resilience and upward mobility, cementing its position as a Nigerian Unicorn.
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Founded in 2009, Fawry is a digital payment gateway of Egyptian origin, it is renowned for pioneering the expansion of digital payments in Egypt. Fawry’s establishment made the switch from cash to digital transactions more comfortable, thereby stimulating the digital economy of the nation.
A landmark achievement for Fawry was being listed on the Egyptian Stock Exchange and London Stock Exchange in 2019, demonstrating significant growth in a decade.
Fawry’s unique business model entails offering a range of payment methods, including cash, credit cards, and e-wallets across a vast network of outlets, thereby providing inclusivity for users at various income levels.
To know about the payment getaways in Fintech, read Top 15 Best Payment Gateways in Nigeria | 2023 List
Flutterwave, founded in 2016, has been revolutionizing digital payments in Nigeria and Africa. They provide a seamless and secure platform that simplifies payment processing for businesses.
One of Flutterwave’s significant milestones was raising over $170 million in Series C funding in 2021, making it one of the few African startups to achieve unicorn status with a valuation of over $1 billion. A critical component of Flutterwave’s business model is its API, which allows businesses to customize payment applications.
This way, it bridges the gap between businesses and customers, allowing seamless transactional flow regardless of the location. A standout achievement for Flutterwave is the partnership with PayPal, enabling African businesses to accept and make payments to over 377 million PayPal users worldwide.
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Founded in 2002 by Mitchell Elegbe, Interswitch pioneered the initiation of electronic payments in Nigeria and is known as one of the foremost pan-African digital payment and commerce companies.
In 2019, it achieved a significant milestone by becoming the first African fintech company to attain a $1 billion valuation, thereby joining the exclusive list of Unicorn Companies. Interswitch is unique in its business model, leveraging technological innovation to drive digital payments across nations in Africa.
Its wide array of integrated payment solutions – from Quickteller to Verve cards, is renowned for ease, speed, convenience, and reliability, providing a robust infrastructure and support necessary to enhance business activities that facilitate growth across Africa.
You can take out time to read through the – 15 Easy Hacks on How to Start a Fintech Company in Nigeria: Tips for Every Startup Owner
Established in 2012 in Lagos, Nigeria, by Sacha Poignonnec and Jeremy Hodara, Jumia has grown to become Africa’s biggest e-commerce platform, expanding to 14 African countries.
It has created a significant milestone in 2016 when it reached 1 billion users. Jumia’s business model leverages online retail to serve a continent with complex logistical challenges and vast underserved populations. Known as the ‘Amazon of Africa’, it deals in various categories from electronics to groceries.
In 2019, Jumia was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, becoming the first African tech start-up to do so. It shows a commitment to digital evolution in Africa by not just enhancing consumer experience, but also creating a massive impact on local economies.
OPay is Nigeria’s premier mobile payment platform, launched in 2018 by Opera Software. Leveraging mobile technology and digital solutions, it initially targeted the motorcycle-hailing service, ORide, as an entry point into the Nigerian market.
Gradually, OPay diversified its services into quick loans, bill payments, food, and grocery deliveries, thereby becoming an all-inclusive digital bank. In 2021, it was crowned Africa’s most valuable startup with a valuation of $2 billion.
With this, it joined the elite league of African unicorn companies. Unique in its offerings, OPay stands out with its low transaction rates and quick transaction speed, which drives a large volume of its mobile money and digital payment services.
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Founded by Drew Durbin and Lincoln Quirk in 2014, Wave is a prominent financial services provider in Africa. Starting from Senegal, Wave has made impressive strides into the Nigerian market with its mobile money app designed to enable seamless transactions.
Wave’s uniqueness lies in its cost-effective service offering – providing a zero-fee transaction model, a significant deviation from the conventional bank charges on transactions in Nigeria. The app provides services such as sending and receiving money, buying airtime, and making bill payments.
In 2021, Wave made a significant leap by raising $200 million in a Series A round of financing, subsequently increasing its valuation to $1.7 billion and thus achieving unicorn status.
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9. Chipper Cash
Founded in 2018 by Ham Serunjogi and Maijid Moujaled, Chipper Cash is a unicorn company from Nigeria offering cross-border P2P payment services. This fintech firm allows its users to transfer money across several African nations at no charge, thus reducing the inconvenience caused by expensive remittance fees.
Within three years, the firm expanded its services to seven African countries and attracted high-profile investors, like Bezos Expeditions, the personal venture arm of Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos.
A landmark achievement for the company was its recent Series C funding, which propelled it to unicorn status with a valuation of over $1 billion. The uniqueness of Chipper Cash lies in its low-cost business model, making remittances affordable and easy for the African population.
You can take out time to read through the – Top 10+ Forex Trading Companies in Nigeria (Updated 2024)
Launched in 2016 as a savings-only platform, Piggyvest has transformed into an all-in-one platform providing Nigerians with a broad range of personal finance management tools. Founded by Odunayo Eweniyi, Joshua Chibueze, and Somto Ifezue, Piggyvest allows its users to save, invest, and manage funds for future use.
With a user base of over 1 million, the company crossed 125 billion Naira transactions in 2020 alone, showcasing its steady growth and popularity. It became Nigeria’s first online savings & investment app, granting users direct access to several investment opportunities.
The core of Piggyvest’s business model is encouraging the culture of savings among Nigerians, offering higher interests than conventional banks and lower entry barriers for investment options.
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BudgIT, founded in 2011 by Oluseun Onigbinde and Joseph Agunbiade, is a civic organization driven to make public finance data more accessible and transparent for Nigerians.
Through an innovative approach that uses infographics and interactive applications, BudgIT allows citizens to understand how the government’s budget is allocated and used. Since its establishment, it has reached over 4 million Nigerians, pioneering social advocacy for transparency and accountability in public finance.
Notably, BudgIT won the ONE Africa Award in 2014 for its innovative approach to empowering Nigerians with budget data. Its unique business model combines technology, design, and social campaigning to engage citizens in the budget process.
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Ajua, initially named mSurvey and established in 2012 by Kenfield Griffith, is Nigeria’s first Integrated Customer Experience platform for businesses in Africa.
The startup harnesses the power of data analytics and machine learning to help companies understand their customers’ behavior and boost their customer engagement. Since its founding, Ajua has partnered with renowned brands like Coca-Cola and Kenya Airways and launched an AI and Machine learning product ‘Ajua TruCX’ that makes data collection easier for businesses.
Its biggest milestone is its strategic merger with WayaWaya, a Kenya-based fintech. Ajua’s unique business model lies in bridging the information gap between African businesses and their customers, thus driving economic growth on the continent.
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Jobberman is a pioneering unicorn company in Nigeria’s job recruitment and human resources sector. Established in 2009 by Opeyemi Awoyemi, Olalekan Olude, and Ayodeji Adewunmi, the trio developed a revolutionary digital platform to solve the pervasive unemployment issues in Nigeria.
Their significant milestones include a partnership with Microsoft’s Interns 4Afrika initiative and being ranked among Forbes Africa’s top startups. As a critical bridge connecting employers and job seekers, Jobberman adopts an innovative business model offering freemium services, comprehensive skills testing, and recruitment analytics.
This platform uniquely leverages technology to bring transparency and efficiency to the hiring process. One remarkable achievement of Jobberman is organizing the largest virtual career fair in Nigeria’s history with over 10,000 participants.
What Defines a Unicorn Company?
A unicorn company is a privately held startup with a current valuation of $1 billion or more. This term was coined in 2013 by venture capitalist Aileen Lee, who chose the mythical creature to represent the statistical rarity of such successful ventures.
What makes a company a unicorn isn’t just its huge valuation, but its rapid growth. Usually, unicorns have innovative technology or business models that disrupt existing markets or create entirely new ones. Furthermore, these startups generally operate on a global scale, thereby generating vast amounts of wealth in a short period.
Their investors often include venture capitalists, private equity firms, and mutual funds. This prestigious unicorn status reflects potential future returns, customer base growth, and market reach expansion.
Despite the promise they hold, investing in unicorns comes with a level of risk, since the path to profitability can be uncertain. Regardless, the allure of substantial financial return and the pride of being associated with disruptive innovation makes unicorn companies extremely attractive.
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Impact of the Unicorn Companies on the Nigerian Economy
Unicorn companies, the colloquial term for private startup companies that are valued at over one billion dollars, are proving to have an increasingly substantial impact on economies worldwide.
Notably, these successful startups have begun to create considerable benefits for the Nigerian economy.
1. Job Creation
One of the immediate and direct impacts of unicorn companies in Nigeria is job creation. These firms need skilled and semi-skilled employees to run their operations.
This has not only helped to reduce the high unemployment rate in the country, but it has also fostered skill development in various fields, particularly in digital technology and innovation.
2. Encouraging Innovation
Unicorn companies in Nigeria have fostered an environment that promotes innovation. They set the bar high for start-ups, challenging them to aim for more significant achievements.
This environment pushes entrepreneurs to create more advanced, technology-driven solutions to everyday challenges, driving economic development.
3. Increasing Foreign Investments
The success stories of Nigerian unicorn companies have attracted more foreign investments into the country.
Investors are increasingly noticing Nigeria’s potential as a fertile ground for profitable ventures. This, in turn, has contributed to an inflow of foreign currency, boosted the stock market, and helped to strengthen the economy.
4. Revenue Generation
With their massive valuations, unicorn companies in Nigeria significantly contribute to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). Their operations generate income through the sales of products and services and, consequently, taxes, thus helping to grow the economy.
While the unicorn companies in Nigeria are a handful, their impacts are massive and cannot be underestimated. Their contributions towards job creation, innovation, attracting foreign investments, and revenue generation play a vital role in driving economic growth.
Their successes serve as motivation for other local start-ups and entrepreneurs, showing them what can be achieved with hard work, ingenuity, and persistence. As these unicorns continue to thrive, and more emerge, the future of Nigeria’s economy seems promising.
Factors that Contribute to the Success of These Unicorn Companies in Nigeria
Unicorn companies, generally known as startups that reach a billion-dollar market value, are increasingly springing up in Nigeria’s business environment. With names like Interswitch, Flutterwave, and OPay coming to mind, the economic growth of Africa’s most populous country is shifting towards innovation and digitalization.
Here, we will delve into the key factors that contribute to the success of these unicorn companies in Nigeria.
1. Digitization of services
Many successful unicorn companies in Nigeria are leveraging technology to offer a wide range of digital services. This digitization not only reduces operational costs but also simplifies transactions and opens up opportunities for cross-border businesses.
2. Strong Demand
The booming Nigerian population is a promising marketplace for these companies. By offering practical solutions to everyday challenges such as e-commerce, online banking, food delivery, transportation, and logistics, these companies address significant needs, thereby gaining public acceptance and a surge in customer base.
3. Effective Leadership
An undeniable factor that contributes to the success of these unicorn companies is their efficient leadership teams who consistently direct their strategic focus and innovative capacities towards fulfilling customer needs and delivering on corporate objectives.
4. Access to capital
Funding is an integral part of every successful business. With Nigerian startups raising impressive sums from investors globally, access to capital has certainly played a pivotal role in their successes. They have effectively demonstrated the value of their business model and the growth potential within Nigeria and the wider African continent, attracting huge capital investments in the process.
5. Strategic partnerships
To expand their scope and customer reach, these companies enter strategic partnerships with both local and international organizations. These partnerships further strengthen their service delivery capabilities and competitive edge in the market.
6. Policy Environment
The Nigerian government’s introduction of more friendly policies and regulations has helped the business ecosystem. For example, the Central Bank’s regulatory sandbox for fintechs provides a conducive and experimental environment where these unicorn companies can innovate and refine their services before hitting the mainstream market.
7. Skilled Human Capital
Nigeria’s burgeoning youthful population not only offers a potential market but also a workforce with the digital skills and entrepreneurial mindset needed to drive the operations of these businesses. Skilled manpower plays a significant role in building, maintaining, and innovating products that keep businesses going.
Regulatory Environment of the Unicorn Companies in Nigeria
The regulatory environment in Nigeria has significantly influenced the growth of unicorn companies. A vital regulator, the Central Bank of Nigeria, issued guidelines for the regulation and supervision of fintech companies, demonstrating recognition of their contributions to economic growth.
Regulations by the Nigerian Securities and Exchange Commission are also noteworthy, ensuring transparency, protecting investors, and maintaining fair markets. Additionally, the National Information Technology Development Agency implements laws governing data protection, safeguarding data, and consumer rights.
Nonetheless, these regulators also impose constraints such as obligatory licensing and periodic audits that may limit flexibility. Thus, while regulatory measures contribute to creating an enabling environment for unicorns to thrive, an optimal balance is required between regulation and freedom, facilitating growth without stifling innovation.
Overall, a supportive regulatory framework can pave the way for more Nigerian companies to achieve unicorn status.
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Challenges and Opportunities of Unicorn Companies in Nigeria
In recent times, the spotlight has been shining on Africa’s unicorns with Nigeria housing some of these valuable enterprises. These unicorns include Interswitch, Flutterwave, and OPay.
However, as promising as these companies appear, they have faced several challenges operating in Nigeria. There are also ample growth opportunities.
Challenges Facing Unicorn Companies in Nigeria
- Infrastructure Limitations: Nigerian infrastructure can sometimes be underdeveloped, posing challenges to tech companies needing robust digital networks. From electricity to the internet, Nigerian tech companies often must create their infrastructural solutions to stay operational, adding to their operational costs.
- Regulatory Challenges: Government policies can have a significant impact on business success. In Nigeria, changes in regulation have been unpredictable and sometimes counter-productive, leading to uncertainty.
- Financial Constraints: Nigeria’s weak financial system affects unicorns as accessing large-scale financing at affordable rates is often a herculean task. Plus, many Nigerians remain unbanked, presenting payment processing challenges.
- Market Readiness: Although mobile phone usage has grown significantly, it’s important to acknowledge that many Nigerians still lack basic digital literacy, which affects the adoption of technology-driven solutions.
Opportunities for Growth and Expansion
- Rising Internet Penetration: The steady growth of Internet users in Nigeria provides a burgeoning market for these companies. According to Statista, the number of internet users in Nigeria hit 187.8 million in 2023, up from 92.7 million in 2018.
- Rapid Urbanization: The fast-paced urbanization and rising middle-class population, offer an increasing consumer base, driving the demand for technology-enabled services.
- Increasing Interest of Foreign Investors: The tech industry in Nigeria has attracted notable investments from international venture capitalists. These funds not only fuel the expansion plans of unicorns but also foster more tech start-up formation.
- Strong Demographic Dividend: Nigeria boasts of a vibrant, dynamic, and tech-savvy youth population which presents a huge workforce for unicorns. This demographic could drive technology adoption, making unicorn products and services more mainstream.
While challenges persist, it’s undeniable that the opportunities within Nigeria’s technology and start-up ecosystem far outweigh these challenges. Unicorn companies that have resiliently built their businesses amidst these constraints stand to reap huge rewards from the burgeoning digital economy of Nigeria.
With supportive policies, infrastructure improvement, and continuous investment, the tech industry is poised to create more Nigerian unicorns shortly.
Frequently Asked Questions
What makes these unicorn companies significant in Nigeria?
These unicorn companies are significant as they have showcased the immense potential of Nigeria’s technology and startup sectors, demonstrating the capability of Nigerian startups to achieve massive growth and attract international investment.
What industries in Nigeria are most likely to produce future unicorns?
Industries that leverage technology to solve real-world problems like the fintech, Edtech, healthtech, and agtech sectors are more likely to produce the next unicorns.
Who are the key investors in Nigerian unicorn companies?
Notable investors in Nigerian unicorns include Visa, Tencent, and Global Ventures for Interswitch; while Flutterwave has secured investments from firms like Mastercard, CRE Venture Capital, and Y Combinator.
Nigeria’s start-up ecosystem has made commendable strides in nurturing unicorn companies. These firms, exemplified by Interswitch, Flutterwave, and Jumia, are playing a transformative role in Africa’s largest economy.
They represent Nigeria’s entrepreneurial spirit, tech-savvy, and innovative capabilities. Moreover, their success highlights the abundant opportunities in Nigeria’s digital economy for both local and international investors.
Therefore, the continuous growth of Nigerian unicorn companies is a testament to the possibilities inherent in African economies when creativity, resilience, and technology are strategically harnessed. This makes Nigeria a viable destination for anyone interested in investing in the next African unicorn.