MIT Sloan alumni use bikes and incentives to boost recycling in Nigeria

February 28, 2013

Wecyclers, a new company offering incentives to encourage recycling in poverty-stricken countries, is a model of the social entrepreneurship movement, a trend of MIT students starting companies with twin goals: do good and make money.

Wecyclers’ mission is to solve waste crises in poverty-stricken countries that do not have the infrastructure capable of sorting, recycling, and disposing of trash sufficiently. Neighborhoods are left stricken with heaps of trash that line the streets, clog waterways, and create unsanitary living conditions. Wecycler’s business model rewards households with an SMS-based incentive program; every kilogram of material that a family recycles is compensated with Wecycler points, which can be redeemed for cell phone minutes, food items, and household goods. The recyclable items are then brought by custom-designed bike to recycling firms that repurpose the waste. Wecyclers not only creates a cleaner living environment, but also helps support the local economy and create revenue for the company.

Wecyclers is in its sixth month of operations at a pilot site in Lagos, Nigeria. Since setting up in Lagos in September 2012 the company has grown to 14 employees, established two collection outlets, and built 11 Wecycles, bikes that transport the recycled materials between households and the collection locations. As their company grows, they have learned that setting up the company in a different environment has its challenges. Wecyclers was created at MIT where schedules are easily managed; Lagos, on the other hand, is subjected to irregular traffic patterns and environmental adjustments.

“There is a big difference between what you plan and what you execute,” said Bilikiss Adebiyi, the company’s CEO and a 2012 graduate of MIT Sloan. “You have to be flexible when you get real time information and receptive to the information you get.”

Wecyclers is asking the MIT community to help design a new Wecycle, which transports recyclable materials from neighborhoods to collection locations. In addition, the company is currently in early-stage fundraising.

Adebiyi founded Wecyclers with CSO Alexandra Fallon, MBA ’12, and CTO Jonathan Kola. Wecyclers was one of ten teams that made up the inaugural class of the MIT Founder’s Skills Accelerator hosted at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.