Nigerian fintech startup Mines plans expansion after $13m funding round

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Nigerian fintech startup Mines is planning to expand to other African markets, as well as some in Southeast Asia and Latin America, after securing significant funding last month.

Founded in 2014, Mines provides a Credit-as-a-Service digital platform that enables institutions such as banks, telecoms and retailers in emerging markets to offer credit products to their customers, with no smartphones required.

The startup runs artificial intelligence algorithms on high-volume data sets like phone, bank and payment records to predict credit risk, and integrates these credit risk models with identity, origination, payments, loan lifecycle management, and customer service to form a holistic credit platform. Leveraging their own data, its partner institutions can use the platform to extend credit to customers and open up entirely new revenue opportunities.

Mines products have already been used by over one million customers since its launch, and the startup is the leading provider of consumer credit in Nigeria. It counts mobile operators 9mobile and Airtel, payment processors Interswitch and NIBSS, and several banks amongst its customers, and last month secured a Series A funding round of US$13 million led by The Rise Fund, a global fund managed by TPG Growth.

Nigeria managing director Adia Sowho told Disrupt Africa that Mines, now it had proved its platform in Nigeria, was looking at expanding into new markets on the back of the investment.

“We are exploring expansion into other African countries as well as Southeast Asia and Latin America,” she said.

Mines was formed after chief executive officer (CEO) Ekechi Nwokah and chief scientist Kunle Olukotun met while living in Palo Alto in the United States (US). Having both grown up in Nigeria, both being computer scientists, and both having experience in academia, they hit it off and started discussing ideas around Olukotun’s research on artificial intelligence at Stanford.

“They decided to team up and start a company where they could apply Kunle’s research to solving a massive real-world problem. After some consideration and exploration, they decided that financial access was the problem where the research and their personal life experience would have the biggest impact,” Sowho said.

“They then enlisted some of Kunle’s graduate students to build the platform and an experienced executive to help guide the ship, raised some capital, and started the company. The rest, as they say, is history.”

What the Nwokah and Olukotun realised was that the proliferation of mobile phones, along with the data sets from these phones, provided a unique opportunity to open a new market: mobile-driven credit.

“Of course, we are not the only ones to have spotted the gap in the market, as other digital credit products have also launched, mostly in the form of salary loan products or Android apps,” said Sowho.

“However, Android apps and salary loans can only serve less than 25 per cent of the Nigerian population with a documented salary or a smartphone, and they also force the customer to enter a lot of information about themselves. We have taken a different, more data-driven approach which enables our products to be more instant and requires only a phone number and account.”

Mines still had to work hard to achieve product-market fit, however.

“Developing advanced technology is difficult, but understanding how to apply the technology to real consumer challenges in the emerging market  environment is even more difficult,” Sowho said.

“We are pure technologists at the core and had to adapt our thinking to the nuances of the local business and consumer landscape in order for the product to work well.”

Work well it did, and now Mines is ready to launch operations outside of Nigeria with the backing of major institutional investors. Watch this space.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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