Gisele Mwepu is the founder of financial services company Okapi Finance, which is now becoming one of Africa’s most widely used financial services. She’s a success story and an entrepreneur who is doing what many people dream of – changing people’s lives with her product.
Gisele joined our CEO Casper von Koskull on stage today during the presentation of our third-quarter 2017 results to tell us about her journey.
The opportunity for an entrepreneur to find a financier – someone who believes in your product and idea – and a target group which, it turns out, truly needs it…. Sounds like a dream? Gisele tells us how she took her dream and made it real.
“Okapi will reach around 145 million people within five years. We’ve managed to get an agreement in place with Africa’s largest bank, Ecobank, enabling us to reach many more millions of customers soon,” she says.
Okapi enables transactions and payments via an app. If you need to deposit money you can do so through an agent, but the aim is for users to totally avoid using cash. Through one log in, you can access your money via an app on your mobile that is not affiliated with a specific bank, but with the account holder. It’s a sort of combination of Sweden’s Swish, a mobile bank and a payment app. Mobile use in Africa is extremely widespread. According to telecom company Ericsson, the number of mobile internet users in the region could rise from 635 million to 930 million during 2014–2019.
Tremendous market potential
Okapi is already in place in several African countries, including Kenya and Botswana. Next up is Congo-Kinshasa, and also Nigeria, where the launch of Okapi will start among students.
“When we looked at how many students were in Lagos alone, there were 5 million! That’s too big for a pilot group, so we’ll have to start with one university at a time,” Gisele says.
She laughs when talking about their current launch plans. The potential in a market like Africa is tremendous compared with Sweden.
“I want to be able to offer this service to everybody who needs access to banking services, but who does not want to queue at a bank for several hours, or pay large amounts of money to pay a bill. Okapi opens up banking opportunities for people who didn’t have any before,” she says.
As an entrepreneur, Gisele says her journey with Okapi has also been hugely stimulating for her personally.
“For example, I didn’t know anything about financial crime – and now I’m an expert! When you have your own business, you have to learn everything by yourself, and in all areas. But you also have to listen to what other people say. The important thing for me has been that I haven’t thought that I know everything myself; I've also listened to others and taken on board what everybody has said – bank managers, experts and others. You might say that Okapi today is the result of the advice that everybody has given me,” she explains.
Driven by passion
One of the hardest parts about being an entrepreneur is finding financiers who believe in your idea. Gisele found this in Nordea.
“To succeed, it’s important to have a good partner, and the bank is one of the most important partners you can have. I want them to believe in me, understand me and provide me with the right support – not just money but also support in the form of advice, for example. The bank should be involved, sharing my journey. Nordea’s current initiative for start-ups truly feels whole-hearted, and not just something that is being done to look good. It’s really great for entrepreneurs,” she says.
Besides having a need and a product, you also need to have drive and passion to succeed. “You have to believe in yourself and your idea. If you are convinced yourself, then you can also convince others. I’m also incredibly stubborn – when I’m sure about something, I get to work,” she explains.
Gisele holds an MSc in computer technology. She studied at college and university in Sweden, and originally comes from Congo–Kinshasa.
“When I’m in Africa I understand that environment, and here in Sweden I understand this environment. I think my background helps me a lot – I know what I’m talking about,” says Gisele.
She’s turned being a woman in a highly male-dominated tech and finance industry to her advantage, and sees this as a success factor.
“I’m also driven by my passion. My goal is to change and improve people’s lives,” she concludes.
And Okapi has truly succeeded with that.
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